As MLB's contending teams gear up for the season's stretch run, those far removed from the playoff picture are preparing for something else: September roster expansion.
For teams like the Cubs, who have already promoted top prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara, September is perhaps the most important month of the season. The development of Chicago's top prospects is integral to the team's plan to contend for a championship in a few years, and for that to become a reality, young players like Baez and perhaps third base slugger Kris Bryant (if he receives a promotion) will have to use make the best use of their valuable time against top-level pitching.
Of course, teams like the Dodgers and Indians—those in contention for a playoff spot—will have to balance their prospects' playing time with the team's push for the postseason. Even though those two ballclubs will almost certainly promote their respective top prospects, Joc Pederson and Francisco Lindor, it's unrealistic to expect them to receive a huge amount of playing time. (Lindor is somewhat of a special case, however, because he's so developed already and the Indians' alternatives at his position aren't too attractive.)
This season in particular promises an exciting slate of call-ups, with many of the top prospects in the minors having outstanding seasons at the higher levels. Let's take a look at who the notable call-ups could be, and what they could contribute to their teams in the coming weeks.
Scouts call him the best defender in the minors, and after years of consistent performances from Single-A all the way up to Triple-A Columbus, Cleveland's shortstop of the future is finally ready to make the leap to the majors.
This season, Lindor's numbers have actually been a bit down, at least since he was promoted to Triple-A. Though he's hitting .281 in Columbus, his usually stellar plate discipline has suffered (six walks vs. 30 strikeouts) as he adjusts to pitching at the higher levels.
And yet, Lindor's fielding appears to be ready for the majors, and if he can even approach the numbers he put up at Double-A this year (.278/.352/.389), the Indians can call this season a huge success for their top prospect.
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Dodgers manager Don Mattingly explicitly stated that his team's September call-ups won't see a lot of playing time, but that doesn't mean we can't get excited to see Pederson make his MLB debut.
"I don't think we're looking for any true help," Mattingly said, via True Blue LA's Eric Stephen. "It gives you a few extra hitters, it will give you a few extra arms, having balance."
Though Pederson will play sparingly, he can still contribute to a Dodgers squad that's beginning to run away with the NL West. The lefty-hitting outfielder is batting .305/.435/.591 in 534 plate appearances at Triple-A Albuquerque, and he recently became the first player in 80 years to reach 30 homers and 30 steals in the Pacific Coast League.
Pederson is known for both his speed, having stolen 26 or more bases in all four of his full minor league seasons, and his eye at the plate. His 96 walks this year leads all of Triple-A, and his unprecedented power (33 homers, surpassing his career-high of 22 last year) shows he really is the full package at the plate. He could be a five-tool player in the majors, and his debut this September can't come soon enough for Dodgers fans.
There's a lot to like about Cecchini, from his versatility to his consistency to his discipline at the plate. The Sox third base/outfield hybrid hit the first speed bump of his professional career at Triple-A this year after never hitting below .296 at any of the four previous levels, but he's been red hot as of late.
Since the start of August, Cecchini is hitting .329/.404/.532 with 20 RBI in 79 bat-bats. He has regained the eye at the plate he lacked near the beginning of the season, and he appears ready to return to the majors after seeing two plate appearances with the Sox on June 1. (He went 1-for-2 with a double.)
MLB.com's report says scouts love Cecchini's upside, and his approach at the plate (lots of walks, not many strikeouts) gives him the look of a veteran. 2014 might be a lost season for the Red Sox, but Cecchini's imminent promotion could be one of the few bright spots if he can continue his hot hitting.
Don't be fooled by Bradley's underwhelming stats this year. Though he struggled at Triple-A Reno to begin the season (5.18 ERA in five starts), he has since been much more successful in Double-A after rehabbing a sore elbow.
Cubs promote Jorge Soler to majors
The highly-touted Cuban outfielder gets the call to the big leagues.
It's unclear if he's completely back to full strength, but Bradley has nevertheless been solid with a 3.31 ERA (3.96 FIP) in 54.1 innings. That's a big step below his 2013 numbers at the same level (1.97 ERA in 123.1 innings), and his strikeout numbers are similarly down, but the real assessment of Bradley will come in 2015 after he's had an offseason to rest his arm. He'll also have a chance to prove himself with the struggling Diamondbacks this September, and it should be interesting to see how his arm holds up against big league hitters.
Bryant might not get promoted to the majors this season, but his incredible success at Double- and Triple-A suggests a bright future no matter when he reaches the big league club.
There's been a whole mix of news and opinions on the subject. Cubs president Theo Epstein told ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers that he doesn't "foresee" Bryant being promoted to the majors this year, despite the third baseman's .329/.440/.673 line between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo opined on Wednesday that Bryant is worthy of a call-up, even though he isn't on the 40-man roster and a promotion doesn't seem likely.
It's hard to find a real concern among Bryant's ridiculous numbers this season, but his strikeout total does stand out. In 571 plate appearances, he's struck out 157 times, a strikeout percentage of 27.5. That's something that almost never translates well in the majors, no matter how well the hitter does in the minors, because big league pitchers are just a tad bit better at exploiting weaknesses than minor leaguers.
But the Cubs wouldn't have much to lose by promoting Bryant, who could use the extra plate appearances and would gain valuable experience he wouldn't otherwise receive. Epstein surely has good reasons for not wanting to promote his top prospect for a second time this season, but in this case, the stats paint a picture that probably shouldn't be ignored.
The White Sox have a history of promoting pitchers drafted in the first round, having done so with Chris Sale four years ago. MLB.com's Scott Merkin reported in early August that Rodon has a "better-than-average chance" of pitching in the majors this year, and why not?
After staying at NC State for three years, Rodon shot up to Triple-A after just 12.2 innings at rookie ball and High-A, and he's already off to a fast start in Charlotte with just two hits and two runs allowed in seven innings.
Rodon is so developed that MLB.com has him 22nd on its Top 100 Prospects list, and he's been limited enough in the minors that a September promotion is still realistic. Don't expect him to pitch a lot, but Rodon should get his first taste of big league action before the end of the season.