2018 MLB call-ups: From veterans to top prospects, every team's most interesting September promotion
Some teams call up top prospects, others have no top prospects to call up
As of this past Saturday, all 30 teams are able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. September call-ups have been around a very long time, yet it seems like only recently that they've become controversial. Many fans and analysts (and some baseball people too) believe changing the rules in the final month takes away from the postseason races. Me?.
For now, the rules are the rules, and every team called up extra players in recent days. A third catcher, an extra lefty reliever, an extra bench bat for an NL team, whatever. Some call-ups are more interesting than others. Some are top prospects and others are journeymen looking to extend their careers. And, truth be told, September call-ups rarely have an impact. Most only get to play in extra innings or blowouts.
Here are the 30 most interesting players -- one per team -- called up since rosters expanded this past Saturday. There are a few familiar names here, but some may only be known by diehards.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Yoan Lopez
It wasn't that long ago that it appeared righty reliever Yoan Lopez would walk away from baseball following some injuries and performance issues. The Diamondbacks spent nearly $16 million total to sign him after he defected from Cuba ($8 million bonus plus a nearly equal amount in penalties for exceeding their international bonus pool) and it looked like it would go to waste. Instead, Lopez has rebuilt his career, and this summer he threw 61 2/3 relief innings in Double-A with a 2.92 ERA and 87 strikeouts. The D-Backs have a deep bullpen as it is. Lopez could give the team another nice boost in September.
Atlanta Braves: RHP Kyle Wright
The Braves selected Kyle Wright with the No. 5 pick in the 2017 draft and he shot through the minors this season, throwing 138 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 138 innings. He reached Triple-A and the Braves are reportedly planning to use him in relief in September. Wright has electric stuff, sitting in the mid-90s as a starter and flashing two out-pitch breaking balls. It's entirely possible his fastball will jump into the upper-90s in short relief bursts. Wright is a starter long-term. There's no doubt about that. For September though, he could be a dominant relief option for Atlanta.
Baltimore Orioles: C Chance Sisco
It isn't easy for a young catcher to gain the trust of Orioles manager Buck Showalter, but Chance Sisco is the future behind the plate in Baltimore. Sisco spent some time with the O's late last year and earlier this year, and, in Triple-A, he authored a .242/.344/.352 batting line with three homers in only 38 games. There's some pop in his left-handed bat -- left-handed hitting catchers are always in demand -- and he's improved defensively. Sisco could get an opportunity to play every day down the stretch in September.
Boston Red Sox: 2B Brandon Phillips
Yep, Brandon Phillips is still playing. The Red Sox signed him to a minor-league contract in June and he's stuck it out in the minors ever since. Phillips hit .302/.348/.477 with 14 doubles and four home runs in 38 Triple-A games and Boston is bringing him to the big leagues this month as an extra infielder and veteran presence. He'll also allow them to rest Ian Kinsler a bit more given his nagging hamstring issue.
Chicago Cubs: OF Terrance Gore
The Cubs acquired Terrance Gore from the Royals last month for one reason and one reason only: To run. Gore isn't much of a hitter (.193/.283/.227 in Triple-A this year), but he's one of the fastest men in baseball, and the Cubbies will use him as a designated pinch-runner in September and, potentially, October as well. He has experience in this designated pinch-runner role with Kansas City during their 2014-15 postseason runs, so while he won't play much, he's a major high-leverage weapon. If the Cubs get a runner on base in a close game, Gore looms to wreak havoc on the bases.
Chicago White Sox: LHP Caleb Frare
For the White Sox, the big story is who is not getting called up in September. Eloy Jimenez, the top outfield prospect in the minors, will not come up this month despite hitting .317/.368/.556 with 10 home runs in 53 Triple-A games. . So, with Jimenez still in Triple-A, lefty reliever Caleb Frare gets the nod as the southsiders' most interesting September call-up. Frare came over from the Yankees in a minor July trade and posted a 0.78 ERA with 77 strikeouts 57 1/3 relief innings this year, mostly in Double-A. It's a pure left-on-left matchup reliever profile with a good fastball and a sweepy slider, and, given the state of the White Sox bullpen, Frare could carve out a long-term role quickly.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Lucas Sims
Very small crop of September call-ups for the Reds so far. Their only two roster additions to date are righty Lucas Sims and infielder Blake Trahan. Sims, a former top prospect with the Braves, came over in the Adam Duvall trade and is a hard-thrower with impressive secondary stuff. The question with Sims has always been control. He has a career 4.0 BB/9 in the minors and has already walked nine in 12 1/3 big-league innings this year. The raw stuff is very impressive. It's just a matter of getting Sims around the plate a little more often, which is of course easier said than done.
Cleveland Indians: C Eric Haase
The Indians traded Francisco Mejia, the top catching prospect in the minors, to get Brad Hand and Adam Cimber prior to the trade deadline. That leaves Eric Haase as the club's best MLB ready catching prospect. He's a power over hit tool guy -- Haase has slugged 47 home runs in 217 minor-league games the last two seasons -- with enough defense to remain relevant behind the plate. Catchers with power are always worth some attention, and with the Indians already locked into the AL Central title, don't be surprised if Haase gets some starts in September to lighten the load on Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez heading into October.
Colorado Rockies: OF Noel Cuevas
The Rockies have a revolving door in left field -- only three times since August 5 has a player started two consecutive games in left for Colorado, and never once did a player start as many as three straight games in left -- and it's possible Noel Cuevas will see some time out there as well. If not, pinch-hitting and double switch opportunities exist. Cuevas is a career .303/.350/.470 hitter in Triple-A -- to be fair, the club's Triple-A affiliate plays in Albuquerque, which is at altitude and very hitter friendly -- who spent some time with the Rockies earlier this season and acquitted himself well enough.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Sandy Baez
Only one September call-up for the Tigers thus far, so Sandy Baez gets the nod here by default. Baez did not have a good statistical season in Double-A -- yes, he jumped right over Triple-A to the big leagues -- throwing 103 2/3 innings with a 5.64 ERA and 86 strikeouts, but he has a huge arm, one that pumps mid-to-upper-90s heat. He complements it with a dead fish changeup that seems allergic to bats when he turns it over properly. Baez did make his MLB debut with Detroit earlier this year and it was impressive, holding a powerful Yankees lineup hitless in 4 1/3 innings.
Houston Astros: RHP Josh James
Few pitchers in the minors broke out as much as Astros righty Josh James this year. His fastball has jumped from the mid-90s into the upper-90s, and, during his MLB debut over the weekend, he threw a 101.1 mph fastball that ranks as the fastest pitch thrown by a starter this season. James struck out nine in five innings Saturday.
In 114 1/3 minor-league innings this season James struck out 171 -- 171! -- and posted a 3.23 ERA. The Lance McCullers Jr. injury opened up a rotation spot and will allow James to audition for a rotation spot for next season, which is not insignificant given the impending free agencies of Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel.
Kansas City Royals: C Meibrys Viloria
Just one September call-up for the Royals so far, and that is catcher Meibrys Viloria. He hit .260/.342/.360 with six home runs in 100 High Class-A games this year and jumped over Double-A and Triple-A to join the Royals this month. Viloria is a fantastic defensive catcher who has drawn raves for the way he works with pitchers. There is some offensive potential here given his gap-to-gap approach, but Viloria does his best work behind the plate.
Los Angeles Angels: RHP Miguel Almonte
A few years ago Miguel Almonte was a big deal with the Royals, though injuries hampered him a bit and his development stagnated. The Angels acquired him in a cash trade earlier this year and while Almonte was not good at all in Triple-A (9.70 ERA and 24/15 K/BB in 21 1/3 innings), there's still enough potential in his arm that the Halos are giving him a look in September. Almonte has run his fastball up to 96 mph in September.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Alex Verdugo
Trades and graduations have thinned the Dodgers' farm system a bit, but Alex Verdugo is a legitimate No. 1 prospect thanks to his innate bat-to-ball skills and defense. Verdugo authored a .329/.391/.472 batting line with 10 home runs in 91 Triple-A games this summer, and his career minor-league strikeout rate is a mere 11.4 percent. The Dodgers have a pretty crowded outfield as it is, so Verdugo figures to be limited to pinch-hitting duty this month. He is a big part of their long-term future, however.
Miami Marlins: RHP Sandy Alcantara
Sandy Alcantara, the centerpiece of the Marcell Ozuna trade, will join Miami's rotation this week. He had a quality season in Triple-A, throwing 115 2/3 innings with a 3.89 ERA and 88 strikeouts. Alcantara has big velocity and a wide array of secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup), all of which he is still working to refine. He allowed one run in five innings in his Marlins debut earlier this season and this month he'll get a chance to show he belongs in next year's rotation.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Domingo Santana
What a disappointing season for Domingo Santana. After hitting 30 homers in 151 games for the Brewers last season, Santana hit three in 64 games this year before being demoted to Triple-A, where he went deep eight times in 55 games. That's not good. Santana is strikeout prone and he's not good defensively at all. If he's not hitting for power, there's no much value here at all. The Brewers are loaded with outfielders and it seems unlikely Santana will get regular playing time in September. Running into some fastballs as a pinch-hitter would go a long way to restoring organizational confidence heading into the offseason.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Zack Littell
The Twins acquired Zack Littell from the Yankees in the Jaime Garcia trade last year and he's expected to take a regular rotation turn in September, but with a twist. Minnesota used an "opener" for his start over the weekend and that is expected to continue. Littell had a solid minor-league season, throwing 129 innings with a 3.98 ERA and 130 strikeouts, and he stands out more for his pitchability than his raw stuff. There's enough here to carve out a big-league role long-term.
New York Mets: 1B/OF Dominic Smith
It can be really difficult to understand the Mets sometimes. They're out of the race and they desperately need a youth infusion, yet rather than play Dominic Smith (or Peter Alonso) at first base in September, they're going to use Jay Bruce there primarily. Smith went into the season as an elite first base prospect but he did not have a good Triple-A season, hitting only .258/.328/.380 with six homers in 84 in the extreme hitter's environment that is Las Vegas. I can't help but wonder whether having to learn the outfield hampered him at the plate. This feels like a young Adrian Gonzalez situation to me. The Mets are going to end up trading Smith for veterans before ever finding out what they really have in Smith, like the Rangers did with Gonzalez way back when, aren't they?
New York Yankees: LHP Stephen Tarpley
Everyone is waiting for the Yankees to call up top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, though it seems that call-up will have to wait until their Triple-A affiliate gets knocked out of the postseason. For now, Stephen Tarpley gets the nod as the team's extra September southpaw, and this summer Tarpley threw 69 2/3 innings with a 1.94 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Over 1,000 pitchers threw at least 65 innings in the minors this season. None had a higher ground ball rate than Tarpley (68.1 percent).
Oakland Athletics: IF Franklin Barreto
There's nothing the Athletics can do to turn the Josh Donaldson trade into a win, but Franklin Barreto is pretty darn exciting, and he gives the A's a chance to recoup some value from that deal. Depending how they arrange their infield going forward, Barreto is either the team's shortstop or second baseman of the future, and he slugged four home runs and four doubles in only 63 big-league plate appearances earlier this year. He crushed Triple-A pitching (.259/.357/.514 with 18 homers) this summer, and while there is no obvious path to big-league playing time in September, there's a very real chance Barreto will never go back to the minors again.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Dylan Cozens
The Phillies loaded up on bench bats in August waiver deals (Jose Bautista and Justin Bour), and Dylan Cozens gives the club another brute masher for manager Gabe Kapler to deploy strategically. Cozens swatted 21 homers in only 88 Triple-A games this year and he's two years removed from a 40-homer season in Double-A. All that power does come with strikeouts -- his career minor-league strikeout rate is 28.8 percent -- but you can't fake power. Make a mistake to Cozens and he'll hit it a mile.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Nick Burdi
Nick Burdi, a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Twins, completed his Tommy John surgery rehab a few weeks ago and has joined the Pirates for September. He's a very hard-throwing reliever with a nasty slider, at least when healthy, and the Pirates will take a look at him in September to see whether he can be part of their bullpen next season. Burdi struck out 14 in 11 minor-league rehab innings.
San Diego Padres: 2B Luis Urias
I'm bending the rules here. The Padres' most interesting September call-up was actually called up in late August. San Diego summoned infielder Luis Urias on August 27 and he is 5 for 27 (.185) with as many walks as strikeouts (three) through seven big-league games.
Urias is a hitting machine -- this summer he put up a .296/.398/.447 line in 120 Triple-A games -- who is guaranteed to be a fan favorite because of his high-energy play. Despite the deepest farm system in baseball, the Padres only activated three players off the disabled list (Bryan Mitchell, Luis Perdomo, Kirby Yates) when rosters expanded on September 1. Weird. Francisco Mejia, who came over in the Hand/Cimber trade, was called up Tuesday.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Ray Black
Ray Black spent some time in the Giants bullpen earlier this year, during which he struck out 22 with a 5.40 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, and now he's back as a September call-up. In addition to being an extreme hard-thrower -- Black's fastball topped out at 101.7 mph earlier this year -- Black is a great story of perseverance. He has a very long injury history, one that includes elbow and shoulder surgeries as well as back and knee trouble, and at one point last year the Giants released him. He made it to the big leagues for the first time as a 28-year-old this year and could still carve out a long-term role in the team's bullpen.
Seattle Mariners: LHP James Pazos
Not many exciting September call-ups for the Mariners, a team without a great farm system. Thus far they've only summoned up-and-down players who've spent time with the big-league club already. Southpaw James Pazos is the most notable of the bunch. Pazos has been a bullpen mainstay the past two years, but he ran into some mechanical trouble earlier this season, and had to be sent to Triple-A to work on some things. A hard throwing lefty with 107 strikeouts in 102 2/3 career big-league innings is always someone you should keep an eye on.
St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Daniel Poncedeleon
Daniel Poncedeleon made a name for himself when . He's since settled in as a nice swingman option for the Cardinals, and has struck out 22 in 25 big-league innings with a 2.88 ERA. Down in Triple-A he pitched to a 2.24 ERA with 110 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings. Poncedeleon's story is truly miraculous. Last May he took a line drive to the head that required emergency brain surgery. Just one year later, he's a big leaguer. Remarkable.
Tampa Bay Rays: C Nick Ciuffo
Last year a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse led to the Rays leaving Nick Ciuffo off their 40-man roster, and he went unpicked in December's Rule 5 Draft. Now he's on the 40-man and with the team as a September call-up after hitting .262/.301/.380 in Triple-A. Ciuffo is a standout defensive catcher who as long been highly regarded for his work with pitchers. He's also a left-handed hitter with some offensive potential. Between Ciuffo and recent trade pickup Michael Perez, the Rays appear to be set behind the plate for another few years.
Texas Rangers: LHP Yohander Mendez
He's not a right-hander, he's not a left-hander, he's a Yohander. Sorry. So sorry.
Now that that's out of the way, I can point out Yohander Mendez was one of the top prospects in baseball as recently as 18 months ago, but his star has dimmed due to inconsistency and ineffectiveness since then. This year Mendez posted a 4.71 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 122 1/3 innings across three minor-league levels, and the Rangers called him up over the weekend because they're short on starters. He responded with six scoreless innings against the Twins. Mendez has a chance to wipe away the stink of the last two years this September and pitch his way into consideration for a 2019 rotation spot.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Taylor Guerrieri
Like the White Sox and Eloy Jimenez, the story with the Blue Jays is who they are not calling up in September, specifically Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the best prospect in the minors. Vlad Jr. finished the minor-league regular season with a .381/.437/.636 batting line, 20 homers, and nearly as many walks (37) as strikeouts (38) in 95 games around a knee injury. He reached Triple-A as a 19-year-old. Toronto is not calling him up in September for service time reasons and service time reasons alone.
Instead, the team's most interesting September call-up is right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, a former first round pick who came over in a waiver claim from the Rays last offseason. Guerrieri has dealt with a lot of injuries in his career as well as multiple drug suspensions, but an upper-90s fastball and snapdragon curveball tends to earn players a second chance. He struck out 41 with a 5.48 ERA in 57 1/3 Triple-A innings this year, mostly in relief. Guerrieri will continue rebuilding his career in the big leagues during the season's final month.
Washington Nationals: OF Victor Robles
Give the Nationals credit, they don't play games with the service time of their top prospects. Juan Soto came up earlier this year and Victor Robles is back with the team in September, . Robles, a tippy top outfield prospect, hit .276/.371/.370 with two homers and 14 steals in 40 Triple-A games around the injury, and he's back again as a September call-up. Washington even carried him on their postseason roster last year. With Bryce Harper set to become a free agent this winter, it's possible Robles is up for good.
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