With the final month of the season quickly approaching, it's time to start thinking about the very best part of September for prospect watchers: roster expansion. Specifically, this is the time of year when teams can promote minor leaguers to the major league level without fear of wasting a precious 25-man roster spot.
So what new names should we expect to see as each of the minor league seasons come to an end? The key to this -- and any roster estimation -- exercise is to think like the team; who does the front office want to see? And why?
There are two central motivating factors when discussing September prospect call-ups: The first is the idea of rewarding a player in the upper minors for a strong season. Pretty basic. The second and probably more important factor is the idea of 40-man roster manipulation. Specifically, these are the moves made with December's Rule 5 Draft in mind. Instead of adding a potentially vulnerable player to the 40-man this winter, there's not a lot stopping a club from doing it now and getting a look at said player.
So with all that in mind, once again, who should we expect to see?
The (Nearly) Sure Things
These are the guys that fit both criteria: Not only did they produce strong seasons in Double and/or Triple-A, they're also eligible -- and at least somewhat likely to be selected -- for this year's Rule 5 Draft.
Matt den Dekker, OF
Unfortunately, the 2010 fifth rounder missed much of the season after the injury to his wrist, suffered in spring training. In 41 games back he's batted a very respectable .276/.342/.463. Most notably, he's managed to temper his strikeout rate from the near-30% levels to a slightly more tolerable 26.2%. At 26 years old, it's not quite clear where he fits in going forward -- especially considering he was basically Wallypipped out of the cheap, light-hitting, defensive stud role this season by Juan Lagares. However, for the price of league minimum, his skillset of premium defense with some pop is definitely worth keeping around.
Jacob deGrom, RHP
Will the Mets soon have three players whose names actually start with the little 'd'? Looks like it. The 24-year-old hard-throwing righty is another polished, yet talented player ripe for the Rule 5 picking -- making him an extremely good bet for a brief cameo this September. Beyond that, he's had a strong 2013 campaign -- pitching well in 11 starts for Las Vegas when a lack of arms rushed him to Triple-A. While he'll likely make a few starts for the big club next month, the club's surplus of starting pitching means that deGrom is likely slotted for the back of a bullpen long-term. Either that or a strong debut could serve as a nice way to boost his trade value this winter.
Jeff Walters, RHP
As the closer for the Double-A Binghamton Mets, Walters' has not only posted a sterling 2.16 ERA but he also set the club's single-season saves record (for what that's worth). The far more important detail is that the former starter has seen the velocity on his already impressive fastball increase in 2013 to the point that he's regularly hitting 96 MPH. With over a strikeout an inning and a .234 opponent average, it's pretty clear that the 25-year-old isn't far from helping a major league club and profiles nicely as a cheap, effective, potential late-inning relief pitcher.
The Possibles (But Probably Not)
Cory Vaughn, OF
Is he ready to help? Probably not. Are there even going to be enough at bats for another outfielder? Again, probably not. But would he get selected in the Rule 5 given his very strong tools and a nice year in Double-A? Maybe. For that reason he's probably at least a dark horse for a surprise call-up -- that and the fact that he missed about two months in the middle of the season so he could use the extra reps. More likely he'll just be considered for the 40-man this winter.
Similar sentiment for Ceciliani.
John Church, RHP
Church has always been an under-the-radar arm that's performed well at nearly every level. Currently, as a member of the Las Vegas bullpen, the 26-year-old is posting an outstanding 0.96 ERA -- albeit in 16 appearances. The problem is that his stuff just isn't quite up to the level of, say, a Jeff Walters. Church works more in the low 90s with a decent secondary mix and solid command. Not a sexy profile, but not much less than what Gonzalez Germen is working with. Probably won't see him this year, but I fully expect we'll hear his name in '14.
Adam Kolarek, LHP
Like many of these players, the 2010 11th-rounder will be eligible for the Rule 5 in December. However, it's somewhat unlikely he gets grabbed considering his lack of top shelf stuff as well as the fact that the current stock of proven, major league LOOGYs seem to be able to pitch til they're 50. That being said, Kolarek has done all that's been asked of him -- see, 1.87 ERA with a .204 opponent average and 56 strikeouts over 57.2 innings in Double-A -- and the low-90s stuff isn't exactly filler-quality either. I doubt they use a roster spot on him, but I do think he's a name we may see again next year.
Giancarlo Alvarado, RHP
The 35-year-old Puerto Rican was signed out of the Mexican League back in June and has performed admirably, allowing one or fewer runs in seven of his nine starts. Don't mistake him for the next Miguel Gonzalez -- whom Baltimore also nabbed out of the Mexican League -- as he's whiffed just 26 batters in 46.2 innings. That being said, he won't embarrass himself and with Harvey and Wheeler petering out by then, they'll need someone to soak up some innings.
Darin Gorski, LHP
The results have been outstanding in Double-A (1.90 ERA in 10 starts), but the stuff just isn't where it was early in 2012. If the Mets are extremely short on starters he may get a look but it's highly doubtful they'd keep him on the 40-man going forward. For that reason, there's a better chance the Mets leave him exposed to the Rule 5 -- where there's sure to be little interest for an older lefty with high-80s heat -- than call him up and then burn an option year sending him back down following the season as he's still too valuable to outright release like they could with Alvarado.
Erik Goeddel, RHP
The same is likely true for Goeddel -- though his chances to quickly transition into a relief role in the majors are much better than Gorski's due to a better overall repertoire. However, the same can be said for dozens of middling starters each year around Rule 5 Draft time, and very rarely do any of them actually move.
Eric Campbell, OF
Much like Fred Lewis last season, this would represent an attaboy for a strong campaign and more generally, sticking out an entire year in Triple-A at an advanced age. Campbell has quietly had a very nice season, worthy of some recognition -- though as a non-40-man player it's a long shot.
Allan Dykstra, 1B
Re-read what I just said about Campbell, except Dykstra had an even better season -- albeit it at Double-A.
These are the guys who have already been there and are most likely still on the 40-man roster. These guys will almost certainly be back up because again, they've already done the heavy lifting of making the 40-man so at this point there's little reason not to recall them instead of sending them home for the winter. This means players like Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, and Greg Burke. You can probably also throw in guys like Zach Lutz and Robert Carson.
If I had to guess, I'd say that we're going to see all of the guys from the first group and all of the guys from the final, veterans group. Only Giancarlo Alvarado from the middle group. In that scenario the club promote ten players, one more than the nine they called up last September.
Some other random thoughts:
- Regarding Tejada, for anyone wondering -- and it sounds like some people are -- he will be back in September. No sooner. In my view, the reasoning is two-fold: One, by waiting until rosters expand it allows the Mets to keep both Quintanilla and Tejada without having to send down the former, subjecting him to waivers and likely losing him once again. It doesn't sound like huge potatoes to let Quintanilla go, however in this organization -- where there is so little shortstop depth at pretty much any level -- a semi-capable major league shortstop is a valuable thing. The second reason is simpler: Tejada blew it this year. His work ethic was already in question when he came into camp out of shape. He looked like garbage in the field and obviously the bat was as bad as it's ever been. Plain and simple, this is a wake-up call for Tejada -- and in my opinion, a very justifiable one.
- While it would be fun, don't expect to see either Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero. While both have pitched well enough, there's no rush to add either to the 40-man before it's absolutely necessary. Additionally, they'll both soon be hitting their innings limits. Now if there were another injury in the rotation then maybe we'd hear Montero's name brought up to make a spot start, but don't count on it.
- There are going to be some interesting decisions regarding a few more top shelf prospects eligible for the Rule 5. A few guys fall into this category, but the two most pressing names are Steven Matz and Luis Cessa. Neither has a shot to be called up all the way from Savannah, but it's risky to leave such dynamic arms unprotected for some club like the Astros or Marlins to stash in the back of their bullpen for a year. Though it's not the best practice to have players in Class-A on your 40-man, I fully expect Matz to be added this winter, a la Hansel Robles last year. Cessa is more likely to be on the outside looking in, making him vulnerable to be plucked.
- For the record, there's a pretty decent shot we would have seen Cesar Puello at some point this September as well. Unfortunately, due to the suspension we're clearly going to have to wait until 2014 before he makes his debut in Queens.