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August 21, 2013

Sporer Report

Looking Ahead to September Promotions

by Paul Sporer

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For the second straight week, the Sporer Report has an eye on September. On the one hand, I’m sad because we’re winding down the regular season. On the other hand, it’s been a tremendous season and the races to the finish in both MLB and my fantasy leagues should offer plenty of thrills, too. Speaking of those fantasy races, some of them will turn on guys who did little or nothing in the first five months of the season. I’ve got seven potential American League September call-ups—all pitchers—who could bring some solid value down the stretch.

This is some deep speculation, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to take the plunge. Those of your in 10- and 12-team mixers likely don’t need to pounce just yet and in fact shouldn’t pounce yet unless you’ve got remarkably deep rosters. Instead, use this as a cheatsheet of who to keep tabs on as we get closer to September 1. Those of you in deeper leagues might find a few of these guys already rostered, but otherwise should be available and if you have the roster space then you should consider getting the jump on your league mates. These are ranked in order of potential impact which accounts for the likelihood that they even get the call.

Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
Gausman’s gotten some major -eague action this year, showing brief glimpses of his potential, but ultimately failing in his first go at the highest level with a 6.21 ERA in 33 1/3 innings of work. One of those glimpses was his best start out of the five, which actually came against his toughest opponent, the Detroit Tigers. He outpitched Rick Porcello, going six strong, allowing just one run on five hits with four strikeouts and zero walks. That brought his ERA down to 7.20 at the time, and he promptly pushed it back up to 8.84 his next time out in St. Petersburg against the Rays.

His latest stint in Triple-A saw him post a 3.63 ERA in five starts spanning 22 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts before missing some time with forearm soreness. The Orioles have every reason to be cautious with him, but he returned to the rotation this past Monday and tossed five scoreless allowing just three hits and fanning seven batters. He should get a couple more starts before rosters expand and he should at least log regular innings in the bullpen if not garner a rotation spot at some point in September as Scott Feldman has an unspectacular 4.84 ERA in eight starts with the team.

Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
Ventura has wowed on a national-ish stage, pelting triple-digit bb’s at the opposition in the Futures Game the last two years, but it is his minor-league work this year that has garnered the real attention, as he’s been masterful in a split season between Double- and Triple-A. The 22-year old flamethrower posted a 2.34 ERA in 57 2/3 innings at Double-A with a filthy 32 percent strikeout rate and 3.7 K:BB ratio before earning a promotion to Omaha in early June. There, he has remained quite successful with a 3.43 ERA in 65 2/3 innings while still maintaining an incredible strikeout rate at 25 percent.

He’s 14 innings over his 2012 total, which isn’t egregious, so a couple more Triple-A starts plus a handful of MLB outings in place of Wade Davis or the currently glass slippered-Bruce Chen should still keep him on the right side of 50 innings over his 2012 mark. He should at least offer strikeouts upon arrival even if the results are a little bumpy at the beginning.

Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
Like Gausman, he wouldn’t be experiencing the big leagues for the first time with a September call-up, but is definitely someone who could contribute for the first time in 2013. In fact, it would be the first time since 2011 for Pineda, who missed all of 2012 and has yet to debut in pinstripes. His shoulder has remained problematic all year, limiting him to just 40 2/3 minor league innings, but he’s been sharp, especially at the highest level where 23 1/3 of the innings have come.

He has a 3.32 ERA in his 10 starts with a 24 percent strikeout rate and 2.9 K:BB ratio which have blossomed to 27 percent and 4.3 in six Triple-A outings. Also, like Gausman, he was shelved for soreness in early August though he hasn’t yet returned. Assuming he does in time to get some more Triple-A work in, he should get the call with the big-league club where he will push Phil Hughes for time in the rotation.

James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
The M’s have been reticent to push any of their big three prospect arms this year and now one of them, Danny Hultzen, appears to be done for 2013. One of Walker or Paxton should get the call in September, if not both, as they could easily replace Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang in the rotation. The former just pushed his ERA up to 4.91 on Tuesday night while the latter hasn’t been south of 5.00 but for two starts this entire season despite having a pair of shutouts on his ledger. Walker has the higher ceiling, but he’s also four years younger and has just nine starts at Triple-A.

Paxton has spent the duration of 2013 in Triple-A and done well for himself, especially on the heels of a tough 2012 that wasn’t nearly as good as his 3.05 ERA suggested. He isn’t missing as many bats as normal with a 21 percent strikeout rate and a career-worst 9.9 H/9 rate, but he’s gotten better as the season as gone along with a 2.83 ERA in 54 innings over the last two months after a brutal 5.15 in 78 2/3 innings over the first three months of the season.

After destroying Rookie and A-ball as a teenager in 2010 and 2011, the 19-year old Walker hit a bit of a stumbling block in Double-A last year with a 4.69 ERA, though it is hardly a negative when you consider that he skipped a level and he was the youngest pitcher in the entire league. Instead of focusing on the ERA, we should marvel at the fact that he still maintained a 21 percent strikeout rate and 2.4 K/BB ratio in 126 2/3 innings. Now 20, he obliterated Double-A in his second go at it (2.46 ERA in 84 IP) before moving to Triple-A where he has against posted less-than-ideal results, but ones made better when you consider the context of league and his age.

I would love to see Walker get a shot, but if I had to bet, it’d be on Paxton given his age and experience at the highest minor league level.

Erik Johnson, Chicago White Sox
As crazy as it sounds when you see it, the 49-74 White Sox actually might not have a rotation spot open for Johnson if they were to give him a look. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, and Hector Santiago aren’t going anywhere, and rookie Andre Rienzo has acquitted himself quite nicely in four starts so far with a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Of course the 23-year old Johnson may force their hand and things could go south quickly for Rienzo given his 1.5 K:BB ratio and 1.1 HR/9 rate.

Johnson has been a standout this year which isn’t exactly hard in a system bereft of talent, but it’s been because of his excellence, not because their top prospect might not make Minnesota’s top 15. Johnson’s 2.74 ERA in High-A last year is his worst mark in four stops the last two years and he’s often had the peripherals to match (his 2.1 K/BB and 1.35 WHIP didn’t marry well with the 2.30 ERA in A-ball, but since then it’s been smooth sailing). This year he has a 2.01 ERA between Double- and Triple-A powered by a 1.59 in the latter. He’s only logged eight starts in Triple-A, but his 24 percent strikeout rate and 3.4 K:BB ratio in the 45 1/3 innings are mighty impressive.

We saw Daniel Hudson blow through the minors in similar fashion with the White Sox a few years back and even Quintana was mighty impressive in his climb, though only his 48 2/3 innings at Double-A were as a White Sox farmhand. I paired the Mariners together because they are in the same organization, but I would actually rate Johnson higher than Walker for probability of getting a chance to start. Walker’s ceiling remains higher, but we’re looking for immediate impact, not 2014 and beyond.

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Our longest shot of the group, Stroman got a late start to his season, but he’s done his best to make up for lost time with 17 impressive starts all in Double-A. In addition to shiny his results of a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, he is backing it up with a 28 percent strikeout rate, six percent walk rate, and 5.0 K:BB ratio in 95 innings of work. The 2012 first rounder could skip the highest level of the minors and log some MLB innings at the expense of Esmil Rogers, who has now surpassed his 2012 innings total by 29 and also pushed his ERA above 5.00 for the season with a rash of poor starts.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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