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August 28, 2013

Five to Watch

September Call-Ups Unworthy of Your Immediate Attention

by Ben Carsley

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September call-ups, when used correctly, can make for great late -eason additions to fantasy squads. When used incorrectly, though, such players can do more harm than good—especially to your rate stats or to teams with short benches.

So while the majority of columns you read in the coming days will extol the fantasy virtues of the September call-up, this one will instead preach caution. With that in mind, here are four likely call-ups—and one recent call-up—you should let other owners fight over in the coming weeks.

Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox
Few second-tier prospects were as hyped as much as Bradley was coming into the season. Many cooler heads tried to caution that a player with 271 plate appearances in Double-A probably wasn’t ready for prime time, and said cooler heads were correct. Bradley collected just four hits in 43 PA in the majors in April and May, and has seen just eight games in the big leagues since. That being said, the 23-year-old has been quite productive in Triple-A and is poised to play a role off the Red Sox’ bench come September.

Given that Bradley is putting up a .272/.373/.476 line in Pawtucket with a TAv of .305, it might be tempting for fantasy owners in deep mixed or AL-only leagues to pick him up. This temptation is probably coupled by the fact that that what playing time he does receive will see him emerged in a potent lineup and likely in an offense-friendly ballpark. Yet barring an injury to Jacoby Ellsbury or Shane Victorino, Bradley should remain on waivers in your league for a few reasons.

For one, Bradley isn’t likely to receive many starts in a productive Boston outfield. Instead, the playing time he does see is more likely to come as a defensive replacement or as a pinch runner (and even the latter is a role he might not be well-suited for, as he’s just six-for-12 in stolen base attempts). The Red Sox are also loaded with left-handed hitters, reducing Bradley’s likelihood of seeing time for platoon purposes. Long story short: I don’t expect Bradley to see more than 30 plate appearances in September, and he won’t do enough with that time to warrant a pick-up.

Zack Cox, 3B, Marlins
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Cox was considered a top 100 prospect by many publications (although not this one) before the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Then he hit .254/.294/.421 in Triple-A with the Cards in 2012, was dealt to Miami for Edward Mujica, and floundered in Double-A with the Marlins.. The precipitous fall from grace saw him lose much of his prospect luster before the season began, and he’s largely become a forgotten man in an organization rich in prospects but poor in everything else.

Cox has managed to bounce back subtly this year. In 84 games and 314 PA in Jacksonville, he’s hitting .267/.357/.360—a respectable stat line, but hardly one that blows you away from a 24-year-old repeating a level. Still, the Marlins are currently playing something called an Ed Lucas at third base every day, with only the sentient remains of Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs to vie for playing time. There’s a legitimate case to be made that he’s the best third baseman in the organization who could feasibly play in the majors today (ladies and gentleman, your 2013 Marlins).

As you can probably tell from the ringing endorsement delivered above, even if Cox is promoted in the next few days, picking him up in anything short of a 12-team NL Only league is silly. Cox is devoid of power—he’s hit just three homers this year and 13 the past two seasons combined—and his modest 2013 comeback is buoyed by a .340 BABIP. There’s also that whole “playing for the Marlins” factor, meaning Cox wouldn’t be in a good position to drive in or score runs even if he played every day. I’m aware that there are few owners out there waiting for Cox with bated breath, but it’s feasible someone could remember his previous prospect status, see an opportunity and jump. Don’t jump. Cox can’t help you.

Reymond Fuentes, OF, Padres
Remember Reymond? If the name sounds familiar to you and you’re not a prospect nut, Carlos Beltran or a San Diegan, it’s because he was the third piece in the Casey Kelly-and-Anthony Rizzo-led package that landed the Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez in 2011. After a solid post-trade campaign in High-A in 2011, Fuentes completely flopped in San Antonio last season, hitting .218/.301/.302. For all intents and purposes, he fell off the prospect radar.

Fuentes has bounced back in a big way this year though, putting up a .316/.396/.441 line through 403 PA back in Double-A. He continued his success in a small sample of games in Triple-A, and is a logical choice to see significant playing time in a depleted Padres outfield now that he’s been summoned to the majors. Fuentes’ newfound success at the plate and impressive stolen base totals (42, 41, 35, and 35 in each of the past four seasons, respectively) may lead some owners to look at him as a cheap source of steals, average and runs down the stretch.

Don’t be one of those people. Fuentes’ .316 average was fueled by a .381 BABIP, and while his speed makes that mark a bit less suspect than it would for some it’s still unsustainable. If you’re banking on Fuentes racking up steals, keep in mind that he’s been thrown out 11 times this year in 46 attempts. And, if you’re counting on runs, keep in mind that the Padres are 26th in the majors in runs scored, and that Fuentes isn’t batting at the top of the lineup. If you’re in a very deep league (16+ teams) or are desperate in an NL-only league, picking up Fuentes is permissible. Otherwise, don’t fall for the comeback story.

Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles
Gausman is among the prominent pitching prospects most likely to be called up to the majors in the next few days. His Triple-A stat line isn’t terribly sexy but his last four starts have been very good, as have five of his seven starts since returning to the minors in mid July. Two-fifths of the O’s’ rotation is currently comprised of Bud Norris and Scott Feldman, and while Baltimore gave up talent to get both pitchers just a few weeks ago neither is performing terribly well right now.

So why should you still be disinterested in Gausman this fall? We can start with the obvious: He was sent back to the minors in the first place because he was pretty awful in the majors. In five starts, Gausman was good once, ok once and really bad three times, giving up 21 earned runs in 24.2 innings. It’s fair to point out that these starts came in May and June and argue that a lot has happened since then, but a lot really hasn’t happened since then: Gausman has made just seven minor-league starts in that time.

Even if you do want to believe Gausman has completely righted the ship, it’s far from a safe bet that he’ll see any MLB starts. While Feldman and Norris haven’t inspired awe with their performances, they haven’t earned demotions to the bullpen yet either. Jason Hammel is also working his way back, which further muddles the picture. Finally, Gausman has dealt with arm soreness as of late, which (pure speculation) could lead Baltimore to limit his innings. You get the picture: There are a ton of factors beyond his own previous failure conspiring to keep Gausman out of the rotation, and there’s little fantasy value in a middle reliever. Keep Gausman in mind as a post-hype sleeper for 2014 instead.

Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners
Walker is probably the most surprising name on this list: I’m even surprising myself a bit by including him here. He’s one of my favorite prospects to monitor (I’m a sucker for an easy fastball) and much of what I read around the interwebs tells me I should be excited about his future. The Mariners have recently released the aesthetically challenged Aaron Harang. That’s lead to widespread speculation that Walker or fellow prospect James Paxton will get to make a few starts as the regular season winds down.

Even if Walker is chosen over the elder and more experienced Paxton for the job, and even if he is pitching in Safeco a few times, I can’t endorse him right now from a fantasy perspective. Walker crushed Double-A earlier this year. In 57 1/3 innings in Triple-A he’s put up a respectable 3.61 ERA with matching peripherals and an impressive 10.05 K/9. He’s also walking 4.24 batters per nine innings, but overall, these are encouraging signs from a man who just turned 21 two weeks ago.

But a closer look into Walker’s starts shows that he’s just as capable of imploding as he is of pitching a gem, and that he’s not yet able to pitch deep into games. Walker has made it through six innings in just four of his 11 Triple-A starts to this point, and he’s only made it into the sixth in one more. He’s also given up at least three earned runs in five of those starts, and right now his WHIP sits at an unpalatable 1.41. As mentioned above I love Walker’s long term upside, and I suppose if you get him at home in a truly favorable matchup he’s worth a speculative add. But for teams in contention in 2013, Walker is simply too risky to trust right now, as you’re as liable to get a short outing with an ugly WHIP as you are a 10-strikeout performance.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Matt... (08/28)
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