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April 14, 2005

Getting the Call

Impact Call-Ups of 2005

by Caleb Peiffer

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Final cuts have come and gone, and the proving grounds in Florida and Arizona have fallen silent until next year's rite of spring passage. Management of all thirty major league clubs has hacked through the multifarious and sometimes anonymous bodies that populate the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues to come up with the 25 ballplayers that headed north for the long-anticipated opening of the season.

Not every player that was tossed back into the vast waters of minor league baseball is incapable of having an impact on the 2005 season, however. If there is a constant in baseball, it's that the season is brutally long, and good depth-as the PECOTA forecasting system attests-is perhaps the most crucial aspect in maintaining a winning ball club through the sultry months of August and beyond. Having top shelf talent readily available on the farm is critical to overcoming the injuries and lack of production that inevitably plague the major league roster of every team.

The big names moved every year at the trade deadline get most of the attention, but often the most effective mid-season acquisitions are the less flashy moves made by teams that dip into their young talent pool in the high minors. Every year, several acclaimed (or overlooked) young players come up from the bush leagues to make a sizeable impact with the parent club. In 2003, the Marlins' Miguel Cabrera was called up on June 20th and hit 12 homers down the stretch to help the Fish earn a surprise playoff berth, then hit four more to help them capture their second World Series. The year before that, it was the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez who got a late cup of coffee before throwing 23.3 electric innings in the Halos' improbable title run. Last season, Kansas City pitcher Zack Greinke debuted on May 22, and although he didn't help the woeful Royals advance to the playoffs, he did contribute 6.2 wins above replacement (WARP 3), more than any other player on the club.

So, with that in mind, who are the players who weren't on Opening Day rosters most likely to put their stamp on the 2005 season? Here are ten candidates who you'll likely hear quite a bit from before the books close on '05 (Players who began the year on the DL, like Jayson Werth, or who are in the minors for injury rehab, like Dallas McPherson, were excluded):

American League

  • Brandon McCarthy, Chicago: McCarthy was pretty close to removing himself from this article by making the big club right out of spring. After ChiSox ace Mark Buehrle suffered a bizarre foot injury that originally was expected to sideline him for six weeks, Chicago penciled the 21 year old into the rotation at the start of his fourth pro season. After Buehrle made a freakishly quick recovery to start Opening Day, the Sox sent their prize prospect to AAA Charlotte to start the year. It's not hard to see why they think McCarthy would have done an adequate impression of the team's ace; the young righthander led the minors last year with 202 strikeouts, and boasts a K:BB ratio over the last two seasons of 327:45. When the Sox shaky rotation starts wobbling-Jose Contreras and Jon Garland are prime candidates for implosion, and Orlando Hernandez for the knife-McCarthy will be ready to step in behind Buehrle, and help keep Chicago alive in a weak AL Central.

  • B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay: Upton would have been the best player on the Devil Rays roster if they hadn't sent him back to AAA Durham to start the year. It's a move that makes sense only when you consider that the Devil Rays are one of the finest organizations in baseball aside from wins and losses at the major league level. There will be plenty of losses for Tampa Bay, and plenty of wins for Durham as long as Upton stays in North Carolina. Don't expect that layover to be long-at age 19 in 2004, B.J. hit .311/.411/.519 in AAA before putting up a respectable .258/.324/.409 in 159 ABs in the show. He'll be in the lineup regularly at midseason, and regardless of whether he is playing third base or shortstop, will make a run at the illustrious Devil Rays' WARP crown.

  • Casey Kotchman, Anaheim: Those who checked out the 2005 Top 50 Prospects roundtable know that there is some disagreement about just how good a prospect Kotchman is. Does he have enough power for a first baseman (just 23 homers in 834 minor league ABs)? Can he stay healthy enough to contribute regularly? These are legitimate questions-until you turn your attention to the current Halos' first sacker, Darin Erstad. Not to pile on the former Nebraska punter-lord knows he's taken his statistical abuse-but Kotchman should play his way from Salt Lake City to Anaheim and past Erstad before the season is out. When GM Bill Stoneman makes the call, Kotchman will start banging doubles all over the Big A, and if the Angels give him the playing time he deserves, he just may hit a handful of two-baggers in October, too.

  • Dan Johnson, Oakland: With Calvin Pickering safely tucked away on the Royals active roster, the Free Big Pick! Club has turned its attention to Oakland slugger Johnson, the next cooped up minor league behemoth. Johnson has hit 77 home runs the past three minor league seasons, and last year posted an OPS of .938 in pitcher-friendly Sacramento (AAA). GM Billy Beane knows full well what he has in the 24-year-old Johnson, but is financially hamstrung by the large contract that he handed to the incumbent, Scott Hatteberg. If management bites the bullet and lets Johnson steal some of Hatteberg's at bats, he could swat enough homers to help edge Oakland into the playoffs. The more likely scenario has him being shipped in one of Beane's famous midsummer maneuvers, in which case Johnson's slugging would aid Toronto or Kansas City in the quest to escape the cellar.

  • Chad Orvella, Tampa Bay: So far the temptation to unleash the unholy beast that is PECOTA on this article has been resisted, but Orvella's projected line is far too enticing:
    
    IP  H   BB  SO  ERA   VORP
    64  54  15  58  3.31  19.8
    

    All that goodness from a relief pitcher, who only started pitching after he was drafted in 2003, and jumped three levels last year. The 76:5 K to BB ratio he hung on the California League last year is one of the more ludicrous stats of recent memory. Orvella won't have an impact on the playoff picture, but he should be one of the best relievers in the league come mid-seas-what's that? You want to make him a starter? Sure, the D-Rays need a lot more than a bullpen weapon. A Scott Kazmir-Orvella combo does sound pretty nice, and not just phonetically…

  • Honorable Mention: Felix Hernandez, Jonny Gomes, Dan Meyer

National League

  • Andy Marte, Atlanta: Just about the only thing that will stop Marte from making a contribution this year is if he basks excessively in the glory of the top spot on the BP 2005 prospect list. Think Marte needs more seasoning? He's already lighting up the International League, hitting two homers in an April 8th doubleheader. Marte looks to be the successor to Chipper Jones, who was also a prominent Atlanta third base prospect 12 years back. Most likely, Marte will be up soon and playing left field, a scenario that will help the club offensively, but would be a severe misallocation of resources. Chipper's lead glove should be moved back to the outfield so Marte's reign at third base can begin posthaste.

  • Ryan Howard, Philadelphia: How do you get the nerve to demand a trade after only 39 ABs in the majors? Well, by hitting 88 homers in the minors over the last three years. Howard's frustration is understandable--he's already 24 years old, and the clock is ticking on his career as the next slugging Howard (following Frank Howard--no relation). In Philly, his path is clearly blocked by Jim Thome; if it weren't, Howard's .901 career minor league OPS would have already landed him a starting job. Chances are Howard will get his demand fulfilled before the summer ends, and will start making up for lost time in the race to match Frank's 381 career long balls.

  • Anthony Reyes, St. Louis: Behold, the polished college pitcher. Reyes spent four solid years at USC, but injuries and middling numbers suppressed the buzz around him. That buzz is starting to crescendo following his 2004 season, when he lit up the Southern League, striking out 102 batters against just 13 walks in 74.3 innings. In the process, he made a little history-a team record at AA Tennessee of 15 Ks in a start, including setting down a Southern League record eight in a row. PECOTA thinks he's capable of being the Cardinals' number three starter right now, projecting a 3.60 ERA and 94:27 K to BB ratio in 102.7 IP. Look for him to be the first guy up when Mark Mulder or Chris Carpenter hits the shelf. He'll be more than an adequate rotation patch, allowing the Redbirds' lineup to blast its way to the division title.

  • Jesse Foppert, San Francisco: Foppert dropped off the table pretty quickly after a disappointing 2003 in San Francisco followed by Tommy John surgery, prompting an unfortunate alteration of his surname in fantasy circles. Those jokes are about to end, however-Foppert came back to pitch at the end of last year, then turned in a solid spring effort. He still has the stuff that got him to the bigs at age 22 after 183 Ks in his '02 minor league campaign, and in his first start for AAA Fresno on April 8th threw 5 shutout innings with 9 Ks. A couple more starts like that, and Foppert will force his way back onto the parent club, and likely to the top of the rotation.

  • Prince Fielder, Milwaukee: While Jim Thome has nothing to fear from a rampaging Ryan Howard in Philly, Lyle Overbay has an oversized reason to keep his suitcase half packed, as the gigantic shadow of the Prince begins to fall over Milwaukee. Cecil's slugging son hit a home run in his debut with AAA Nashville--amazingly, the fourth time Fielder has homered in his first game at a new minor league level-after smashing several mammoth blows in spring training. Overbay is a good player with a solid skill set, but he doesn't fill the mold of the powerful 30+ homer first baseman, a role for which Fielder was bred. Prince will start fulfilling that role before the year is out.

  • Honorable Mention: Rickie Weeks, Edwin Jackson, Ezequiel Astacio

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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