With the September 1 roster expansion just hours away, many clubs will use this opportunity to call up top prospects to the big club. Some will be on the club just to fill out the bench and to get used to the big league life in hopes of contributing next year or in the future, but some will be given the opportunity to contribute right away. Those players will have the chance to impact pennant races in the bigs, but more relevant here, may also be new faces to add to your team as the fantasy playoffs begin.
Before I get asked "where's my guy", I don't think the Yankees will start Jesus Montero's clock right now or deprive him of everyday playing time, and new "it" prospect Brandon Belt would have to not only make it to the bigs from A ball, he'd have to break into the overcrowded 1B/OF situation in San Francisco, so I don't see it. Feel free to suggest others in the comments, though.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds P. Let's start with the obvious name on the list, because over the last few days the internet has been ablaze with reports that the Cuban lefty hit 105 mph for AAA Louisville. I have a hard time believing that's accurate, but then again, even if the radar guns were a little hot, are we really going to be disappointed with a 22-year-old lefty who's "only" hitting 101-102?
Chapman's overall stats are nice enough, but not really indicative of the pitcher he is now. In the first half of the season, Chapman was not only acclimating to life in America, he was also a starting pitcher. In 20 first-half games (13 starts) he struck out 90 in 75 IP, but he also walked 47, just over 4.5/9. Yet in 19 second-half games, all in relief, he's managed to rein in the walks to post a tidy 35/5 K/BB ratio, allowing opponents to hit just .137.
Chapman's future remains as a starter, though he'll be used strictly out of the Cincinnati bullpen down the stretch. That fact may limit his value somewhat as he'll throw less innings than a starter would, though he'll certainly get his chances in a Reds pen that has struggled all year to have more than one or two relievers throwing effectively at the same time. Plus, he's available in nearly 90% of ESPN leagues.
Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B. Our own fantasy expert Marc Normandin took a look at Freeman yesterday, and it's well worth the read. Freeman, still shy of his 21st birthday, will be called up partially in order to prepare him to take over 1B for Atlanta in 2011.
Don't discount him completely for 2010, however. Atlanta didn't acquire Derrek Lee to have him ride the bench, but Lee's .176/.263/.265 start to his Atlanta career (albeit in just 38 PA) is hardly the first impression he'd hoped to make, especially after his subpar season in Chicago. With Bobby Cox likely to go out guns blazing, it wouldn't be out of the question for him to play the hot hand should Lee not provide any offense. At the very least, the lefty Freeman, who crushed right-handers in the minors (.335/.400/.558), may provide a viable platoon option to Lee in September.
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays P. This one's kind of bending the rules, since Hellickson was up earlier in August and provided excellent results in four starts, striking out 25 against just 4 walks, and allowing 6 earned runs in 26.1 innings. That just showed that the reports were true, Hellickson is ready now, and his demotion to the minors and the bullpen only serve to minimize the innings he throws this year.
Hellickson probably won't start another game, but that doesn't mean he won't have an impact on the playoff race, both for Tampa and for fantasy teams. Remember, this isn't the first time we've seen Tampa take a highly-touted pitching prospect and move them into relief down the stretch; it worked out pretty well with David Price in 2008, didn't it? Due to the demotion, over 22% of ill-informed ESPN fantasy owners have dropped Hellickson recently. He's an absolute must-own in keeper leagues, and he's worth a look in redraft leagues as well.
Jenrry Mejia, Mets P. Like Hellickson, Mejia has seen the bright lights of the big leagues already, getting into 30 games in relief between April and June. Mejia's 3.25 ERA is a bit misleading, since he struck out just 5.5/9 while walking 4.9/9, but considering that he doesn't even turn 21 until October, just holding his own was impressive indeed.
Upon returning to the minors, Mejia was placed back into the starting rotation, and the results immediately improved. In six AA starts spanning 27.1 innings, he allowed just four earned runs, while striking out nearly a batter per inning. Mejia was promoted to AAA Buffalo last week and was stellar in his debut, striking out nine while allowing just one run in eight innings against Syracuse.
Multiple sources claim that not only will Mejia be recalled to New York, he'll do so as a starter, perhaps even as soon as this coming weekend. He's still young, and 20-year-old starters are risky, to be sure, even ones who topped BP's Mets prospect list before the year. But there's also no doubt that there's opportunity in the Mets rotation both now and in the future, and Mejia is coming in hot.
Mike Moustakas, Royals 3B. Unlike Chapman, Freeman, and Hellickson, it's not a foregone conclusion that Moustakas will taste the majors this season. Moustakas was the #3 prospect on Kevin Goldstein's Royals list entering the season, but many had cooled on him after a 2009 campaign that saw a lowly .297 OBP for A+ Wilmington. It's a bit of an understatement to say that Moustakas came back this year with something to prove; he's hit 34 homers across two levels, was named the Texas League Player of the Year, and – now with AAA Omaha – hit three homers with 11 RBI on Monday.
Wilson Betemit has been quietly outstanding since taking over the majority of 3B time in Kansas City, though he should never be considered a roadblock; either way, his positional flexibility gives the Royals some options. Should Moustakas take that next step, the Royals would be eager to see what they have and would likely play him nearly every day.
Desmond Jennings, Rays OF. Jennings is expected to be among the Rays' initial callups, though in nearly any other organization he would have been in the bigs months ago. Clearly, Jennings isn't going to play in place of Carl Crawford in LF or Ben Zobrist in RF, and though the argument could be made to give him a shot in CF, he's probably not going to usurp B.J. Upton either.
That said, he'll get opportunities as he auditions to replace the free agent Crawford in 2011. It's been somewhat of a disappointing year for the top prospect, who has seen his OPS drop from .888 in 2009 to .756 in 2010. One tool still shines through, though: Jennings has stolen 89 bases over the last two seasons in the minors, which is impressive on its face, but the fact that he's been caught just 11 times in that span is nearly as eye-catching. Expect him to get plenty of pinch-running chances for the Rays – great if you're lacking in steals – and some garbage-time at-bats as he tries to make his mark in the bigs.
Tim Collins, Royals P. Everyone's favorite diminutive lefty (listed at 5'7", though that's probably generous) has been traded twice already this season, yet he's done nothing but continue to dominate no matter where he ends up. As a 20-year-old in AAA (he turned 21 just a few days ago), Collins has struck out 13.8 men per nine, topping his career average of 13.3.
We've yet to hear if the Royals will give him an opportunity this season, though you'd think it wouldn't be that hard to find a spot for him on a club that's currently carrying the likes of Brian Bullington and Jesse Chavez. He's struck out 18 over his last 15.1 IP, while allowing three earned runs. Once he arrives, don't expect him to challenge Joakim Soria for saves, but the path to the 8th inning is wide open in Kansas City.
J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays C. Arencibia's historic debut put him on the map for a lot of people, though he managed just one hit in 15 more PA before being sent down. Arencibia's not as good as his debut, but he is a legitimate power threat. At first glance, you'd be tempted to chalk up the 32 homers he's hit in the minors this year to his home park of Las Vegas – I know I did – but closer inspection reveals that he's actually performed far better on the road.
John Buck's All-Star selection aside, he's a journeyman coming off a DL stint with just one extra-base hit in eight games since his return. He's also a free agent after the season, so when Arencibia is recalled, expect him to see plenty of time in prepration for taking over in 2011. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that any sort of offensive production from a catcher these days is a miracle, and with Carlos Santana injured and Russell Martin a shell of himself before his own injury, Arencibia could provide value for those of you stuck with the likes of Jason Kendall and Rod Barajas.
Mark Trumbo, Angels 1B. We're rounding out our list of prospects to watch with a bit of a lesser-known name, Mark Trumbo. At first glance, the fit appears obvious; without Kendry Morales, the Angels have had a power outage and a hole at 1B, which they've tried to fill with catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Meanwhile, Anaheim native Trumbo is tearing up the PCL with 33 homers and a .943 OPS.
I include him here because I'd be surprised if the Angels, now five games under .500, don't decide that now is the time to give him a chance. Beware, though – his TAv comes in at just .236, well below the MLB 1B average of .291. Still, there's no question that the raw power is there, and there's value in that if nothing else.