The Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers all entered 2010—and this summer as well—as contenders in their divisions. With mid-September nearing, all three are now essentially also-rans in the playoff race; as a result, they're using this month to look at some kids who could play a role down the line.
The Red Sox seem to have their 2011 outfield set, but with age concerns, there are a few possibilities that could open up.
The Angels continue to have a good farm system, but one of the minor leagues' home run leaders seemingly has no real major league spot.
The Dodgers may have a real battle at closer coming up in the very near future.
Red Sox: Who's in the outfield?
Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew are all under contract for 2011; that would seem to be the Red Sox's starting outfield come April. More realistically, though, those three have combined to play less than 200 games this year—and Drew turns 35 in November, while Cameron hits 38 in January. That means the Red Sox needs to make some decisions about new blood, and the constant injuries have allowed the club to at least answer plenty of questions heading into next year.
While a great story, Daniel Nava has proved not to be big league-capable due to a lack of hitting and defensive flexibility. Darnell McDonald, though, has resurrected his career by proving he can hit a bit, run well and play all three positions. While he's created some kind of big league future for himself, it might not be in Boston, due to the presence of two outfielders who actually qualify as traditional prospects.
By getting the big league call at the end of July, Ryan Kalish had seemingly passed Josh Reddick on the team's depth charts—but Reddick re-entered the picture with a monstrous second half that included a .351/.372/.627 line at Triple-A Pawtucket after the All-Star break. Both players are, if not big league-ready, at least deserving of an opportunity to prove they are, and having them both on the roster next year to spell Cameron and Drew could give the Red Sox one more year and much more information to make decisions for the following season.
Angels: Plenty of options
The biggest late-season call-up—literally, figuratively and in terms of velocity—is Jordan Walden, who has suddenly been given the opportunity of a lifetime with former closer Brian Fuentes being shipped to the Twins. Rookie closers are a rarity, but Walden has suddenly put himself in the running by striking out 10 of the first 22 big league hitters he's faced while sitting at 98-99 mph with his fastball. If it weren't for Aroldis Chapman and the first-place Reds, this would be the rookie arm everyone was talking about, and concerns about Walden's long-term health are greatly relieved now that he's expected to throw only 60 innings per year.
The end of the Triple-A season also brought a pair of position prospects that have the potential to stagnate in the minors if the Angels can't find a home for them. Catcher Hank Conger finished the year strong (.300/.385/.463) by hitting .376 over his past 30 games. His defense remains a mixed bag: He led Pacific Coast League catchers with 13 errors—yet, in good news, he wasn't charged with a single passed ball in 81 games behind the plate. At the major league level, Jeff Mathis has proved once again that he can't hit big league pitching, and Mike Napoli is a liability defensively. Conger can take advantage here.
More confusing is the future of Mark Trumbo, who hit .351/.432/.653 after the All-Star break and finished tied for the minor league lead with 36 home runs. Primarily a first baseman, Trumbo received a handful of outfield starts this year—to bad reviews—but even figuring how to play left field at an acceptable level will help his chances immensely. With Kendry Morales returning in the spring, Trumbo has no chance to play first base at the major league level any time soon; there's a chance he could replace Hideki Matsui, but bringing a young guy in as a DH is not typically done.
Dodgers: A closer competition
With the late-season struggles of Jonathan Broxton contributing to the Dodgers' slide, is the closer job suddenly an open competition next spring?
Current closer Hong-Chi Kuo would be the obvious favorite in such a situation—but converted catcher Kenley Jansen has been making his case of late, with a dominating fastball/slider combination that has led to 14 strikeouts over seven two-hit innings in his past five appearances. Moved to the mound just a year ago, Jansen's explosive development gives the Dodgers plenty of options should Broxton's problems end up being permanent.
The trading of Blake DeWitt gave Ryan Theriot the second base job, and he has hit enough to deserve the shot. He's also the only real option, despite some impressive numbers from infielder Ivan DeJesus at Triple-A Albuquerque. After missing all of 2009 with a broken leg, DeJesus rebounded to hit .296/.335/.405 for the Isotopes, but Albuquerque is one of the most inflated offensive environments in the minors. As a team, Albuquerque hit .340/.392/.554 at home and just .263/.320/.404 away from the friendly confines of Isotopes Park. That trend continued for DeJesus, who hit just .251/.288/.330 on the road. What often looks like a prospect for the Dodgers' Triple-A squad is often a mirage worthy of the New Mexico desert.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .