September 1 is the day that rosters expand from 25 to 40, and hundreds of players from the minors get the call to spend the final month of the season in the big leagues. While plenty of top prospects won’t get that call because such a move requires placement on the 40-man, there have still been many interesting names-both new and old-on the transaction wire over the last 48 hours, and here are ten story lines of note.
Chris Getz, 2B: Getz is one of those guys who scouts warm up to slowly. He’s not especially big, nor is he much of an athlete, but he knows how to play baseball. Coming off of a .302/.366/.448 year at Triple-A Charlotte, Getz makes consistent hard contact, works the count well, can run a little, and displays excellent fundamentals. That, and his ability to play on the left side of the infield in a pinch, could give the White Sox some additional playoff flexibility should they choose to keep him on their post-season roster.
Kila Ka’aihue, 1B: A native of Hawaii, Ka’aihue entered the year as no more than an organizational player. He’d spent six years in the Royals system, repeated a pair of levels, and has career averages of .252/.368/.415. This season, beginning his third year at Double-A Ka’aihue exploded, batting .314/.463/.624 for Northwest Arkansas and opening scouts’ eyes even more with a .316/.439/.640 performance in 33 games following a promotion to Triple-A that included 11 home runs in 114 at-bats. With 37 home runs, he has displayed game-breaking power, and he also led the minor leagues with 104 walks, making him a consistent on-base threat as well. The one aspect of his game that has talent evaluators suddenly seeing him as a legitimate big-league first baseman is his ability to make contact, as it’s hard to find hitters who can slug 37 home runs against only 67 strikeouts. With a good showing this month, he could be in line to take over at first base, giving the Royals an excuse to never again allow Billy Butler to wear any glove other than a hitter’s model.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Kendry Morales, 1B; Brandon Wood, SS: Both Morales and Wood have had plenty of big-league at-bats, and both are coming off of impressive second halves in the Pacific Coast League that should give Mike Scoscia some confidence in using them down the stretch, if not on the playoff roster itself. Singed out of Cuba, Morales was expected to be an everyday player, and while Mark Texiera has him blocked for now, Texiera’s year-end eligibility for free agency may finally give Morales a shot. He hit .364/.395/.597 after the All-Star break, and although he doesn’t have the power one normally expects in a first baseman, he’s quite comparable, both in terms of abilities and potential, to the Angels’ previous first baseman, Casey Kotchman. Wood has been one of the top power prospects in the game for years, but contact problems have pestered him at the upper levels, as well as in his recent big-league callups. He seems to have turned a corner over the last months of the season at Triple-A Salt Lake, batting .361 with 17 home runs in 147 at-bats after the break. Both he and Morales could be everyday players for the Halos next year, and this is a chance to see just how far they’ve come.
Scott Elbert, LHP: You can never have enough lefties, but Elbert’s call-up was still a big surprise, and a possible indication of post-season consideration. One of the top lefty prospects in the game entering 2007, Elbert pitched just 14 innings last year before undergoing shoulder surgery, and he did not return to the mound until this June. Placed in a bullpen role in order to manage his workload, Elbert flourished, limiting Double-A hitters to a .157 average while striking out 46 in 41
Mat Gamel, 3B; Alcides Escobar, SS; Angel Salome, C: Let’s work backwards on this one. Last year, Jason Kendall was the starting catcher for a good team (the Cubs), who by the time the playoffs arrived had lost his starting job to a September callup (Geovany Soto). Could history repeat itself? Salome just had a monster year at Double-A Huntsville, batting an incredible .360/.415/.559 and casting off any concerns over last year’s contested positive test for PEDs, or his bizarre cube-like frame (he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 201 pounds). Salome would provide an instant upgrade to the team offensively from behind the plate, but it’s unlikely that the Brewers will want to rock their current boat. Escobar really has nowhere to play in a crowded Milwaukee infield, but he instantly becomes the best defensive player on the team, and that should have value in itself over the final few weeks of the season. After being arguably the best hitter in the minors during the first half of the season, with a .375/.433/.612 line on July 12, third baseman Mat Gamel went into a horrible slump, batting just .189/.283/.315 the rest of the way with no real explanation or obvious cause. He also remains a third baseman in name only after committing 32 errors there, giving him a whopping 119 miscues over the last three years.
Aaron Cunningham, OF: The Athletics have a hoard of young outfielder prospects, but for the most part they’ve disappointed the organization; toolsy Carlos Gonzalez proved to be not quite ready for prime time, Travis Buck is trying to re-assemble his swing in Triple-A, and Ryan Sweeney continues to look like no more than a fourth outfielder because of his lack of secondary skills. Enter Cunningham, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade. After missing the first month of the season with a wrist injury, Cunningham came out blazing at Double-A Midland, batting .317/.386/.507, and was even better following a move up to Triple-A, with a .382/.461/.645 showing in 20 games. Always an excellent hitter, Cunningham showed unprecedented power this year with 17 home runs, and reminds many scouts of a right-handed version of pre-struggles Travis Buck. With a solid big-league showing (he went 2-for-4 with a double in his pro debut), he could pass a lot of names on a lengthy outfield depth chart.
Will Venable, CF: The son of former big-leaguer Max, Venable took a slow route to the majors, spending more time on the basketball court during his four years at Princeton (where he was an All-Ivy League point guard) than on the baseball field. When he finally decided to devote himself to the sport that had paid his dad enough money to send him to Princeton, he was already 23 years old, and had yet to play his first full-season league game. He’s more than made up for lost time, batting .292/.361/.464 for Triple-A Portland this year to earn a month-long audition as the Padres’ everyday center fielder. Venable is one of those players whose greatest strength is a lack of weaknesses; he has no single blow-you-away tool, but he can hit a little, draw some walks, show a modicum of power, and run well. He also has little standing in his way for the starting job next year.
David Price, LHP: The best part of this story is that Price hasn’t even gotten the call yet. On August 31, the Rays recalled Jae-Kuk Ryu from the minors and promptly placed him on the disabled list. That might seem qurious to be sure, and not the kind that generates headlines, but this could be the warmup for bringing Price up late and retaining his playoff eligibility, something like the K-Rod maneuver by the Angels in 2002. The top overall pick in the 2007 draft, Price is a future rotation ace that could end up making his big-league debut in a Joba-esque bullpen role. Scouts are universal in the belief that he could get major league hitters out with little trouble right now.
Taylor Teagarden, C: This is really a showcase. That, or Jarrod Saltalammachia is being showcased. Or maybe it’s Gerald Laird… and oh yeah, what about Max Ramirez, who hit .347/.439/.628 in the minors this year? The point is that the Rangers have a a quartet of big-league-ready catchers, and something or someone is going to have to give. A third-round pick in 2005, Teagarden is probably the best defender of the quartet, but he also has the most questionable bat. He’ll never hit for much of an average, but hopes to make up for it with plenty of walks and home runs. With a .211/.319/.374 line this year in a season that had its fair share of hiccups due to injuries and the Olympics, there is still work to be done, and the Rangers may be hoping that someone else steps forward that has the time to do that work.
Travis Snider, OF: Only 20 years old, Snider was a first-round pick in 2006 who spent all of last year in the Low-A Midwest League. He began this season at High-A Dunedin, and is now finishing it in the majors as he auditions for a full-time job for Opening Day 2009. One of the best pure hitting prospects in the minors, Snider is built like a linebacker and offers patience and power, projecting as a true upper-division middle-of-the-order run producer who should score and drive in 100 annually. Some worry that he’s being rushed, but he showed the ability to make adjustments against advanced pitching throughout the year, including a .344/.386/.516 line in 18 Triple-A games. This is a future star-bet the bank on it.