At this point, we know pretty much who the playoff teams will be. Sure, the AL Wild Card is still up for grabs, leaving six teams with a realistic shot at those two spots, but knowing eight (and more realistically, nine) of the 10 playoff teams with three weeks still remaining is more certainty than we’re used to in a baseball season.
We also, at this point, know most of the prospects who will be receiving, or have already received, call-ups to the major leagues this September. There are still some teams active in the minor league playoffs, but the majority of those prospects getting a taste of the big leagues are already doing their tasting.
Most of those getting significant playing time are on teams long forgotten in the playoff discussion. The Mariners, for instance, are essentially trotting out a hybrid of their major league team and their Triple-A affiliate from Tacoma. The Houston Astros have pretty much been using a Triple-A lineup all season.
But there are a few legitimate prospects who just got to the majors, are playing on contending teams, and may work their way onto postseason rosters. I’ve broken them down into categories:
Michael Wacha is almost certain to make the Cardinals’ postseason roster. That’s cheating a little bit, because Wacha wasn’t just a recent call-up. He’s been up and down all season, contributing both in the Cardinals’ rotation and in their bullpen. He probably won’t make any postseason starts, but it’s hard to argue that he’s not one of their 11 or 12 best pitchers.
Wacha showed in the minors what he can do in short stints and in the majors he’s fanned 19 batters in 10.2 innings as a reliever (16.0 K/9) compared to just 5.8 K/9 as a starter. He’s still a starter long-term, but for this season, he could be a dynamic weapon out of the bullpen come October.
It feels more far-fetched to think that the A’s could keep Sonny Gray on their postseason roster. Wacha has been a part of the Cardinals discussion all season, but Gray spent most of the season in Triple-A and has only recently joined the A’s major league rotation. I was surprised to see that they had thrown a similar number of innings in the majors this season, but they have (Wacha leads 46.1 to 43).
Both are recent first-rounders, both have pitched out of the bullpen on occasion this season, and both have been very successful right away in the majors. But for some reason, Wacha seems much more of a lock to pitch in October. The A’s are currently using Gray as the fifth starter they won’t need in October, but if he continues to pitch as well as he has, he could work his way into a bullpen role similar to the one Wacha will man in St. Louis.
If they’ll use them
Nick Castellanos has been in the majors for over a week now and has four plate appearances, this despite being on a team that employs Andy Dirks as a starter at Castellanos’ current left field position and has a hobbling Miguel Cabrera in need of days off at his previous third base position. Castellanos finally got his first major league start over the weekend, only to get pinch hit for by Dirks after two plate appearances.
Castellanos can hit, certainly much better than Dirks, but it’s getting clearer and clearer with each passing day that Tigers manager Jim Leyland has no plans to even see if he’s ready to contribute, let alone insert him into an everyday role or put him on the postseason roster. I don’t know what the thinking is behind burying Castellanos on the bench, but even in a part-time role, you’d think his bat could be an asset.
I moaned about Xander Bogaerts not playing in his first game after being called up in this very space a few weeks ago. At the time, I admitted to making a mountain out of a molehill because I expected him to be playing regularly from there on out. Since Aug. 20, Bogaerts has just 15 plate appearances, but at least that’s something.
In the Red Sox’ defense, Bogaerts is at least being blocked by productive players. Will Middlebrooks got hot right around the time Bogaerts got called up, and Stephen Drew hasn’t been great, but he does have an .829 OPS since Bogaerts joined the team thanks to a few home runs. The Red Sox have enough cushion that they can afford to run Bogaerts out there and see if he’s worth keeping on the postseason roster (his positional flexibility at shortstop and third base helps), but it would be more as a pinch-hitter than a defensive replacement. The Sox didn’t exactly trade for John McDonald‘s bat, you know.
The Braves called up catching prospect Christian Bethancourt on Monday, giving them four catchers on their major league roster. That obviously won’t happen in the postseason, but one of those catchers is Evan Gattis, who has caught only four times since the start of August and is used as a platoon outfielder/first baseman/pinch hitter. He doesn’t completely count.
The Braves could easily keep a third catcher and use Gattis in a bench/emergency catcher role. If that’s the case, the Braves could have an interesting decision between Bethancourt and Gerald Laird, who has been with the team all season. The likely choice is Laird, who has been an adequate backup all season, but in general, he’s just not very good. Bethancourt isn’t a very good hitter, but his arm is what NASA uses to fuel its rockets. It’s probably not enough to warrant a postseason roster spot, but should the Braves find themselves in a short series against, say, the last guy on this list, having a howitzer behind the plate could come in handy.
Finally the reason I really began this article: the Billy Hamilton decision.
Hamilton’s legs are perhaps the best tool in all of baseball, in that the gap between him and the second fastest person in the game may be bigger than anybody else is at any one thing they do well. Dusty Baker, who deservedly gets a ton of flak for his in-game decision-making, has used Hamilton perfectly, as a pinch-runner extraordinaire, affecting the game without ever stepping in the batter’s box. That’s good, because he’s not ready to do anything there anyway.
A week into his major league career, Hamilton hasn’t touched a bat yet, but he’s 4-for-4 on stolen bases and has scored three runs, all in late innings. It’s difficult to justify handing out a roster spot to a player with essentially one skill, unless he’s as good at that skill as Hamilton is. In the postseason, games are tight and moves are magnified. Hamilton’s ability to be a weapon on the bases has the potential to swing the outcome of at least one game in October. That alone is enough reason to keep him active. Dusty will have to get him a few at-bats between now and then just in case it comes to that, but it’s Hamilton’s legs that will get him on the Reds playoff roster, and they’re worthy of the spot.