Looking ahead to the September Callups

On September 1, all major league teams are allowed to expand their rosters beyond the 25 man active limit imposed on them during the first part of the season.  The rules are simple, if you are on the 40 man roster, you can be called up.  As for who gets the call, that is  something quite different.   There are three reasons why a player gets called up in September:

  • They can help you win your division
  • A reward for an excellent year in the minors
  • A long look to see if that player might be a contributor next season

For a team in playoff race, it is simple.  You call up players that can help take innings away from your weary regulars.  Pitching is a universal need, so bullpens will quickly expand.  Teams facing regular shortfalls of bench players will add a bat or two, and as many fresh legs as possible for late inning pinch running situations (anybody remember Kerry Robinson?).   Until about two weeks ago, this is exactly where the Cardinals were, and that suggested a rather small and focused list of call-ups. When asked about this on a recent Sunday morning call-in radio show, La Russa specifically listed catchers, relief pitchers and fresh legs as things he was looking for in September.

With Milwaukee running away with the National League Central, the attention now shifts to the other two categories.  The only limitations now are expenses and distractions.   As much as bloggers and sports writers give Tony La Russa a hard time about younger players during the regular season, I’m sure he’s anxious to get a look at the talent he, or his successor, will have next year.

2010 Callups

Last year, the Cardinals were still in playoff contention, trailing the Cincinnati Reds.  At the same time, Memphis was ending their season on a high note, with the last four games against the only team ahead of them in the standings.  Both of these played a big part in how the September callu-ps played out.

The first two took place on September 1.  The Cardinals recalled Nick Stavinoha, to give them some offense from the right side of the plate, and a backup catcher, Matt Pagnozzi.  Several days later, they also recalled Tyler Greene to add some late inning defense and speed on the bases.  This also might have been an audition for 2011, with Brendan Ryan’s days in St. Louis counting down a a precious few.

Once Memphis lost in the first round of the playoffs, the rest of the kids were called up.  This included Mark Hamilton, Evan MacLane, Allen Craig, PJ Walters, Joe Mather, and  Daniel Descalso.  Heading into the last week, Stephen Hill was also asked to join the big club, replacing the recently departed Felipe Lopez.

That’s 10 minor leaguers called up, of the 15 that are eligible.   The way they were called up was a function of St. Louis’ diminishing playoff chances and the Memphis early exit from post-season, but 10 out of 15 is a big number.  This year could follow a similar plan, especially if Memphis can close their current 4 game deficit behind the Omaha Stormchasers.

Projecting the 2011 Callups

Before looking at who the Cardinals should call up, let’s take a quick look who are currently eligible.  As of today, that list would include Maikel Cleto (p), Brandon Dickson(p), Adam Reifer (p – injured),  Francisco Samuel(p),  Bryan Anderson (c), Tony Cruz (c), Matt Carpenter (3b), Zack Cox (3b), Tyler Greene (ss), Mark Hamilton (1b), Pete Kozma (2b, ss), Andrew Brown (of), and Adron Chambers (of).

Of that group, here’s who will likely get the call

Tony Cruz –  .271 / .331 / .403.

Is there any question that he will be the first name on John Mozeliak’s list ?  While Gerald Laird was on the disabled list, Cruz did everything he could do to stay with the big club.  His defense, including an arm that rival’s Yadier Molina, and timely hitting suggested that he may someday be the Cardinals every day catcher.

Bryan Anderson – .290 / .362 / .423.

Anderson has had a great year at the plate, and that will be rewarded by another call-up.  With the emergence of Tony Cruz, this may be more of an audition for his next team via an off-season trade.  In any case, Anderson’s continued work on his game deserves a month of big league pay and accommodations.

Brandon Dickson – 8-9 3.73 ERA.  154 1/3 innings, 122 K, 32BB.

As he did last year, Dickson has come on strong in the latter half of the season.   He was also very impressive in his short time in the Cardinals bullpen.   Expect Dickson to get a long look as they try to determine where he will play next year.

Dickson doesn’t throw hard, but can run it up into the low 90s.  He will show a fastball at the top of the strike zone, but his strength is his off-speed pitches, low in the zone, with very late movement.  As a result he gets a lot of ground balls.   When he tires, the balls start creeping up in the zone and he can be hit hard.   Prior to his call-up, he had been on a run of very impressive starts, going very deep into the games.

He reminds me a lot of a very young Woody Williams.

Maikel Cleto – 5-2 3.74 ERA, 67 1/3 innings, 61 K, 39 BB.

In any other year, Cleto would not get the call, but the only remaining pitchers eligible are Adam Reifer (injured) and Francisco Samuel.  Reifer is out and Samuel spent most of the year on the disabled list and has just recently returned to AA.  That leaves just one eligible pitcher on the roster, and that’s Cleto.  It will be fun to watch the young flame thrower in a few ballgames.

Cleto has Lee Smith potential, if he can learn to find the edges of the strike zone with regularity.

Mark Hamilton –  .344 / .432 / .475.

Other than winning games, the next highest priority in September will be the front office and coaches getting a read on a possible post-Albert Pujols roster.  That will be somewhat difficult with Albert chasing milestones of his own – a .300 batting average and 100 RBIs.  Pujols will be given every chance to reach those goals and he has absolutely  earned the opportunity to do so.

That said, Mark Hamilton may be an important component of Life Without Albert, so he should be given ample opportunity to show off that prolific bat he’s carried for most of his career in AAA.   If the Cardinals spend too much time negotiating with Team Pujols, and Lance Berkman gets a better offer (2 years, 12-15M per year) elsewhere (Chicago, San Francisco), the Cardinals would be wise to understand if Hamilton is ready to assume daily duty at first base, and the heart of the Cardinals batting order.

Tyler Greene is hitting a gaudy .329 / .425 / .609 (he’s slugging .609 folks – that ain’t swinging a limp stick).

He’s also second on the Memphis roster in stolen bases at 16, just behind Adron Chambers at 22.  A present, he still leads the major league team in steals.  That is even more embarrassing than the Cardinals August meltdown.  If there was a AAAA Hall of Fame, Greene would be a first ballot inductee.  There isn’t, so all that remains for the young man to prove is that he needs to be in St. Louis next year.  With the Cardinals holding onto a ginormous option for Rafael Furcal next year, expect Greene to get a chance to win the 2012 shortstop job before the first Jack-o-lantern is carved.

Matt Carpenter .301/ .416 / .459  28 doubles, 10 home runs, 61 RBIs.

With another season of David Freese’s Most Dangerous Jobs behind us, we need to start looking for a more durable replacement at the hot corner.  Matt Carpenter impressed a lot of fans during spring training, and he was just as impressive in his first full year at the AAA level.  He’s also proven to be the one thing that David Freese is not, durable.  He’s a good gap-to-gap hitter with occasional power, and is third on the Memphis roster in RBIs (behind Andrew Brown and Nick Stavinoha).

Pete Kozma .218 / .286 / .296.

It’s hard to get excited about a minor leaguer with an OPS under .600, but a good showing as a late inning defensive replacement could go a long way to earning Kozma a bench spot in 2012.   That is a real long shot, but consider that Kozma is hitting better than Corey Patterson, and Rafael Furcal isn’t doing that much better.  Certainly not $12M better.  With Ryan Jackson due a promotion to Memphis in 2012, a decision regarding the future of Pete Kozma is coming.

Andrew Brown .288 / .386 / .506 18 home runs, 64 RBIs.

One of the most improved players in the minor league system, Brown has turned in an impressive season in Memphis.  He complements gap power at the plate with an absolutely electric arm in the outfield.  His 7 outfield assists leads Memphis, and is 2 more than the Cardinals leader, Jon Jay.  Until a late season drop off (stats experts will be proclaiming a regression to the mean), Brown had looked just like Allen Craig 2.0, but with a better outfield arm.  With Craig now firmly established in St. Louis, the Cardinals need to take a long look at Brown to figure out when he will start accumulating major league outfield assists.

Adron Chambers .280 / . 371 / .417  18 doubles, 42 RBIs and 22 stolen bases

I’ve saved the best for last.  The biggest disappointment in the 2011 season was the lack of a catalyst at the top of the batting order.  Adron Chambers looks like the real deal, and may be the best leadoff man since Lonnie Smith in the early Whitey Herzog era.   Unlike Skates, Chambers complements his better than average bat and exceptional speed with some very solid defense.   He is a legitimate center fielder, and will not be shy acting as a field general over the likes of a Matt Holliday or Lance Berkman.  He still may be one more year away from taking over the every day center field duties, but an impressive showing in September could go a long way to making ’12, the Year of Adron.

That makes 10, exactly the same number as last year.  In a recent call-in show, Tony La Russa set an expectation of 5 to 8 players being called up.  In that case, Bryan Anderson and Pete Kozma could be the odd men out.  Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak has said that the number will actually be smaller, more like 5 to 6.   That is consistent with the team in a playoff race (6 in 2008, and 4 in 2009).

So what about …….

With the Cardinals 40 man roster full, there aren’t any open spots for players like Adam Ottavino, Victor Marte or Nick Stavinoha.   In all three cases, the players have already been on a major league roster, and removing them a second time would grant them immediate free agency.  That’s probably where Stavinoha is headed following the 2011 season anyway, but it would be nice to reward the young man for a most productive year at the plate.

But to do so would require removing a player from the 40 man roster.   They did that last year with Felipe Lopez, but that was somewhat of an unusual situation.   The Cardinals could release Gerald Laird or Corey Patterson to make room for another prospect, but don’t count on that.  As interesting as that might seem at first, it would be a terribly un-classy thing for a major league franchise to do.  The long term consequences of such a move would impact future free agents, like Lance Berkman, who now want to play for the team.  Pull a couple of stunts like that, and nobody will want to come to St. Louis.

That’s why you won’t see Nick “The Stick” or Adam Ottavino.

That’s also why you won’t see Shelby Miller or Matt Adams.  At least, not this year.  I would expect both to be added to the major league roster following the post-season purge, especially Adams.  But it would be a big mistake to release a current player to reward either of these young men.

Zack Cox is the last remaining eligible player. After a rough start to his AA season in Springfield, Cox turnaround has been even more impressive than that of Albert Pujols.   Thanks to Daniel at C70 at the Bat for correctly pointing out that another of Cox’s three option years has already been burned, so there is little contractual downside for calling him up.  The young man has certainly deserved some sort of reward for his hard work, but his call-up might fall into the “clubhouse already too crowded” category.   Don’t worry too much about Cox, he will be in St. Louis soon enough.   He will be out of options next year, so expect him to be playing with some major league club  in 2013.

There is one more player on the Memphis roster that should get a September invitation: Shane Robinson.  Injured early in the season on a horrific collision with Andrew Brown, it did not look like he would return this year, if ever.  But he did, and has played some of the best baseball of his career.   In fact, he beat out Adron Chambers as the every day center fielder in August.   In limited play, he is hitting over .300 with a good on-base percentage.  He is also 9 out of 10 in stolen bases and plays as good a center field as anybody in the Cardinals organization.  There are two things against Robinson – the lack of a open spot on the 40 man plus the fact that he has already been on the major league roster.  If the Cardinals feel that another year of AAA would be the best for Adron Chambers, seeing Robinson in center field next year would not be the worst thing we’ve seen in a Cardinals outfield.

Update: On September 2, the Cardinals purchased the contract of Shane Robinson.  In order to make room for him, Lance Lynn was moved from the 15 day disabled list, to the 60 day.   Congratulations to one of my favorite young players.

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6 Responses to Looking ahead to the September Callups

  1. M Oates says:

    Do you think we can get Furcal in ’12?


    • It’s a strong possibility. I don’t see the Cardinals picking up his $12M option, but if Furcal has been a good citizen in the clubhouse, I expect the Cardinals to make some sort of effort to resign him. That’s what makes the Tyler Greene call-up so important – a good performance changes that situation and could save the Cardinals a ton of money, to go after some other free agent.


  2. Daniel says:

    Nice post. Thanks for clarifying a lot of things for me!


  3. Cardinal70 says:

    Great stuff as always, Bob, but one clarification. You seem to say that Cox won’t come up because it would affect “future option years”. However, Cox is already on a major league contract and, as such, burned this option year in the spring when he was sent down. He could come up without any repercussions on his future, at least from a contract status.


    • Thanks, Daniel. I should have known that, DOH! I have gone back and corrected that paragraph, with proper credit given 🙂

      We have all been paying attention to Albert’s chase of .300 after that awful start. Cox’s story is even more impressive, I think. He started off the year on fire in Palm Beach, but had a very hard time adjusting to AA after being promoted. I saw him when the team made their second trip to Frisco, and he was still hitting around .220, and that might be on the high side. He’s now over .300 (.314 combined with Palm Beach) and the power has come back. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded over the winter, sort of like Brett Wallace. Seems to be a great kid, and works hard.


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