Unlike some years in putting together the annual predictions for September call-ups by the St. Louis Cardinals, there are no top prospects for whose major league debuts have been long-awaited. For that matter, almost every projected arrival has already seen the major leagues.
Due to the combination of multiple factors, what you have seen during the season is more of what we should be prepared to expect to receive in September.
Traditionally, any organization trades off the developmental benefit of calling up extra players with the cost and logistical challenges they create. Given the Cardinals club is perennially in playoff contention, there aren’t many specific needs to be filled by youngsters.
I can’t see that situation changing much here in 2014. One exception may be additional bullpen help.
In contrast, an also-ran team playing for the future likely has a number of clear open requirements. As such, they can afford to give prospects a more thorough final-month look-see. We are seeing that in the current series against the last-place Cubs.
A typical September
Based on analysis of past years’ September roster actions, a representative mix of around eight minor leaguers that might be added to the roster in a typical year could look like this.
Pitchers – three righties and one lefty
Catchers – one
Infielders – two
Outfielders – one
Of course, the necessary personnel need to be available to warrant the moves and that varies by year. Check the addendum to this report for September specifics from the last five years.
For 2014, one has to take into account the return of catcher Tony Cruz from temporary on-paper banishment to Springfield and pitcher Michael Wacha during the final month. There also seems a fair chance that Jason Motte and Mark Ellis will be ready. They would effectively increase the active roster even further, squeezing opportunity from the minor league call ups.
Update: In the first draft of this article, I forgot to include second baseman Ellis in this group.
Timing is everything
Though major league needs take priority, the Memphis Redbirds are on track to win their division and could play until at least mid-month. The Triple-A National Championship Game is scheduled on September 16.
The names of players to be called up probably will not change, but because of Memphis’ post-season, the timing of arrivals in St. Louis will almost certainly be delayed and staggered.
40-man roster candidates
The most obvious additions to St. Louis in September would be sourced from those 40-man players not already in the majors.
On the pitching side, I see a pair of lefties, Marco Gonzales and Kevin Siegrist, as virtual locks. Right-hander Eric Fornataro has 15 saves, including four this month, and seems to have a decent chance of being asked to return.
Jorge Rondon is the only other active pitcher on the 40-man. The right-hander has pitched very well in the second half and has five saves in August. Just because of numbers, I think one of Fornataro or Rondon will be passed over. I am going with the latter.
Audry Perez was up last September, but with the Cardinals already having three catchers, I suspect Perez would not be called up unless there is an injury to one of the top three during the final month.
The only 40-man outfielder in the minors is Rafael Ortega. Just called up to Memphis this past week, he is not ready.
(Players who spent a majority of the season with Memphis and would be among the call-ups if they were not already in St. Louis include left-handed pitchers Tyler Lyons and Nick Greenwood and outfielder Randal Grichuk.)
Non-40-man roster candidates
One important factor that can often limit new additions is the finite size of the 40-man roster. One roster spot is currently open, which should be needed for Wacha’s expected activation.
The club could easily create another by shifting Shane Robinson to the 60-day disabled list. Yet another could be added by moving Keith Butler to the 60-day, but because the reliever is in the minors currently, expense reasons to avoid that move remain.
To make room for yet another, a marginal 40-man player could be removed, but I am not sure who that would be. I don’t think the Cards are ready to give up on Rondon or Ortega. The organization may instead prefer to make adjustments prior to the Rule 5 draft as opposed to in September.
On the position player side, outfielder Tommy Pham may be in the right place and time to benefit from Robinson’s misfortune. Not only could he use Robinson’s 40-man spot, Pham could also soak up his playing time, albeit limited. Having a strong 2014 following years of injuries, the 26-year-old is a fan favorite – at least prior to his arrival.
Power-hitting first baseman Xavier Scruggs would be the other non-40-man roster possibility, but the need for a more one-dimensional player is questionable, in my opinion.
Speaking of pitching, pretty much everyone who might have a reasonable chance of being called up is already on the 40-man and has appeared in St. Louis earlier this season.
The only exception is veteran David Aardsma, who has shown improvement in his five games since coming off the disabled list. When all is said and done, I think Motte’s return for what may be his final month as a Cardinal will keep Aardsma out of the picture.
Taking everything into account, my best guess is that we will see the following ten additions in St. Louis during September, including five pitchers. All except one has already appeared with the Cardinals, some obviously more than others.
Pitchers: Michael Wacha (off DL), Jason Motte (off DL), Marco Gonzales, Kevin Siegrist, Eric Fornataro
Catchers: Tony Cruz
Infielders: Mark Ellis (off DL), Greg Garcia, Pete Kozma
Outfielders: Tommy Pham (40-man addition)
Here are the five 40-man players who would be left behind in my scenario:
Pitchers: Keith Butler (currently on the DL), Jorge Rondon
Catchers: Audry Perez
Infielders: Aledmys Diaz (DL)
Outfielders: Rafael Ortega
The bottom line is that I am projecting a total of ten players, including six minor leaguers, to join St. Louis for the final month. They would be players who could step in and potentially contribute to the September playoff run.
Unless the course is changed, I expect that to include just one 40-man roster addition from the system, Pham.
The roster would be further bolstered by the returns of major leaguers Cruz plus Wacha, Motte and Ellis from the DL.
Footnote: Recent September history
Last year, the Cardinals added seven minor leaguers plus Cruz came off the disabled list. Pitchers were Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons, catcher Audry Perez, infielders Ryan Jackson and Brock Peterson and outfielder Adron Chambers.
Two years ago, Triple-A call-ups in late August and early September included eight players plus the activation of Lance Berkman from the disabled list. The additions included pitchers Shelby Miller, Victor Marte and Sam Freeman, catchers Steven Hill and Bryan Anderson, infielders Jackson and Pete Kozma and outfielder Chambers.
In 2011, six players came up from Memphis plus Nick Punto was added off the disabled list. The first three players from Triple-A - all of whom arrived before the PCL season was over - were Cleto, Brandon Dickson and Shane Robinson. Robinson was re-added to the 40-man as Lance Lynn was moved to the 60-day DL.
When Memphis’ season ended, Tony Cruz, Tyler Greene and Chambers were also promoted. In a vivid reminder that very good players do not always receive the call, Matt Carpenter was among those passed over that September despite the third baseman having a .417 on-base percentage with Memphis.
In 2010, the Cardinals added an unusually-high total of ten players, at least partially due to a number of injuries. St. Louis called up four players before Memphis’ 2010 post-season run was completed. They were outfielder Nick Stavinoha, shortstop Greene and catchers Matt Pagnozzi and Bryan Anderson.
Following Memphis’ year, the Cardinals recalled six more players, five of whom were already on the 40-man roster. They were first baseman Mark Hamilton, outfielders Joe Mather and Allen Craig and pitcher P.J. Walters. Second baseman Daniel Descalso was placed on the 40-man and made his MLB debut exclusively at third base. When catcher Yadier Molina was deemed out for the season due to a knee injury in late September, Steven Hill was the last Redbird added to the recall list.
In 2009, six minor league players were called up. Two joined prior to the completion of Memphis’ post-season while the other four followed in late September. Right-handers Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth were the early arrivals. The later group consisted of reliever Josh Kinney, catcher Pagnozzi and infielders Greene and David Freese.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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