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, every one of my projected arrivals has already seen St. Louis at least once previously.
In other words, 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 2015. 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. That is not the case with the first-place Cardinals.
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 out the addendum to this article for September results since 2009.
Disabled list returnees
Here in 2015, one has to take into account the return of multiple front line players from the disabled list. There seems a fair chance that Matt Adams, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk, all starters in the past, will be ready at some point during September.
They would effectively increase the active roster even further, squeezing opportunity from the minor league call ups. That is especially the case in the outfield, the only position played by three of the four.
Adam Wainwright, Matt Belisle and Jordan Walden are pitchers currently on the 60-day disabled list for whom I am not currently projecting a September return. Wainwright wants to prove everyone wrong, but at this point, I am not giving it greater than 50 percent odds of happening. Reasons include risk and nowhere in the minors to rehab by the time he may be ready.
Timing is everything
Though Major League needs take priority, the Memphis Redbirds still have an outside chance of winning their division and if so, could play in the Pacific Coast League post-season until at least mid-month.
The names of players to be called up probably will not change, but if Memphis makes the playoffs, the timing of arrivals in St. Louis will almost certainly be delayed and staggered.
40-man roster factors
The most obvious additions to St. Louis in September would be sourced from those 40-man roster players not already in the Majors. In fact, I do not predict any 40-man additions for the final month.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. Just to activate Adams, a player will need to be dropped from the 40-man. The reason is that the first baseman is on the 60-day disabled list currently.
If Wainwright would make a miraculous recovery and could pitch in the final month, his activation would require a second 40-man drop. As noted above, I am not yet projecting this, however. Still, the two names I consider most at risk to be removed from the 40-man will become obvious below.
40-man roster call ups
I have eight players re-joining St. Louis in September, including five pitchers. Adding the four from the disabled list makes my projected list swell to a dozen names, pushing St. Louis to 37 active players.
On the pitching side, I see a pair of lefties, Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales, receiving the call. Based on his St. Louis success in 2015, Lyons seems a virtual lock to be a call up for the third consecutive September. Gonzales remains a top prospect, but has struggled with injury this season. On the other hand, he is MLB playoff-tested and has considerable career runway ahead.
Right-handers Sam Tuivailala, Mitch Harris and Miguel Socolovich also seem to have a decent chance of being asked to return. Tuivailala has the highest ceiling and has been closing for Memphis, with the third-most saves in the PCL. Harris had been solid though not spectacular and is an organization favorite. Socolovich has shown he can be effective in the thankless long relief role.
Other pitchers on the 40-man are lefties Tim Cooney and Nick Greenwood. The former would almost surely be a St. Louis addition if healthy, but has been on the disabled list due to appendicitis. Unless Cooney can return quickly, he will run out of time to rehab. Because of numbers, I think Greenwood will be passed over.
Both Memphis catchers, Cody Stanley and Ed Easley, had time with St. Louis this season. The former is younger, a homegrown Cardinal and enjoyed a better season with the bat. That is why I think Stanley will be chosen for September and Easley will not.
The only 40-man player at Double-A is catcher Michael Ohlman. I see no reason he would be pushed from Springfield directly to the Majors now, though he should be a strong candidate to take Easley’s roster spot with Memphis next season.
Among infielders, Xavier Scruggs was respectable when with the Cardinals, batting .262 in the Majors. The first baseman has heated up with the Redbirds recently, with a .353 average, three home runs and six RBI in his last nine games and can also help in the outfield if needed. Journeyman Dean Anna could return from Memphis after a quietly effective Triple-A summer, though he wouldn’t likely see much action with St. Louis unless an injury or two occurs among middle infielders. Over his last 41 games, Anna is batting .361 with an OBP of .459.
All 40-man outfielders are already in the Majors, though not all are active. Since Jay, Grichuk and Holliday are relatively close, there seems no reason to add another outfielder to the 40-man at this time. The three when healthy would swell the active list of outfielders with St. Louis to eight.
Non-40-man roster candidates
One important factor that can often limit new additions is the finite size of the 40-man roster. As mentioned before, no roster spots are currently open with one move needed for Adams’ expected activation.
To make room for yet another, a marginal 40-man player could be removed, likely Greenwood or Easley. The organization may instead prefer to make adjustments prior to the Rule 5 draft as opposed to in September. One reason why is that a September injury could unexpectedly open up the need for one of those not initially called up to join St. Louis.
However, the main reason I don’t see adding a non-40-man player at this time is that there are no obvious candidates.
Two interesting names suggested by some are shortstop Aledmys Diaz and right-handed pitcher Alex Reyes. The former just reached Triple-A after struggling at Double-A for four months before having three good weeks and overall, does not seem ready. The latter’s time will definitely eventually come, but this September appears premature for the hard-throwing strikeout machine, but at times still erratic, Reyes.
Another potential is outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. Signed as a free agent in May, Hazelbaker led Springfield’s offense for much of the season and had a hot start with Memphis before turning ice cold (three for his last 31, .097).
Jacob Wilson and Alex Mejia were originally a second baseman and shortstop, respectively, but have diversified themselves defensively, now able to play all over the infield. Yet with Garcia and Anna seemingly ahead of them, there seems no room at this time. If Anna is dropped, I would think Wilson would be first in line, though his .238 average with the Redbirds doesn’t make a strong case on his behalf.
As mentioned before, on the pitching side, 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 may be lefty Dean Kiekhefer, known as a strike-thrower. I think he will eventually get a shot, but not yet.
The bottom line
Taking everything into account, my best guess is that we will see the following 12 additions in St. Louis during September - eight minor leaguers and four major leaguers off the disabled list. All have already appeared with the Cardinals, some obviously more than others.
Pitchers (5): Tyler Lyons (L), Marco Gonzales (L), Sam Tuivailala, Mitch Harris, Miguel Socolovich
Catchers (1): Cody Stanley
Infielders (3): Matt Adams (off 60-day DL), Xavier Scruggs, Dean Anna
Outfielders (3): Randal Grichuk, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday (all off 15-day DL)
The four other 40-man players who would be left behind in my scenario:
Pitchers (2): Tim Cooney (L, currently on the DL), Nick Greenwood (L)
Catchers (2): Ed Easley, Michael Ohlman
The final group is the three other 40-man pitchers who may remain on the 60-day disabled list through September:
Pitchers (3): Adam Wainwright, Matt Belisle, Jordan Walden
Footnote: September history since 2009
Last year, St. Louis selected 11 players to augment the roster for September, eight minor leaguers and three big-leaguers coming off the disabled list. Two players had temporarily been sent to the minors and returned in Greenwood and Tony Cruz. Three were added to the 40-man for the first time and called up – Tuivailala, Scruggs and Pham. The three major leaguers taken off the DL were Michael Wacha, Jason Motte and Mark Ellis. The final three were Memphis promotions in Lyons, Gonzales and Garcia.
Two years ago, the Cardinals added seven minor leaguers plus Cruz came off the disabled list. Pitchers were Wacha, Lyons and Carlos Martinez, catcher Audry Perez, infielders Ryan Jackson and Brock Peterson and outfielder Adron Chambers.
In 2012, 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.
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