Sizing Up The September Call-Ups

Seven lucky minor-leaguers got the call from the Mariners when rosters were allowed to be expanded on Monday. Read on to find out more about how these players performed in the minors this season and what to expect from them going forward.

With rosters expanding to a possible 40 players on Monday, the Mariners have chose to add seven players to the roster for the September stretch run that, for the M's, is not about making the playoffs but about seeing what the team may look like down the road. The lucky seven include some expected names and a couple that fans are probably not too familiar with. And an eighth player, Michael Saunders, may have been added as well after his return from a successful trip to the Olympics. Saunders, however, had exploratory shoulder surgery last week and will not get a chance in the big leagues this season. Let's take a look at the seven who did get the call, and what they've done this year:

Brandon Morrow, RHP

Morrow spent nearly all of this season (and all of his pro career to this point) as a reliever, even assuming closer duties when J.J. Putz was on the DL. But the M's decided that Morrow's future is as a starter, and sent him to Tacoma to get some work in a starting role. And here are the mixed results:

6 G, 23.1 IP, 17 H, 13 ER, 11 BB, 26 K, 5.06 ERA

This is a bit too small a sample size to be all that meaningful. The ERA is a bit high for his 1.20 WHIP, and would come down over time. What we can see from this is that Morrow still walks too many batters to be truly dominant at this point. His hit and strikeout rates are great, but unless the control gets better, he'll battle to really succeed in the majors as a starter.

Mark Lowe, RHP

Lowe took a line drive off of his foot on August 23rd, but with expanded rosters looming, the M's chose to send him to Tacoma rather than put him on the DL. This allowed the team to replace him for a week. Lowe never actually pitched for the Rainiers. He returned to throw 1/3 of an inning last night for the Mariners and has thrown 55 1/3 innings out of the pen this season with a 5.69 ERA.

Jared Wells, RHP

Wells is making his second trip to the Mariners roster this season. He was up briefly in early August, when he made one appearance. Wells was acquired from the Padres back in May for Cha-Seung Baek. He assumed the role of closer for the Rainiers but was not particularly effective. His stats with Tacoma:

33 G, 40.2 IP, 44 H, 29 ER, 6 HR, 23 BB, 42 K, 6.42 ERA

Closers with a WHIP north of 1.50 usually aren't very good at the job. Wells continues to get chances because of his very live arm, but he hasn't shown that he can get enough people out to warrant a full-time slot in a major-league bullpen.

Justin Thomas, LHP

Thomas is a former starter who the M's are now possibly seeing as a situational lefty going forward. Thomas has always fared well against left-handed hitters but has been far less effective against righties. Thomas started 24 games last season with AA West Tenn and 17 more this year before he was moved to the bullpen. It wasn't that he was terrible as a starter, just that he might have a big-league future as a lefty specialist. He has good strikeout numbers and was a reliable ground ball pitcher in AA. Here are his stats for the season:

AA West Tenn: 25 G, 17 GS, 118.2 IP, 116 H, 57 ER, 11 HR, 56 BB, 106 K, 4.32 ERA
AAA Tacoma: 7 G, 1 GS, 17 IP, 15 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 9 BB, 21 K, 3.71 ERA

The 24-year-old out of Youngstown State will get plenty of chances in September to show if he will get serious consideration for the M's bullpen next season.

Rob Johnson, C

Johnson was recently named to the PCL's post-season All-Star team. Being a catcher, Johnson is stuck at perhaps the deepest position in the organization. Jeff Clement and Kenji Johjima look to be getting the bulk of the time there in the foreseeable future, and Adam Moore down in AA is going to get a long look down the line as well. But Johnson has continued to be a steady performer on a daily basis. His stats aren't eye-popping, but he's a good defender, and anytime you can get an .800+ OPS from the catching slot you're doing pretty well. His stats in Tacoma:

112 GP, .305 AVG, .363 OBP, .441 SLG, 9 HR, 49 RBI

Matt Tuiasosopo, 3B

The 22-year-old Bellevue native with strong football ties has rocketed up the Mariner system, partly because of his superb natural athleticism and partly because the M's paid him handsomely to skip a football career in favor of baseball. There's no doubt that he's been rushed a bit, but he had his best season in this, his first season at the AAA level. While power was absent early in the year (he had no home runs in April or May), Matt launched 13 homers in his last 67 games. In August, he hit .337 with seven homers, a .408 OBP, and a .640 SLG. His season stats at Tacoma:

111 GP, .281 AVG, .364 OBP, .453 SLG, 13 HR, 73 RBI

With Adrian Beltre entrenched at third base for now, Tuiasosopo can return to AAA next season and continue to develop. With the way he has been steadily improving, it's not unthinkable that he could be ready to take over in mid-season 2009 if the M's decide to deal Beltre.

Luis Valbuena, 2B

Expectations were not particularly high for the 22-year-old Valbuena coming into this season. After all, he hit just .239 with a .689 OPS for AA West Tenn last year. But this season brought a different Valbuena, and he was a big reason the Diamond Jaxx won their first-half division title. That brought a promotion to Tacoma, where his power dropped off, but his ability to hit for average and get on base remained. Here are his season stats:

AA West Tenn: 70 GP, .304 AVG, .381 OBP, .483 SLG, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 8 SB
AAA Tacoma: 58 GP, .302 AVG, .383 OBP, .373 SLG, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 10 SB

An .813 season OPS out of a second baseman is not bad. For a franchise that needs to get away from low-OBP "contact" hitters, Valbuena is the kind of guy who can help transform an offense for the better. He scored 84 runs in 128 games in the minors, while often hitting lower in the lineup.


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