Note: Players on the A's current 15-day disabled list (aka Brandon Inge, A.J. Griffin and Eric Sogard) were not considered for this article. Sacramento starter Brad Peacock was also not considered for his article since he landed on the disabled list with a bruised right elbow on Monday.
With their 7-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night, the Oakland A's moved to 14 games over the .500 mark for the first time in five seasons. Also for the first time in five years, the A's find themselves in a strong position to compete for a post-season berth during the season's final month.
One of the reasons for the A's surprising success this year has been the production the team has received from its part-time players and from its bullpen. Manager Bob Melvin has done an excellent job moving players in and out of the line-up all season. With the expanded rosters in September, Melvin will have even more weapons to choose from off of his bench and in his bullpen.
But who will those new weapons be? Under General Manager Billy Beane's regime, the A's have not been one of those teams that calls up the maximum number of players allowed during September, even when they were competing for a post-season spot. However, given the number of younger players on the A's roster this year, the A's front office may decide to carry more players than they usually do in September in order to give Melvin and his staff as many opportunities to rest tired players as possible.
The Sacramento River Cats have a magic number of one to clinch their sixth consecutive division title. In the past when the River Cats have made the playoffs, the A's have chosen to call-up a few players essential for team depth at the start of September and the rest of their call-ups at the end of the River Cats' post-season run. The A's are likely to follow a similar path this year.
Below we take a look some of the candidates for a September call-up to Oakland. Included in the assessment are the odds of that player getting the call next month.
Straily had his first bad start of his Triple-A career on Tuesday, allowing six runs in less than three innings in the light air of Colorado Springs. Despite that bump in the road, Straily is almost a lock to rejoin the A's sometime in September, if not on September 1st. The right-hander made his major league debut with the A's earlier this month and was effective in two of his three big league starts. He was sent back to Triple-A when Brett Anderson returned off of the disabled list. The move turned out to be bad timing for him and for the A's, as had they known that Bartolo Colon would be suspended later in the week, the A's would have almost certainly kept Straily on the roster so he could take Colon's spot in the rotation.
According to the rule book, players sent back to the minor leagues have to spend at least 10 days in the minor leagues before they can return to the big leagues (unless they are replacing a player on the disabled list). Straily will be eligible to return to the A's under those rules on August 30th. A.J. Griffin is set to return to the A's active roster this weekend after completing two rehab starts with the River Cats, and Griffin is likely to take Colon's spot in the rotation at that point (Tyson Ross and Travis Blackley have filled in thus far). Given that the A's won't need another starter right away, Oakland may keep Straily on turn with the River Cats until a little later in the month. However, they could decide to bring Straily up at any point to serve as a spot starter to give their five-man rotation some extra rest down-the-stretch. Straily, the minor league leader in strike-outs, could also be used out of the bullpen next month.
Odds of September Promotion: 95%
Weeks was considered the cornerstone of the A's rebuilding effort this off-season, so few could have predicted in April that he would be in Triple-A at this point in the season. However, after a year of struggling to hit above .230 in the big leagues, Weeks was sent down to Triple-A to regain his confidence at the plate and to work on his swing mechanics in a lower-pressure environment. The effort seems to be working thus far. In five games, he has 10 hits (including three for extra bases) and five walks. He has also stolen a base.
Adam Rosales and Cliff Pennington have been filling in for Weeks in Oakland at second base, but neither is considered a long-term solution at the position and the A's won't hesitate to reinstate Weeks at second base if they feel he is ready. If he continues to hit has he has through his first five games with the River Cats, Weeks' call to the big leagues may even come before September 1st. He will need to be on the A's 25-man roster before September 1 to be eligible for the A's post-season roster, although the A's can get around that rule by placing a post-season eligible player on the disabled list at the end of the season and have Weeks replace that player. Regardless, a 2011-version of Weeks would be a huge boost to the A's in September. He is likely to play a big role for Oakland in the closing days of the season even though he is currently in Triple-A.
Odds of September (or earlier) Promotion: 99%
Ross has had a few stints with the A's this season, all as a starting pitcher. He hasn't fared particularly well as a starter with Oakland, as he sports a 6.45 ERA and a 42:32 K:BB ratio in 68.1 innings with the A's this year. In his last start with Oakland, Ross was effective for four innings before being roughed up for five runs in the fifth inning of his outing. The big inning has been a problem for Ross, especially the second time through the order, all season in the major leagues.
It is likely because of his troubles with the second turn through the order, as well as a history of health issues, that Ross finds himself in the bullpen for the final few weeks of the season. Ross made his major league debut as a reliever in 2010, but he has been a starter almost exclusively in the minor leagues. Many scouts have long believed that Ross is best suited for a relief role, with his hard sinker, plus breaking pitch and unorthodox mechanics.
Ross has yet to make a relief appearance for the River Cats since returning to Triple-A over the weekend, but he should be ready to assume that role soon. Unless he really struggles, Ross is likely to rejoin the A's at some point in September as a long man in the bullpen. If he is throwing well, he could even see some action in high leverage situations, especially when the A's need a groundball. Some success this September could give Ross a leg-up on the competition for a spot in the A's bullpen in 2013.
Odds of September Promotion: 80%
It has been an interesting second half of the season for Green. The A's 2009 first-round pick made the transition from shortstop to centerfield last year and the move to the outfield was supposed to be permanent. However, as the A's started to struggle to get production from their infielders while finding plenty of production from their outfielders, they began to move Green all around the field in hopes of finding a spot where he could help the big league club. Green has yet to find a permanent home, however. In the past week, he has seen time at second, short, third and left field.
It is that versatility that may increase Green's chances of making the A's roster sometime in September. Although defense won't be his calling card at any position, Green would be a useful member of the A's bench because he can play in so many different spots. His bat would be a nice addition to an already deep Oakland bench, as well. After getting off to a slow start with Triple-A Sacramento this season, Green has posted three straight months of 800+ OPS for the River Cats. He is an aggressive hitter, a style that might suit him well in a pinch-hitting role, and he has above-average speed, although he isn't a big base-stealer (13 stolen bases in 22 chances this year).
Green isn't on the A's 40-man roster currently, which could be a hindrance for Green joining the team this season. However, he will be added to the team's 40-man roster this off-season (unless he is traded) to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. Given that he is a lock to be added to the roster in the coming months, it seems likely that Green will make an appearance with the A's at some point this September. Oakland may let him stay with the River Cats through the end of their playoff run, however.
Odds of a September Promotion: 70%
Chavez was acquired by the A's last week from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for cash considerations. The right-hander is a longtime major league veteran who has split the 2012 season between Triple-A and the big leagues. Chavez has experience both as a starter and as a reliever, although the bulk of his big league experience has been as a reliever. He has made one appearance for the River Cats, pitching four innings of one-run ball in relief on Monday night and earning a save.
Chavez has maintained a good K/9 ratio during his big league career (7.4 K/9), but he has also struggled with command at times (3.4 BB/9). He isn't likely to play a big role for the A's this September or beyond, but with his major league experience, he could be an asset in an expanded September bullpen. With the possibility of the A's young starters tiring down-the-stretch, Oakland could be leaning heavily on its bullpen next month and Chavez is a solid option to eat some of those innings.
Odds of a September Promotion: 80%
Figueroa is another pitcher who could give the A's some depth in the bullpen this September. The left-handed reliever has spent some time with the A's already this year and the rookie held his own despite battling command issues (11 walks in 15 innings). Figueroa has plus stuff from the left side (mid-90s fastball and a sharp breaking slider) and could be a big part of the A's bullpen next season.
The native of the Dominican Republic has been solid all season for Sacramento, but his command hasn't been quite as sharp of late. Although Figueroa was a starter throughout his career before this season, he may be starting to tire a bit, as this is his first full season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010. If the A's think he still has something in the tank, they will likely call him up for depth at some point this September. However, if the River Cats go deep into the post-season, the A's may decide that Figueroa has had enough work for the year and shut him down.
Odds of a September Promotion: 50%
It has been a tough two years for Barton, who appeared to have established himself as the A's everyday first baseman in 2010, only to find himself out of a job in late April of this season after a year-plus of injuries and struggles at the plate. Barton has put up decent numbers in Sacramento this year. His average isn't great (.248) but he has an 805 OPS thanks to a .399 OBP and a .407 SLG. Barton has walked more than he has struck-out for the River Cats and has continued to play solid defense at first base. However, his chances of returning as the A's starting first baseman at any point took a huge hit this year with the emergence of Chris Carter at the major league level (not to mention the surprise production the A's have received from outfielder-turned-first baseman Brandon Moss).
Neither of the A's first baseman (Carter and Moss) are particularly strong defensively, so the A's could be tempted to carry Barton in September as a late-inning defensive replacement. Barton's patient approach also makes him a potentially useful bench player. However, he doesn't offer any defensive versatility and he has below-average speed, so he won't be a bench asset in those respects. Barton is a strong candidate to be non-tendered this off-season and the A's could choose to cut their ties with their former top prospect this September to open up a 40-man roster spot for a non-roster player (perhaps Green). On the other hand, Barton is still only 26 and he does have a major league season under his belt in which he posted a 5.1 WAR (2010), so he may not be a player the A's want to part with for nothing in return.
Odds of a September Promotion: 50%
Taylor was a September call-up by the A's last season, when he made his major league debut. However, he has received scant opportunities at the major league level this year, as he has been blocked in the big leagues by Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes and Brandon Moss. Taylor has appeared in six games with the A's, but he has managed only three hits in 21 at-bats. In the minor leagues, Taylor has put together a solid season with the River Cats. He has a .292/.410/.450 line in 115 games and he has reached double-digits in both homeruns (12) and stolen bases (18). Taylor has also played well defensively, mostly in the corner outfield spots.
With the A's current production from their outfielders, the team isn't likely to have much of a role for Taylor this September. However, the A's may still call on the Stanford alum to fill a bench spot. His speed and defensive prowess would be assets for the A's bench. It would also be a way for the A's to reward Taylor for the season he has put together in Sacramento. If Taylor does get the call, it is likely to come at the end of the River Cats' post-season run, unless Coco Crisp's sore foot becomes a lingering issue and the A's need another outfielder on September 1. If that is the case, it is likely the A's will choose between Taylor, Collin Cowgill and Shane Peterson for a September 1 call-up.
Odds of a September Promotion: 60%
Cowgill began the season on the A's 25-man roster but landed on the disabled list in May with a sprained ankle and has been in the minor leagues ever since. A favorite of A's manager Bob Melvin from their shared days in the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization, Cowgill had a productive spring training and a decent showing with the A's in a part-time role at the start of the year (.271 BA/.343 OBP). However, he has struggled in Triple-A this season, posting only a 667 OPS after putting up a 984 OPS with Triple-A Reno last year.
Cowgill has excellent speed and can play all three outfield positions well and he has the advantage of being a well-known commodity to the A's coaching staff. However, his struggles since his ankle injury have to be of some concern to the A's. There is a decent chance that the A's will call on Cowgill in September anyway to give them some insurance at the centerfield position, but given that he has been out-performed by Taylor, Peterson and even Jermaine Mitchell, it isn't a guarantee.
Odds of a September Promotion: 65%
Since his promotion to Triple-A Sacramento after the Double-A Texas League All-Star break, Peterson has been one of the hottest hitters in the Pacific Coast League. In 33 games (113 at-bats), Peterson has a .389/.489/.602 line with five homers and 21 walks. He has also driven-in 20 runs and he has scored 30 times. Peterson currently has seven-game hitting streak and has walked eight times in his last 10 games (.479 OBP).
It has been a tough few years for Peterson, who has been stuck at the Double-A level for almost his entire career in the A's system (he was acquired by Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade in 2009). Peterson performed well in a brief stint with the River Cats early last year (856 OPS in 46 games) but found himself back in Double-A by mid-season despite that production thanks to a roster crunch. Peterson has always been a bit of a tweener – not quite fast enough for centerfield and not quite powerful enough for a corner outfield spot or first base. Still, he has an excellent approach at the plate and decent gap power.
Peterson, a left-handed hitter, struggles against southpaws but he dominates right-handed pitching. Unfortunately for Peterson, many of the A's outfielders and first basemen are either left-handed (Reddick, Moss and Smith) or are switch-hitters (Crisp). Peterson has experience at all three outfield spots and he is a solid defensive first baseman (although he hasn't seen as much time at the position this year), so he does provide some defensive versatility. He isn't a member of the A's 40-man roster, but he has a decent shot of being added to the roster this off-season.
The A's like to reward "under-the-radar" minor leaguers who make the organization take notice thanks to their production (Anthony Recker and Tom Everidge are two recent examples). Peterson would fall into that category. Given the A's depth in the outfield, it would be somewhat of an upset to see Peterson on the A's in September, but it isn't an unfathomable scenario, which is a credit to him and the season he has put together.
Odds of September Promotion: 40%
Luck, it seems, hasn't been on Mitchell's side of late. The centerfielder would have been a lock for a September call-up last year, but he had a torn meniscus in his knee that he had surgery on as soon as the River Cats' post-season run was completed. Mitchell wound-up having microfracture surgery on the knee during the off-season, but despite the serious nature of his injury, he earned a spot on the A's 40-man roster last November.
Mitchell worked hard to rehab the injury and return to the field by Opening Day and he has been on the River Cats' roster all season. He has had an up-and-down year, however. In 103 games, he has a .247/.341/.376 line with five homers and 15 stolen bases. Mitchell has had two good months (April and July), but he has struggled in May, June and August. The Texas native has above-average tools in several areas and is an asset on the bases and in the field. However, his 2012 statline is more in-line with his career numbers than his 2011 breakout season. The A's have always liked Mitchell's game despite his ups-and-downs and they may not be ready to give up on him despite the so-so year. However, with so many outfielders ahead of him in the major leagues and with the seasons that Taylor and Peterson have put together, Mitchell may be hard-pressed to find himself in Oakland this September.
Odds of a September Promotion: 20%
Hicks was claimed off of waivers by the A's this spring as insurance for their infield, specifically at the shortstop position. He has put together a strong season at the plate and in the field for Sacramento, posting an 878 OPS and showing plus range at shortstop. That production earned him a spot with the A's for much of the middle part of the season. He had a few big hits for Oakland (homering three times in 20 games and posting a .417 SLG), but he didn't get on base at a consistent clip (.183 BA/.246 OBP).
Even before the A's acquisition of veteran shortstop Stephen Drew earlier this month, Hicks was somewhat of a longshot to return to the A's this September. Adam Rosales has assumed Hicks' role as the back-up shortstop, and he offers more versatility than Hicks in terms of the positions Rosales can play both around the infield and in the outfield. Josh Donaldson has established himself as a viable option at third base since replacing an injured Brandon Inge two weeks ago and Inge is set to return to a suddenly crowded A's infield any day now. Cliff Pennington and Eric Sogard are also ahead of Hicks on the A's depth chart and Weeks is likely to return to the A's roster, as well. If all of the A's infielders remain healthy, Hicks may be the odd-man out this September.
Odds of a September Promotion: 20%
Jason Jaramillo or Blake Lalli
As of two weeks ago, neither Jaramillo nor Lalli were in the A's organization. However, the River Cats lost both of their regular catchers this month (Donaldson to a promotion to Oakland and Recker to a DFA and eventual trade) and the A's made moves to re-stock their Triple-A club with veteran backstops. Jaramillo was signed to a minor league deal and Lalli was acquired for Recker from the Cubs.
Although the A's are technically carrying only two catchers on their 25-man roster right now (Derek Norris and George Kottaras), the presence of Donaldson on the roster makes it unlikely the A's will need to add a third catcher to their expanded roster in September. Although Donaldson has primarily been a third baseman for the A's this season, he has seen plenty of time behind the plate in Triple-A this year and throughout his career. In addition, Brandon Inge has major league experience behind the plate and is a better option than most teams have for the emergency catcher role. Should Norris, Kottaras or Donaldson suffer an injury over the next few weeks, both Jaramillo and Lalli would be options for a September call-up, however. Jaramillo may get the nod thanks to his more extensive big league resume, although Lalli has been the better hitter during his minor league career.
Odds of a September Promotion: 15%