Less than a month from now, on September 1st, Major League Baseball rosters will expand. Teams will be able to call up additional players, beyond the current 25-man restrictions. Only players who are on the 40-man roster will be eligible to be called up, which means teams can call up a maximum of 40 players.
The Pirates will be contending for the first time in a long time this year, which should change their approach to September callups. In previous years, the Pirates have called up a small amount of players. There wasn’t much need for a lot of callups with the team out of contention. Last year they called up Brian Burres and Jason Jaramillo on September 1st, then called up six players at the conclusion of the Triple-A season.
There will be a challenge this year to balance the callups against the needs in Indianapolis. Last year the Indianapolis season ended on September 5th. This year the Indians have a ten game lead in their division, which means they’re most likely going to the playoffs, thus extending their season.
The priority for players is in Pittsburgh, as a major league playoff race is more important than a Triple-A playoff run. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some players are held back. Important callup candidates like Bryan Morris, who can add a power arm to the bullpen, would likely be options on September 1st. But players who would serve small roles, such as pinch runners, or pinch hitters only, would probably stick around in Indianapolis until the playoffs are over, which would likely be two weeks in to September.
The Pirates would still have plenty of players to call up on September 1st (and Indianapolis could get players from Altoona for their playoff run). They currently have one spot open on the 40-man roster for a non-roster invitee. Most of the guys on the 40-man roster are in Indianapolis, so they have plenty of options to choose from for major league callups. Below is a breakdown of all the players who have a chance to be called up at some point in September.
Bryan Morris - Morris is major league ready, but there isn’t a spot in the bullpen. He’s got a 2.54 ERA in 67.1 innings, along with a 63:14 K/BB ratio. The September callup will be important, as Morris is out of options next year. This will be his only chance at major league experience before he has to be in the majors full time next year.
Daniel McCutchen - McCutchen has been up and down a few times already this year. Teams always need pitching depth in September, so he’s sure to get the call to help out the bullpen.
Evan Meek - Meek hasn’t been bad in Indianapolis, with a 2.09 ERA in 38.2 innings, and some returning velocity. He’s dealt with control problems, which has been an issue in the past. Just like McCutchen, the bullpen will need depth, which will create a spot for Meek.
Jose Tabata - Tabata is hitting well in Triple-A, currently riding an eight game hitting streak, although most of his hits are singles. If he keeps this up throughout August, he’ll definitely be worthy of a September callup. He’d have to be called up prior to September 1st in order to qualify for the post-season roster.
Matt Hague - September callups give the benefit of having extra pinch hitters on the bench. Clint Hurdle has dubbed Matt Hague “The Hit Collector”, so there’s little doubt he would turn to him as a potential bat off the bench.
Eric Fryer - The Pirates will need a third catcher, and Eric Fryer is the only one on the 40-man roster.
Yamaico Navarro - Navarro is hitting for a .282/.369/.475 line in 177 at-bats for Indianapolis. He’d be another good pinch hitting option, and a middle infield option.
Jeff Locke - Locke is putting up excellent numbers this year, highlighted by his control. The left-hander has a 2.66 ERA in 125 innings, with a 113:38 K/BB ratio. He should be a candidate for a spot start in August. He could add starting depth in September, or add an extra left-hander out of the bullpen.
Chase d’Arnaud - He hasn’t been hitting well this year, although he did hit for a .278 average with an .811 OPS in July. Where D’Arnaud would add value is off the bench as a pinch runner. He is 30-for-34 in stolen bases this year, which is extremely efficient. The Pirates have plenty of speedy players who can’t steal bases at an acceptable rate. D’Arnaud is one of the few players in the upper levels with speed and smart base running instincts. He would be an example of a player who would probably stick around in Indianapolis until their season was over.
Justin Wilson - Wilson started the year struggling with his control, which has been a trend throughout his career. He made an adjustment, switching to more of an overhead delivery. That led to a big reduction in his walk rates, lowering them to an acceptable rate just above three per nine innings. He has recently regressed, walking a batter at a rate of almost one per inning in his most recent starts. Wilson has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter in the majors, but his inconsistent control makes him more of a number four starter. He could provide value in the majors as a starter or a reliever. He is inconsistent in either role. In some outings he is dominant, and in other outings he has no control.
Players Who Aren’t Candidates: Oscar Tejeda, Kyle McPherson, Duke Welker
Tejeda is in Double-A. McPherson is also in Double-A and hasn’t seen Triple-A yet due to an injury shortened season. Duke Welker is currently out with a forearm injury.
The Pirates currently have one spot open on the 40-man roster. They could use this spot to add a player for a September callup. They could clear additional spots for additional callups, although most of the candidates above are just as good as the candidates below, so the move would be lateral. I could see most of these guys sticking around in Indianapolis to take the vacant spots in the lineup from guys like Hague, Navarro, and Tabata.
Jeff Clement - Clement is hitting very well this year, with a .293/.353/.522 line in 362 at-bats, along with 15 homers. He’s healthy this year, after suffering from a knee injury the last two years. In his previous time in the majors, Clement hit for power, but didn’t do much else. His power bat off the bench would be a good asset, and he’s still at an age where he could pull a “Garrett Jones” and have a surprise breakout season.
Brandon Boggs - Boggs has been inconsistent this year. He had an .872 OPS in April, then followed that with a .483 OPS in May. He caught fire in June with a 1.034 OPS in 77 at-bats. In July he had a .742 OPS, and so far in August he’s put up an .801 OPS. Boggs has done great against left-handers, with a 1.019 OPS in 88 at-bats this year, compared to a .697 OPS in 241 at-bats. That’s a small sample size, but the Pirates don’t have a lot of platoon guys who can hit left-handers well, so he’d be worth a shot.
Jose Morales - Morales has a similar value to Eric Fryer. He could serve as a third catcher, but the Pirates would have to clear a roster spot for him. That seems possible, but it would likely make Fryer’s spot expendable, which would just result in a lateral move.
Nick Evans - Evans has been forgotten about since going down in late April with a wrist injury. He started rehab work this past week in the GCL, and should be back by September. Evans has a career .712 OPS in 386 major league at-bats. He’s another player who has had success against lefties, with a career .849 OPS in the majors against left-handers, compared to a .595 OPS against right-handers. Evans was a strong contender for the final bench spot out of Spring Training. If he’s healthy, you’ve got to think the Pirates will view him as an option.
Rick VandenHurk - Since coming to the Pirates, and rejoining Dean Treanor in Indianapolis, VandenHurk has been pitching very well. He has a 3.34 ERA in 91.2 innings, along with an 82:30 K/BB ratio. Neal Huntington has spoken in the past about VandenHurk as an option, and he could remain a bullpen/long relief option with his strong numbers this year.
Chris Leroux - Leroux has recently moved to the rotation, and had two good starts, combining to allow two earned runs in 11 innings, with an 8:2 K/BB ratio. He was designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man earlier in the season. LAst year he had a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings in the majors, with a 24:7 K/BB ratio. I spoke with Pirates’ farm director Larry Broadway, who mentioned that Leroux wasn’t being converted to a starter, but that he was moving to the rotation out of need. The Pirates traded away Rudy Owens, which opened up a rotation spot in Triple-A. Broadway did say that Leroux “remains a major league option”, and that he will continue to pitch in the starting rotation for Indianapolis. He could be a spot starter option this month, and he had success in the bullpen last year, so he could be an option there.