For the most part, when it comes to September hitter call-ups, the players fall into one of two classes: (1) not ready to contribute; or (2) probably never will.
Major league rosters have expanded to 40 players. But that doesn't mean we'll see 40 players on each roster by the end of the week. The minor league playoffs are just about to begin and can last until the middle of September, and in most cases, franchises allow their prospects to finish what they started on their minor league teams. Unless an injury or situation warrants an immediate call-up, franchises figure the playoff experience a prospect would get can be more advantageous than two weeks of sitting on the bench, with the occasional pinch-hit appearance or start. So players tend to trickle onto rosters, rather than a big flood.
As for what type of players we'll see, I usually can put a September call-up into one of three classes: (1) a prospect the team wants to get a cup of coffee; (2) organization-filler players who can help provide depth (usually in a bullpen) or play a specialized role (pinch runner, versatile middle infielder, lefty pinch hitter); or (3) journeyman players the team wants to reward for fine seasons in the minors.
In other words, they're not all kids. You'll say to yourself, "Wow, I haven't heard that name in a while," plenty of times over the next week. Categories 2 and 3 have been known to provide a useful player or two, but the demand for them certainly isn't great, even after their call-ups. As for the first class, if they were sure-fire prospects who were ready to start every day, they likely would have been up before the rosters expanded and created more opportunities. But every now and then, usually once per season, you get that one guy who comes up and tears it up.
The best example from 2008 was Taylor Teagarden. The Rangers catcher prospect was called up last Sept. 1, homered in his first game, and proceeded to hit .319 with six homers and an amazing 17 RBIs in just 47 at-bats to close out the '08 season. That helped owners in dire need of a worthwhile second catcher.
And so it is our job to find that one guy per season who has the best chance of doing something with just five weeks of semilimited at-bats. Here are five hitter call-ups I think have the best chance of doing that:
Buster Posey, C, Giants: No surprise here; he's one of the hottest prospects. And let's face it, he's the future of the team at catcher, with Bengie Molina currently in the walk year of his contract. Posey is the rare offensive-minded catcher, with a big league-capable bat. If Matt Wieters has taught us anything, though, it's that you can't expect hitters to show up and hit right away. But if Posey is getting two or three starts a week, which now sounds like a possibility, he could help even standard mixed owners.
Michael Brantley, OF, Indians: Brantley has a big league future; it's just a matter of when we'll see it. Brantley's bat control, plate discipline and speed are of the big league level already, but he's a center fielder, and that position currently is manned by one Grady Sizemore. Plus, he doesn't have a lot of pop, and the 22-year-old isn't projected to develop it. So he's more of a fantasy option as a decent-average, stolen-base type than he is a major league asset. Brantley's value depends almost solely on Sizemore's status. The All-Star center fielder has picked it up of late, but he's still playing through elbow problems, and he reportedly might be shut down late in the season to have surgery on the joint. If that happens, Brantley will start, and he has just enough speed to help the SB-starved mixed owner.
Tyler Flowers, C, White Sox: Let's see he is tall (6-foot-4) and strong (245 pounds), swings the bat hard, strikes out a bit too much and has legit home run power. Sounds a little like Jim Thome. OK, so we can only dream Flowers will have the career Thome has had. But Flowers is quite the slugger, and with Thome now in La-La Land, we might get the chance to see him for two or three starts per week. And since he arrives with catcher qualification, fantasy owners should be interested. He could be this year's Teagarden.
Josh Thole, C, Mets: He's an offensive-minded catcher for a Mets team that has been decimated by injuries and already is playing for the future. Anything else you need to know? OK, so he doesn't have a lot (any?) power, but he does have .300-average capability, and he struck out just 34 times in 384 Double-A at-bats, which is pretty amazing for a 22-year-old minor leaguer. See how the Mets use him, and if it's a lot, consider him in deeper two-active-catcher leagues.
Fernando Perez, OF, Rays: One of my personal faves. Perez is like hmm, do you remember Alex Cole? Yeah, like that. The type of guy who can barely hit the ball out of the infield but has such amazing speed that he can hit .300 without doing so. OK, so maybe he has more "Luis Castillo power," but Perez's game is slapping the ball on the ground and beating out grounders, then stealing second and stealing third. I'm not sure a dome is the best setting for that type of player or that he'll ever earn a starting role, but Perez can make his fantasy mark as a pinch runner/spot starter. He has returned from his spring wrist injury, and I won't be shocked if he steals seven or eight bases in September alone.
Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees: Swisher has gotten a lot of attention for his 23-homer season, and while that looks good, that has made him an overrated fantasy player. He still is hitting just .250, which kills his mixed league value. Plus, despite all his walks, his lack of speed has led to just 67 runs, fewer than players such as B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Toss in the fact that he has zero steals, and he ranks outside the top 200 in our Player Rater.
Carlos Guillen, 1B/3B/OF, Tigers: I'm really liking what I'm seeing from Guillen. He is hitting for power and working counts, and even seems to be running well. Guillen has such an effortless swing from both sides of the plate and is such a pure hitter that I could see him hitting well into his late 30s if he can stay healthy. He's healthy now, and he doesn't have a lot mileage on his tires for a 33-year-old. With new OF qualification, he's a guy I'd look at for my fourth outfielder in a mixed league, both this year and next.
Jermaine Dye, OF, White Sox: In my chat this week, I called the White Sox lineup "poison," and Dye's batting average appears to have ingested hemlock. The bad sign, to me, is all the strikeouts. Dye never has been a low-K hitter by any means, but from Aug. 18 to Tuesday, he struck out in 11 of 12 games and 16 of his 45 at-bats. He's always been a fastball hitter, but he suddenly turned into Pedro Cerrano, hitting very poorly against offspeed pitches. I don't want to overrate a bad month-plus, but I really do feel this is the first sign of decline for the 35-year-old.
Jose Reyes, SS, Mets: According to the New York Daily News, Reyes might be headed to the operating room to have his damaged hamstring repaired, not good news for a base stealer. While we're a long way from the 2010 season, what hasn't been reported so much is that Reyes had a number of hamstring problems earlier in his career. Did you ever stop to think these problems could be chronic with him, based on the way he runs, the use he puts on them and the muscle mass that's there? I'm tellin' ya, he's the first guy to make my "do not draft" list for next year.
Pickups of the Week
Mixed: Angel Pagan, OF, Mets. To answer a question many of you are already wondering, yes, he's worth the pickup. He is starting every day, and has just enough of a blend of power and speed to make it worth your while.
AL-only: Wilkin Ramirez, OF, Tigers. Hit 17 homers with 33 steals in Triple-A this season.
NL-only: Neil Walker, 3B, Pirates. I'm not a fan of him long-term, but he'll get a shot to show what he can do, and that's worth something in deep leagues.
Home run location: I really enjoyed the interesting Conversation talk in my Aug. 20 Hit Parade, particularly in regard to the location of the homers hit by Joe Mauer. I pointed out that Mauer hit a majority of his homers from about right-center field to straight left field and none to straightaway right or down the line, which is consistent with where he's hitting the ball in general and his approach to hitting.
Well, so I started playing around with these figures and looking for hitters who were just the opposite and pulled almost all their homers. Some sluggers do this but not that many. And when a guy I don't normally consider to be a slugger starts doing it, I think it can have an adverse effect on his batting average because he can focus too much on trying to turn on the ball. The best example of this (brought to my attention by a reader) is Curtis Granderson, who pulls almost all his homers. He already has set a career high in homers but also is on pace for a career low in batting average. Another player who pulls a vast number of his homers: Aaron Hill. The Blue Jays second baseman has proved me wrong time and again this season, but it is something worth tracking. His homers aren't consistent with his all-around hit charts, and if he becomes too pull-happy and homer-driven, it'll be tough for him to continue hitting .287.
While I'm talking homer location, I noted it's almost impossible to hit the ball out of Petco Park in center and right fields. Just awful fly ball/homer ratios. How Adrian Gonzalez has 34 homers this season, I don't know, but he has hit 23 of them on the road. I'm telling you, the second that guy is traded from San Diego, if it happens, I'm selling the farm to get him.
5x5 Watch: RBIs
Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers: In last week's Hit Parade, I talked about how underrated base-stealers such as Nyjer Morgan and Michael Bourn are. But here's the point I failed to mention: Those guys also have to be at least adept at hitting for average and driving in runs. They don't necessarily need homers to do that, but at least opportunities, and the ability to take advantage of them. Which brings us to Andrus, who still has a few holes in his fantasy game despite being on pace for 30 steals. He's hitting only .268, and as the Rangers' No. 9 hitter, he's not getting many chances to drive in runs. And when he does, he's not doing much with 'em, hitting just .230 with runners in scoring position and .195 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Thus, in no small part because he has 29 RBIs in 116 games, he is just 208th on our Player Rater. He'll get better next season, but be sure not to consider him a top-tier option just yet.
I'll be along Sept. 17 to discuss the players who will lose position qualification for next season (such as Brandon Inge at C and Michael Young at SS), but let's hope the next few weeks address some of the games-played shortages I'm already seeing. Both Ben Zobrist and Clint Barmes have passed the 10-game threshold for eligibility at shortstop this year, but in order for them to be eligible there next year, they need to reach 20, and they're both a few games short of that mark. Stay tuned.
On The Docket
Doesn't get any better than this the Colorado Rockies are just two games into a stretch in which they play 19 of 28 games at the hitters haven known as Coors Field. Time to load up on the Rox!
Cubs catcher: Just when it looked like Geovany Soto was rounding into shape in late May and June, he went in the tank for good. He has missed time because of an oblique strain in the second half this season and has hit just .128 in the games he has played. Now manager Lou Piniella reports he will give even more starts than usual to backup Koyie Hill, which is -- sorry, Koyie -- about as low as it gets. Whether injuries were to blame or not, Soto has been one of this season's biggest busts. But that won't stop me from investing in the 26-year-old next season. A full offseason of rest and a fresh new start should help him return to 2008 form. I believe it will happen.
On The Farm
Sean Rodriguez, 2B, Rays: It slipped neatly under the radar, but Rodriguez was a nice grab for the Rays to finish out the Scott Kazmir trade to the Angels. Rodriguez is far from established defensively, and Ben Zobrist appears to have a strangehold on the Rays' second base job, but Rodriguez has the skills to play a number of different places, not unlike Zobrist. And many scouts feel that if he's given a true chance at everyday at-bats, something the Angels never really did, he could be a fine major league hitter. Since he has little left to prove in the minors -- he hit .299-29-93 for Triple-A Salt Lake this season -- I'd have to believe he makes the Rays out of spring training next season. And if it appears he's going to get steady at-bats, he's definitely a sleeper.
Note: The Hit Parade will take next week off to fully prepare for the "hit parade" from NFL teams that weekend. Can you believe the NFL regular season already begins a week from today? Very exciting. The Hit Parade column will return Sept. 17 and cap its 2009 run Sept. 24. See ya then!
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer and editor for ESPN Fantasy.