The MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint. Because of this, each team needs to call up players from the minors to make up for under-performance and injuries. Brandon Magee brings us the 2016 AL West edition of who could be this year’s surprise call ups.
Every baseball season, in every organization, there are players called up from the minors who are not well known but still make a positive contribution to the major league organization. A few, like Peter Bourjos in 2011, are AAAA journeymen who have a once-in-a-career season. Some, like Carlos Perez last season for the Los Angeles Angels, are lower-ranked prospects who happen to fit the positional need for the major league team. Others, like Carlos Correa, are highly rated prospects who are called up earlier than projected. We look back at last year’s surprises in the Western Division of the American League and see who might join them in jumping to the major leagues this season.
As the eighth pick of the 2010 Draft and the scion of a former major leaguer, Delino DeShields was expected to be a major league star. However, after batting .236/.346/.360 in his first season at the AA level in 2014, few would have expected him to be a contender for Rookie of the Year in 2015. Even after being plucked from the Houston Astros organization via the Rule 5 Draft, a year of limited duty on the Rangers bench seemed more likely. But the 22-year-old stepped up in class, batting .261/.344/.374 with 25 steals in 121 games for the AL West Champions.
The Rangers have not been afraid to bring youth to their team in the past few seasons, with Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, Hanser Alberto, Keone Kela, and DeShields all getting debuts in their early 20s. Outfielder Lewis Brinson, turns 22 in May, positioned himself as a possible call up in 2016, by putting up a line of .332/.403/.601 with 20 homers, 8 triples and 18 steals while jumping from A-League High Desert to AAA Round Rock last year. Brinson’s play in centerfield was largely flawless: he committed a pair of errors in 74 games.
The Rangers rolled through 31 pitchers last season and, with little quality in the upper levels, a surprise call-up from the lower minors would not be out of the question. 23-year-old left hander Ryne Slack saw action in 40 games out of the bullpen for High-A High Desert and AA Frisco, putting up a 3.73 ERA and a 1.229 WHIP while striking out a batter per inning. Slack has a penchant for picking up wins, going 24-5 in his four seasons in the minors despite starting only a handful of games.
It was unlikely the Astros had any real inclination to promote 21-year-old Lance McCullers to the major league rotation during last season’s spring training. After all, the right-hander had a rough time in his first season in High-A Lancaster, going 3-6 with a 5.47 ERA and a 1.557 WHIP over 25 games. However, the Hangar is a tough environment for any pitcher, and McCullers showed his quality when moved to AA Corpus Christi to start the 2015 season, putting up a miniscule 0.56 ERA and 0.938 WHIP over seven games before getting called up in mid-May to the Astros. Over 22 starts for the Astros, McCullers went 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.186 WHIP while striking out over a batter an inning.
Tyler White has never been a big-name prospect. Drafted by the Astros in the 33rd round of the 2013 Draft, the 25-year-old quickly moved through the Astros farm, playing 59 games for AA Frisco and 57 games for AAA Fresno in his second full season. White, who has largely played third base in the minors, may push Luis Valbuena for the position in Houston after batting .325/.442/.496 with 40 extra-base hits and eleven more walks than strikeouts.
Another 33rd round draft pick by Houston, 2012 selection Mike Hauschild, may also get a callup to the Astros this season. In his fourth year with the Astros, the right-hander compiled his best overall performance, going 12-6 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.258 WHIP in 25 games for AA Corpus Christi and AAA Fresno. His strikeout ratio saw an uptick when he rose to AAA, where Hauschild struck out 81 batters in 87 2/3 innings for the Grizzlies.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
23-year-old Trevor Gott was called up to the Angels on June 14 last season, two years to the day after signing with San Diego as a 6th round draft pick in the 2013 draft. However, Gott wasn’t an obvious call up candidate when the 2015 season started, being placed in the AA Arkansas bullpen. After 18 games with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.322 WHIP (and a 9.2 K/9 ratio), he was promoted to AAA Salt Lake where he didn’t allow a run in seven appearances out of the Bees pen. Gott certainly got MLB, putting up a 3.02 ERA and a 1.238 WHIP in 48 appearances as an Angels reliever.
25-year-old Chad Hinshaw lost ten weeks of the 2015 season due to a thumb injury, but in 71 games for AA Arkansas, Chad batted .289/.391/.365 with 26 stolen bases. During his first full season, in 2014, Chad showed increased power, slugging 16 homers and legging out 11 triples in A-Ball Burlington and Inland Empire. If Hinshaw is able to put together his intriguing package of power and speed after last season’s injury, he may compete for a place in the Angels outfield alongside Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun.
Lefty Starter Tyler DeLoach went 14-4 with a 2.99 ERA with High-A Inland Empire and AA Arkansas in 2014. Starting the 2015 season back in Arkansas, he put up a 2.40 ERA over seven starts before earning a promotion to AAA Salt Lake. DeLoach had a miserable time for the Bees, going 2-6 with a 6.20 ERA and a 1.643 WHIP over 18 starts for Salt Lake last season. If DeLoach can show improvement in the difficult Pacific Coast League, he may earn himself a promotion to the show.
With only 19 games of AAA experience heading into the 2015 season, 21-year-old Ketel Marté was not expected to be a contributor to the Seattle big league team. Marté batted .314/.359/.410 in 65 games for AAA Tacoma in the first half of 2015 while displaying defensive chops at shortstop, second base, and centerfield. In 57 games for the Mariners in the final two months of the season, Ketel produced a line of .283/.351/.402 with eight steals.
Boog Powell (no relation) has been traded in each of the past two offseasons, but could challenge for a spot in the Mariners outfield this season. Last year, between AA Montgomery and AAA Durham in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, Powell batted .295/.385/.392 with nine triples and 18 stolen bases. Powell showed his versatility by playing all three outfield positions during the season as well as utilizing his arm as a weapon, eliminating 11 runners on the bases.
23-year-old lefthander Paul Fry may see a quick call up to the Mariners’ bullpen this season. In his third professional season, Fry put up a 2.02 ERA and a 1.150 WHIP in 50 appearances for High-A Bakersfield and AA Jackson. More impressive were his strikeout numbers as Paul punched out 113 batters in just 80 innings (12.7 K/9). Fry only walked 24 batters over his half-century of games (4.71 K/BB) while not allowing a single ball to leave the park in fair territory.
After eight minor league seasons, switch-pitcher Pat Venditte finally made his major league debut at the age of 30. Venditte was excellent in his first four appearances for the A’s before landing on the disabled list. Once he returned from injury, however, his productivity dropped, resulting in a 5.06 ERA in August and a 5.84 ERA in September. He was placed on waivers at the end of the season and picked up by the Blue Jays.
Matt Olson is a stereotypical Billy Beane prospect, a first baseman who has been tasked to learn the outfield (and a little third base). But the 21-year-old has some skills that could gain him quick access to the Oakland clubhouse. In his first season in AA Midland last year, Olson put up a .388 OBP thanks to 105 walks, the second consecutive season he broke the 100 walk mark (after walking 117 times for High-A Stockton in 2014). Olson also has potent power, knocking 17 balls out of the yard last season in Midland after slugging 37 in the home run vortex of the California League the year previous.
Jeffrey Wendelken was shifted back to a starting role in 2014, his first full season with the Chicago White Sox organization. The 21-year-old right hander had a rough go after two seasons spent in relief, going 7-10 with a 5.26 ERA and a 1.472 WHIP. The White Sox, nonetheless, promoted him to AA Birmingham last season while shifting him back to the bullpen. Wendelken pitched in 39 games for the AA Barons and AAA Knights, putting up a 3.20 ERA and a 1.119 WHIP while putting up a sterling 10.5 K/9 ratio. Wendelken was acquired by the A’s in December in the Brett Lawrie trade.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.