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 NL 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 who make a positive contribution to the major league team. A few, like Doug Mirabelli in 2004, are AAAA journeymen who have a once-in-a-career season. Some, like Jesus Sucre last season for the Seattle Mariners, are lower-ranked prospects who happen to fit the positional need for the major league team. Others, like Corey Seager, 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 National League, and see who might join them in jumping to the major leagues this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Enrique Hernandez had an interesting 2014: debuting in the majors with the Houston Astros on July 1, being traded to the Miami Marlins in a six-player trade at the deadline, returning to AAA after an 0-for-7 start in the NL, and coming back up to the majors in September before being traded to the Dodgers in December as part of a seven-player trade. Hernandez started 2015 in AAA Oklahoma City where he struggled, hitting .169/.219/.254 during the first month of the season. But a place on the 40-man roster often means a call-up when a rash of injuries happen. So when outfielders Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford both went on the disabled list at the end of April, Hernandez got his first chance in Los Angeles. Hernandez made the best of this opportunity, spending the rest of the season with the Dodgers, batting .307/.346/.490 with 21 extra-base hits while becoming a super-utility player – earning starts in all three outfield positions, second base, third base, and shortstop.
O’Koyea Dickson has made a steady climb through the Dodgers system since being drafted in the 12th round of the 2011 draft. Dickson batted .262/.305/.433 with 27 doubles and 13 home runs for AAA Oklahoma City in 2015, his first season at that level.. His batting line has been consistent as he has moved up the system, slugging at least 27 doubles and 13 home runs in each of his four full seasons. Primarily a first baseman, Dickson played 48 games in left field last season, and could earn a promotion to Los Angeles with an influx of injuries to the outfield or to 33-year-old first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
While the Dodgers have an abundance of pitching at both the major league and AAA level, 23-year-old right-hander Jacob Rhame may force his way into the conversation. Rhame started the 2015 season – his second full season since being drafted in 2013 – with High-A Rancho Cucamonga where in five relief appearances, he allowed two hits and a walk over seven innings while striking out 13. Rhame was tested a bit more in AA Tulsa, putting up a 3.06 ERA and a 1.060 WHIP in 39 appearances (50 innings). However, his strikeout numbers were still excellent, as he struck out 57, or 10.3 batters per nine innings. In his three professional seasons, Jacob has allowed only 6.5 H/9 and has a 11.3 K/9, a potent combination.
San Francisco Giants
When back inflammation sidelined Joe Panik last August, the Giants promoted Kelby Tomlinson to the majors as his replacement. Tomlinson was an unlikely call up at the beginning of the 2015 season, starting for a second consecutive season in AA Richmond and being off the 40-man roster. However, a .324/.387/.431 line over 64 games in Virginia got Tomlinson a promotion to AAA Sacramento where Kelby continued his strong hitting, batting .316/.354/.382 in 33 games before getting his first crack in the majors. With Panik’s back issues continuing, Tomlinson started 46 games at second base for San Francisco in the final two months, putting up a line of .303/.358/.404 in his first major league playing time.
An outfield of 30-year-olds will see its fair share of aches, pains, and strains; so we could see the Giants dipping down into the system for younger help. One possibility is the fast-rising Hunter Cole. Taken in the 26th round of the 2014 draft, Cole traversed the country in his first full professional season, starting in the South Atlantic League with the Augusta GreenJackets, moving to the California League with San Jose Giants after only ten games in Georgia, and then being bumped up to AA Richmond Flying Squirrels after batting .313/.373/.493 in 54 games with the young Giants. The outfielder didn’t lose his batting stroke in the Eastern League, hitting .292/.338/.464 over the final two months of the season for the Flying Squirrels. While Cole spent his time on the field in Richmond in the outfield, he has also started at first, second, and third base in his two seasons with the Giants.
With a quartet of starting pitchers in their 30s, the Giants may need to pluck multiple starters from AAA Sacramento. While Ty Blach had difficulty in his first season with the River Cats last year – going 11-12 with a 4.78 ERA and a 1.331 WHIP in his 27 starts – he also pitched a career high 165 1/3 innings and had a pair of complete game shutouts. The left-hander, drafted in the fifth round in the 2012 draft, had two successful seasons previous to 2015, putting up a 2.90 ERA with High-A San Jose in 2013 and a 3.13 ERA with AA Richmond in 2014. If Blach can limit his home runs allowed – he allowed 16 last season after giving up 16 in his first two seasons combined – an invite to San Francisco may follow.
Zack Godley started the 2015 season – his first with the Diamondbacks’ organization after an offseason trade from the Chicago Cubs – in Visalia, Arizona’s High-A Affiliate and three steps from the majors. However, the right-hander was impressive in the high-offense California League, putting up a 2.27 ERA and a 1.102 WHIP in 14 appearances for the Rawhide. Promoted to AA Mobile, Godley pitched in just three games for the BayBears before a Chase Anderson injury gave Godley his first taste of the majors. With three six-inning performances and three total runs allowed, Godley gave a glimpse of his potential with a trio of victories. Godley bounced between Mobile and Arizona the rest of the season, going 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA in his nine games with the Diamondbacks.
While Nick Ahmed appears to be a good, possibly very good, defensive shortstop, his offensive line of .226/.275/.359 last season was underwhelming – even though it was an improvement over his numbers in his first go around with the Diamondbacks in 2014. The poor offense may open up a spot for Jack Reinheimer, who was acquired last June from the Seattle Mariners in the Mark Trumbo deal. In his first AA season, Reinheimer put up a combined line of .270/.342/.363 with 24 doubles and 21 steals with Jackson and Mobile of the Southern League.
Jake Barrett was on a fast track to the majors after being picked in the third round of the 2012 Draft. Reaching AAA Reno in 2014, the right-hander earned 16 saves and put up a 3.72 ERA in 30 appearances for the Aces. The train derailed in 2015, however, as Barrett got battered around in both Reno and AA Mobile, putting up a 4.58 ERA and a 1.585 WHIP in 47 appearances. While Barrett was putting more batters down by the strikeout, his hit total went through the roof with a 10.4 H/9, up from a 7.6 H/9 the year previous. If Barrett can bring the hit rate back down, the reliever could see time in the majors this season.
San Diego Padres
Colin Rea, a 12th round draft pick in 2011, was unlikely to be on the Padres radar screen when the 2015 season began. After all, in his four previous seasons, Rea had not made it past A-Ball. However, the tall right-hander sparkled in his first taste of AA, putting up a 1.08 ERA and a 0.813 WHIP in a dozen starts for the San Antonio Missions. While his six starts for the Pacific Coast League El Paso Chihuahuas were not as impressive – a 4.39 ERA and a 1.538 WHIP – a right shoulder injury to Brandon Maurer gave Rea his first shot at the majors. He picked up victories in his first two starts and put up seven scoreless innings in his final start of the season, a no-decision against the Colorado Rockies on September 8.
While Alexi Amarista brings great positional flexibility to the field for San Diego, seeing play at three infield and two outfield positions last season, his offensive game continues to lag behind his versatility. With a .204/.257/.287 line last season – his fourth consecutive season of decreasing offense – the Padres may look in another direction for their utility fielding. One possibility is Casey McElroy, who saw 60 games at both second base and third base as well as a single game at shortstop. After batting .254/.340/.342 in 61 games for AA San Antonio to begin the 2015 season, McElroy was promoted to AAA El Paso where he hit .275/.339/.397.
Buddy Bauman has spent his last three seasons in AAA Omaha, waiting patiently for an opportunity in Kansas City – an opportunity that never came. Signing as a free agent with the Padres, the 28-year-old left-hander may finally get a chance to complete his major-league dream. In his three seasons in Nebraska, Bauman pitched 216 innings, largely out of the bullpen, with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.287 WHIP while striking out 218 batters, just over a batter per inning.
Although Justin Miller saw major-league action with the Detroit Tigers in 2014, with the rest of his time being in AAA Toledo, the Rockies placed him in AA New Britain to start the 2015 season, his first with Colorado. Miller quickly showed that AA was much too easy, being promoted to AAA Albuquerque after only six relief appearances for the Rock Cats. The right-hander showed his prowess of the PCL as well, putting up a 2.30 ERA and a 1.024 WHIP in two dozen relief appearances for the Isotopes. Promoted to Colorado in the middle of July, Miller was put on the New Mexico-Colorado shuttle for the rest of the season, putting up a decent 4.05 ERA over 34 relief appearances for the Rockies. More impressive, however, were his peripheral numbers for Colorado – a 0.960 WHIP, 5.7 H/9 and a 10.3 K/9.
With Jose Reyes starting the season on administrative leave and a possible suspension looming, the Rockies may need to utilize former first round draft pick Trevor Story as a stopgap in the majors. Story, a top 100 player by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com coming into the 2013 season, struggled offensively in both 2013 in High-A Modesto and in 2014 in AA Tulsa. However, the 22-year-old turned his game around last season, batting .281/.373/.523 with AA New Britain before continuing his rampage in AAA Albuquerque where he hit .277/.324/.504. With nearly half of his hits (70 of 143) going for extra bases – 40 doubles, 20 home runs, and 10 triples – Story could wreak havoc finding the gaps in Colorado.
The Rockies utilized 30 pitchers in 2015 including a dozen starters. Although Shane Carle’s AAA career consists of a single game – a spot start last May – he had an excellent season for the Rockies AA affiliate last season. In 26 starts for the New Britain Rock Cats, Carle went 14-7 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.235 WHIP. Perhaps just as impressive, the right-hander went six innings or more in 21 of his 27 starts in 2015, including his final ten of the season. While Carle may not be the first starter called up – the Isotopes may have as many as four starters who pitched in the majors in 2015 – there is a good chance Carle gets the call in 2016.
Brandon Maxgee 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.