In a mere two weeks, the Cleveland Indians (and a bunch of other teams, whatever) will be entering the stretch run of September — the last full month of the MLB season. During this time, teams can call up prospects on their expanded 40-man roster to play until the playoffs begin.
It’s always a fun time for anyone who follows prospects, but maybe more-so on a bad team — like the Atlanta Braves and Dansby Swanson — than a team making a run at a playoff spot. Being in the latter group, what could we expect the Indians to do?
Zimmer? Zimmer! Will they call up Zimmer? I bet they call up Zimmer. Zimmer.
For starters, you can probably kick the idea of Bradley Zimmer out the window. With Clint Frazier gone, Zimmer is obviously the future of the Indians outfield, but he is not the present.
Zimmer’s hitting has been streaky all season long, and his approach in Triple-A clearly needs some work. In 19 games (80 PA), the 23-year-old is striking out in 32.5 percent of his at-bats, the worst mark of any level of his professional career. His strikeout rate has been high all season long, even in Double-A where he whiffed 28.3 percent of the time. He has been on a particularly bad streak lately, striking out in 17 of his last 33 plate appearances with the Columbus Clippers.
If the Indians believe that Zimmer could help them in a playoff push, sure, start his major league clock now and let him help. But it probably would not be worth it to have him sit on the bench or get frustrated and strike out one out of every three at-bats.
The first place to look for September call-ups is the 40-man roster
...and the Indians 40-man roster is not all that exciting.
Here is everyone in the minors who is eligible to be called up on September 1, assuming no roster moves are made before then:
- Austin Adams, P
- Jesus Aguilar, 1B
- Cody Anderson, P
- Shawn Armstrong, P
- Dylan Baker, P
- Joe Colon, P
- Collin Cowgill, OF
- Erik Gonzalez, UTIL
- TJ House, P
- Ryan Merritt, P
- Shawn Morimando, P
- Giovanny Urshela, 3B
We have already seen most of these pitchers at one point or another in the majors this season, with all the bullpen issues before the Andrew Miller era began in Cleveland. A few of these guys will likely be added (Shawn Armstrong was one of the ones called up last season in September), but none of them are going to be crucial to the Indians’ playoff push.
As for position players... yeesh. Erik Gonzalez looks great in Triple-A, but he did not get much playing time when he got his first cup of coffee with the Indians in July. Giovanny Urshela is an interesting choice to take over at third so Jose Ramirez can float around the outfield again, but his bat does not look any better than it did last season.
So, in order to call up someone like Bradley Zimmer (not happening) or, more likely, Yandy Diaz for September, they would have to be added to the 40-man roster and someone would have to be dropped.
Joey Butler is another option not currently on the 40-man roster. The Indians signed Butler to a minor-league deal earlier this season, but he was DFA’d to make room for Andrew Miller. He accepted his outright assignment to Columbus on August 5, but he is far from an exciting option.
Some clarifications about playoff eligibility
While it is true that technically a player would have to be on the 40-man roster by midnight on August 31 to be a part of a team in the playoffs, that rarely comes into play thanks to a nifty little loophole in the rules.
In the postseason, a team can replace anyone on the 60-day disabled list as long as they were in the minors for the duration of that given playoff series, and the injured player has been on the disabled list for at least 60 days. And they can be replaced by anyone. If you have a third baseman on the 60-day disabled list and you need a rookie pitcher to come up, you are welcome to do so.
For instance, since Michael Brantley is currently on the 60-day disabled list, the Indians could call up anyone in the minors to replace him the playoffs. So, say, Jose Ramirez is injured in the ALCS — the Indians could call up Yandy Diaz as a utility guy and throw him into the fire (they’d probably use Erik Gonzalez instead, but you get the idea) even though Diaz is not on the 40-man roster. He served in the minors, Brantley is on the 60-day disabled list, and Diaz would be declared as a replacement for Brantley.
But again, do not expect anyone exciting to get the call for the Indians, but it could happen, whether or not they are on the 40-man roster by the August 31 deadline.
So do not expect much in terms of exciting prospects in September. Last season, the Indians called up Shawn Armstrong and Gavin Floyd, activated Chris Johnson from the disabled list, and called it a day.
But that’s okay. The Indians are a winning team right now with a mostly-good roster. They are not bad enough that they can just call up a bunch of prospects and let them learn, and they are not desperate enough to hope someone catches fire for the last month of the season and leads them to a playoff spot.
September in Cleveland is going to be exciting for several reasons other than prospects.