In the past, when September 1 rolled around and rosters could expand, it was a perfect time to see prospects play at the Major League level. And while many times it seemed that it was something generally reserved for teams already thinking about the next season, there are many cases of contending teams that received a good push from players who raised in the last month of the regular round. Who can forget what David Price did for the Rays in 2008? Remember 2002, when Venezuelan Francisco Rodríguez started the K-Rod legend in September and helped the Angels win the World Series?
Rule changes have limited how much of an impact prospects can make, as rosters can now only be expanded to 28 players, so individual ninths will need to choose carefully. But with a total of 16 teams between the two leagues within 5.5 games or less of a postseason spot as of earlier this week, there is a lot of potential for a promise to be called in and felt in the October bidding. Here’s a list of 10 players who could do that, ranked based on a combination of talent and opportunity:
1. Shane Baz, RHP, Rays (No. 1 / No. 20 MLB)
The combination of arsenal and above-average control has put Baz near the top among pitching prospects and the right-hander has dominated in eight games at Triple-A (1.80 ERA, .175 average against and K / 9 of 12.5). As well as the Rays are playing, Baz would improve the rotation and could be an effective weapon in relief.
2. José Barrero, SS, Reds (No. 3 / No. 33 MLB)
It was a bit of a surprise that Cincinnati dropped Cuban Barrero less than two weeks after he was first promoted in 2021, but the logical thing is to think that he will return soon. Clearly, he would greatly improve defense at shortstop (and he can easily move to second base). And his .303 / .378 / .532 offensive line between Double-A and Triple-A shows just how much he’s improved at bat. The Reds acquired the Venezuelan Asdrúbal Cabrera, but here we believe that Barrero is a better option.
3. Vidal Bruján, 2B / OF, Rays (No. 2 / No. 22 MLB)
Sure, the Dominican’s 10-game stint in the majors in July wasn’t positive, but it’s hard to imagine Bruján’s tools couldn’t help the Rays, even off the bench. The youngster can hit (.282 / .370 / .466) and can actually run (36 stolen bases), as well as being able to defend various positions. Even if he’s not in the lineup on a regular basis, using him as a hitter or pinch-runner, or to start a game every now and then, could inject a good deal of excitement into the Rays.
4. Luis Gil, RHP, Yankees (No. 4 / No. 100 MLB)
The Dominican looked like an ace in his first major league starts in August, throwing 15.2 scoreless innings while allowing just nine hits with 18 strikeouts. Even if the Yankees don’t want him to start down the stretch – perhaps concerned about his control (5.0 BB / 9 in the minors in 2021, 4.0 in those three starts) – his ability to make opponents fan the breeze (12.6 K / 9 at Triple-A) with his 100 mph fastball and that slider who has improved so much could be a big help in the bullpen.
5. Cristian Pache, OF, Bravos (No. 1 / No. 40 MLB)
The Dominican struggled in the majors earlier in the year, with an OPS of just .358 in 22 games. He hasn’t had a good year at Triple-A either, looking lost at the plate at times. But it seems that it has started to find the light at the end of the tunnel at the precise moment, with a line of .320 / .386 / .520 in August. If he can get that flaming bat back to Atlanta, he’s a better option in center field – especially considering his elite defense – than Joc Pederson or Guillermo Heredia of Cuba.
6. Julio Rodríguez, OF, Mariners (No. 1 / No. 2 MLB)
Well, maybe this is more of a wish than something that will happen, as the Mariners are unlikely to raise the Dominican phenomenon from Double-A. But Seattle’s situation at left field is a minor disaster and it remains to be seen whether Kyle Lewis will be able to complete his rehab in time. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, just 20, is hitting .327 / .434 / .539 in the minors and is on fire (.380 / .508 / .480) since his return from the Olympics.
7. Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds (No. 1 / No. 27 MLB)
The reality is there’s no room in the rotation right now, but why not put Greene in the bullpen – where his fastball, which has averaged 99.4 mph and touched 103 mph as a starter at Triple-A – and his slider could wreak havoc (not to mention helping a 5.18 ERA reliever corps this year?)
8. Matthew Liberatore, LZ, Cardinals (No. 2 / No. 51 MLB)
While his Triple-A numbers at age 21 don’t stand out (4.56 ERA, .261 OVER of opponents), the southpaw has been looking good lately, with a 2.84 ERA in August. He has pitched seven innings in each of his last three outings, allowing six earned runs (2.57) with three walks and 20 strikeouts in those 21 innings.
9. Joey Bart, C, Giants (No. 2 / No. 16 MLB)
It’s a bit surprising that Bart didn’t spend more time in the Big Top this year, but the Giants wanted him to play every day instead of having him as a backup for Buster Posey. His .906 OPS at Triple-A makes it clear that he doesn’t need more time in the minors, so why not turn it up and let him take more so Posey can rest his legs? It would also be a dangerous bat to bring from the bench.
10. Ryan Pepiot, RHP, Dodgers (No. 2 / No. 66 MLB)
The Dodgers could use Pepiot just like they used Dustin May in 2019, although not to start. Pepiot has had some problems since moving up to Triple-A, particularly with his control. But he’s still a strikeout pitcher who could increase his speed if used as a reliever down the stretch.