September has a different flavor for the Minnesota Twins in 2015. In recent years the club has been so far out of contention by early August that September's expanded rosters were one of the few things worth looking forward to. But for a team in contention, the season's final full calendar month has a different aspect.
Shooting for a Wild Card spot changes how loose Paul Molitor can be in handing playing time to minor leaguers getting a cup of coffee. Last year's group included Michael Tonkin, Logan Darnell, Lester Oliveros, A.J. Achter, Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Doug Bernier, and Aaron Hicks, and all of those players were allowed to more or less play whenever Ron Gardenhire felt like switching things up. In a pennant race, Molitor will respond differently. With that in mind, the Twins may choose to call up fewer players this year; or, if they do call up a handful of players, many of them could see very limited action.
The 40-man roster is full. Aaron Hicks, J.R. Graham, and Phil Hughes are all currently on the disabled list, so we'll review the 12 players currently eligible to be called up in five days' time.
A.J. Achter, Alex Meyer, Michael Tonkin
If there's one place that the Twins will gladly accept help in September, it's in the bullpen. The biggest name among all six of these pitchers is Meyer, and the good news for him is that he's strung together a few good appearances in a row out of Rochester's bullpen. In 16 August innings he's struck out 14 and allowed just 11 hits for a 2.81 ERA. Adding a guy who can throw a fastball in the upper 90s into the mix would be fun to watch. I also think we're getting close to the time where we just throw Meyer into the fire and let him work his way through it.
Of the other two pitchers, Tonkin has nothing left to prove at Triple-A and Achter is almost as good. In 40 innings in Triple-A this year, Tonkin owns a 1.13 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, and .164 opponent batting average, but he's been shuffled back and forth between Minnesota and Rochester so many times he probably has whiplash. Achter struggled in a stint as short as Meyer's, but in Triple-A owns a 2.68 ERA in 47 innings, with a 0.85 WHIP and .170 opponent average. All three of these right-handers should be able to help right now, much less in September.
Logan Darnell, Aaron Thompson, Jason Wheeler
In a somewhat bizarre shift, Logan Darnell has been almost spotless in five starts for the Red Wings (0.99 ERA in 27.1 innings, .158 opponent average) but has struggled some in a relief role (4.54 ERA, .320 opponent average, 28 appearances). Thompson and Wheeler, meanwhile, have been pretty inconsistent and don't profile like players who could do better than the left-handed relievers already on the roster.
There's a possibility that Darnell could be called up, to supplement the left side of the bullpen with Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Neal Cotts, and Ryan O'Rourke.
This is a situation where Pinto's defense will determine whether or not he's called up. He's just getting back into the swing of things after missing a large chunk of the season recovering from a concussion, but the one part of his game that people really liked hasn't clicked: Pinto is hitting just .229/.304/.377 in Triple-A this year, and in the five games he's played in since his return he hasn't looked very sharp. I think Pinto sits this one out.
Jorge Polanco, Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas
All three of these guys could conceivably come up in September, but I think Santana might be left behind. He's been hitting well of late, with a .326 batting average in his last ten games, yet the inconsistencies he exhibited on both sides of the ball while with the Twins earlier this year it's just bad timing. Because the Twins definitely want to see what they have in Jorge Polanco.
Polanco is hitting .291/.349/.402 in Double-A this year, where he's spent most of his time between trips to Minnesota and Rochester. He's played five games at second this year and 96 at shortstop, so presumably Molitor would give him opportunities to play both positions with the Twins. Playing time at both positions could be scarce, especially with Eduardo Escobar's hot streak, but Minnesota has been aggressive with Polanco over the last year or so and I expect that to continue in September.
As for Vargas, there's no downside in calling him up. He'll have a few chances as a designated hitter, could spell Joe Mauer at first, and could give Paul Molitor some real power coming off the bench. He's hit .287/.417/.516 in 25 games at Double-A and .274/.405/.472 in 33 games at Triple-A.
Oswaldo Arcia, Max Kepler
As exciting as both of these players are in their own ways, neither player might come up. Oswaldo Arcia, as we've documented, has been terrible in Triple-A this year. His aggression has worked against him, striking out 78 times in 259 at-bats and hitting a meager .205/.262/.390. If the Twins want to have him up just for his ability to generate power off the bench, sure, he could see some time. Aaron Hicks will return shortly, however, and between him, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Torii Hunter, and Shane Robinson, the outfield is pretty much set.
Which brings us to Kepler, who will run into the same playing time issues. As good of a season as Kepler has had, starting his service clock just to see him play three or four times for a total of 15 or 20 innings doesn't seem like a good use of his time. My guess is that neither Arcia nor Kepler get a cup of coffee this year.
- If the Twins want to call up anyone else in September, they will need to make a corresponding move on the 40-man roster.
- Jose Berrios is the obvious caveat, having struck out 10 in seven innings last Friday and then 12 more in seven innings yesterday. With 165 strikeouts in 155.1 innings this season, including a 2.78 ERA in Triple-A and a 1.01 WHIP, it would be an incredible surprise if Berrios didn't make his MLB debut in the next week or two.
- Eric Fryer seems like the logical choice if the club wants a third catcher in September. This seems likely to happen as well.
- Pat Dean and Taylor Rogers have had nice seasons pitching at Triple-A. Dean is 26 and may not have a place in the organization moving forward if he ever wants a real shot at a big league job, and Rogers is 24 and did well in his first crack at Triple-A. Considering the pitching depth already existing on the 40-man roster and Berrios' seemingly undeniable addition to the 40-man roster, I'm not sure either of these happen.