Top-100 prospects who might get a September call

Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights

Buren Foster/Charlotte Knights

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com

September is only 11 days away and, although that’s a great excuse to link to the great Earth, Wind & Fire song of the same name, it’s also a reason to look at which big-name prospects are likely to head to the Majors when rosters expand to potentially include all players on the 40-man roster on the first day of the month.

This is the chance to finally plug a guy into the lineup/rotation/bullpen after weeks of wondering if he’s good enough to take up a roster spot on the 25-man. That worry goes away with the roster expansion, and players can get their chance to show that they can indeed succeed at the Major League level. Sometimes, that’s done in order to help the team with its playoff push. (Think Nick Castellanos last year with the Tigers.) Other times, it’s a glorified tryout on a team that’s just playing out the string with an eye on next season. Either way, it’s an exciting opportunity.

Kris Bryant, third baseman, Chicago Cubs: You’re waiting for it. We’re waiting for it. Kris Bryant is waiting for it. The Cubs … that might be a different story. 

First things first, the ascension of Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 Draft, has been one of the stories of the 2014 Minor League season. He’s been in a season-long battle with fellow Las Vegas native Joey Gallo for the Minor League lead in home runs — Bryant leads 41-40 as of Thursday — and his 1.128 OPS leads all Minor Leaguers, including those who qualify in short-season leagues. In 126 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, he’s put up a .333/.441/.678 slash line — video game numbers that surely would’ve earned him a call-up earlier if this wasn’t his first season in the Minors.

And there’s the rub. Earlier this month, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the following: “I still don’t foresee a scenario where Kris would get called up this year. First full professional season, it would really take extraordinary circumstances to call up anybody in his first full professional season. I think Kris is doing extraordinary things, but for us to consider calling somebody up in his first full pro season, I think not only would the player have to be doing extraordinary things, but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big league team, too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost.”

There are two ways to look at this. One, Epstein is right. The Cubs are nowhere near a playoff run, and as such, they wouldn’t mind calling Bryant’s 2014 a win and letting it end in Iowa. Two — and this is the more cynical view — the word “foresee” leaves a pretty good amount of wiggle room.

This all seemed moot when Bryant sat the bench last weekend with a bruised foot. MRIs revealed nothing more than a contusion, and he returned to the Iowa starting lineup Tuesday, going 1-for-3 with a double and a walk. So what could have been frightening seems like nothing more than a small scare. There are other considerations involved too, of course, mostly dealing with service time, but the Cubs didn’t seem too worried about those when it came to bringing up Javier Baez two weeks ago. If they can get Bryant’s feet wet now with an eye on starting him on Opening Day, they should jump at the chance.

Carlos Rodon, left-handed pitcher, Chicago White Sox: Talk about stark contrast — in the same city, no less!

Epstein talked at length about holding Bryant back because it’s his first full season. Well, the White Sox seem like they’re going to bring up their first-round pick in the same year they drafted him.

Chicago has meticulously brought up Rodon since he signed in early July. He made two appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League, four with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and made his Triple-A debut with three strong innings for Charlotte on Tuesday. By all accounts, the Sox, who sit well out of the Wild Card race and aren’t likely going to contend for any kind of playoff spot, intend to make Rodon a Major Leaguer in September.

By all accounts, Rodon has the stuff — a low-90s fastball, an incredible slider, a serviceable changeup — to pitch against Major Leaguers right now, and Chicago wants to see that happen, if all goes according to plan. It’s important to note that the White Sox also brought up Chris Sale in the same year that they took him with the 13th overall pick back in 2010, although the left-hander was promoted in August and pitched primarily out of the bullpen.

Daniel Norris, left-handed pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays: Norris started the season as a 20-year-old starter pitching in the Florida State League, and now he’s being talked about as a bullpen option for a Major League club competing for a Wild Card spot.

That’s what happens when you make major leaps forward like Norris has in one season. After ending the 2013 season as the Jays’ No. 4 prospect, the now-21-year-old left-hander has climbed to the top spot in the Toronto system and No. 28 overall on MLB.com’s list of top prospects. Across Class A Advanced Dunedin, Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo, he’s 11-1 with a 2.22 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 148 strikeouts and 36 walks in 23 starts (113 2/3 innings). He’s been especially good in two starts since jumping to the Minors’ highest level with only one earned run allowed plus 23 strikeouts and only one walk in 11 2/3 frames with Buffalo.

Unlike Epstein, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has come right out and said Norris might have earned his shot at the Majors, telling Sportsnet’s FAN 590, “No doubt we could see him. That was definitely part of the plan of having him moved up. He’s earned it. I mean, he’s pitched incredibly well.”

If Norris does get the call, it’ll likely be in a relief role for two reasons. One, it won’t disrupt the team’s rotation. Two, it’ll be a nice way to limit the southpaw’s innings. His 113 2/3 frames this season are already a career high, trumping the 90 2/3 he threw between Dunedin and Class A Lansing last season.

Garin Cecchini, third baseman, Boston Red Sox: If you look at Cecchini’s overall production this season, you might laugh at this suggestion. The 23-year-old third baseman, who hadn’t batted below .305 or had an OBP lower than .394 in either of his first two full seasons in the Sox system, has just a .252/.329/.358 line at Triple-A Pawtucket. That was hurt by a two-month slump in June and July that saw him slash .193/.273/.326 in 38 games.

But he’s certainly looked like the Cecchini of old this month. In 15 August games, he’s 18-for-58 (.310) with two homers and 15 RBIs. It’s a tangible turnaround for a prospect who would always need his bat to carry him to the Majors.

Cecchini is already on the 40-man roster and has played one game with the big club this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a few more Major League at-bats before the season is out, especially if injuries continue to be a problem for starting third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The only thing that could delay a promotion would be a deep playoff run by the PawSox, who are three games ahead in the International League Wild Card standings as of Thursday.

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