Roster expansion is a time for non-contenders to get nice long looks at their top prospects, helping evaluate how and if they might be parts of the full-time plans the following season. This year, while the pool of potential callups may seem somewhat shallow, as many top young players have already been brought to the Major Leagues, there will be some names to watch on Thursday and the days that follow.
It's not a case of a lack of good young talent in today's game. Quite the contrary: the young talent is too good. Over the course of the 2011 season, there has been a veritable deluge of top prospects who have not only ascended to, but excelled at the Major League level. This happened largely for two reasons:
1. Need. Many big league teams that had holes to fill decided that prospects were the best options to help, rather than acquiring players from outside the organization.
2. Many prospects developed faster than anticipated. They were ahead of schedule, ready to make positive contributions at the highest level while continuing to develop. If a player was going to be on the 2012 team, anyway, and appeared ready, many a team apparently reasoned, "Why not bring them up now?"
As a result, many of MLB.com's Top 50 prospects have already graduated off the list and are big league regulars. A good number of prospects made teams out of Spring Training, and many more got a head start for 2012 with teams out of contention, like Dustin Ackley with Seattle, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas with Kansas City, Desmond Jennings with Tampa Bay and, most recently, Brett Lawrie with Toronto.
Contending teams, too, haven't hesitated to promote from within. Just look at Cleveland with Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, and Arizona with Paul Goldschmidt, for prime examples. Even No. 1 prospect Mike Trout has joined the Angels on two occasions, and he only recently turned 20 years old.
What that means is that fans may have to look a little harder to find top-flight prospects coming up for those 2012 auditions. They are out there, though it's always a good idea to look at 40-man rosters (a non-roster player has less of a chance to come up) and Minor League postseasons (leagues run through Labor Day, and organizations might want to let some prospects stay to play in postseason games) when trying to determine who might get some Major League time in the season's final month.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the Top 50 prospects who could see time in the Major Leagues next month -- the proverbial "cup of coffee."
Matt Moore, LHP, Rays: No. 3 overall and No. 1 on the Rays' Top 10 list, Moore has developed into the best pitching prospect in the game. He's not on Tampa Bay's 40-man roster, so that could come into consideration, as could the fact that the Triple-A Durham Bulls are headed to the International League playoffs.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves: He's No. 4, right behind Moore, and currently No. 1 on the Braves' Top 10 list, but unlike Moore, Teheran is on the 40-man roster and has been in the big leagues this season. Even if he does get called up, it's unlikely he'd play a large role.
Jesus Montero, C, Yankees: He's had his ups and downs, and there are still questions about his ability to catch full-time, but the No. 6 prospect overall (No. 1 on the Yankees' Top 10 list) could help out with his bat. He's been swinging well lately (a .515 slugging percentage in the second half), and while he's not yet on the 40-man roster, the Yankees will have to put him on this offseason anyway to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Other interesting options for the Yankees: No. 2 Manny Banuelos (No. 16 overall) and No. 3 Dellin Betances (No. 27 overall). Betances is on the 40-man roster; Banuelos is not but there has been talk of him being a possible bullpen addition for New York, which has gone most of the season with only one left-handed reliever. Banuelos threw a seven-inning one-hitter on Monday in his sixth start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Jacob Turner, RHP, Tigers: Already called upon to make a spot start, Turner (No. 7 overall, No. 1 on the Tigers' Top 10 list) might not be a bad choice to help in a bullpen role down the stretch.
Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers: The move to Triple-A hasn't gone smoothly for the young lefty, who's No. 1 on the Rangers' Top 10 list and No. 8 overall. He's also not on the 40-man roster. But envisioning him coming out of the bullpen as a lefty version of Neftali Feliz, circa 2009, is intriguing.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Padres: The Padres' No. 2 prospect (No. 21 overall) had a rough go of it when he was called up earlier this year, and he's scuffled a bit lately, but if he truly is the future at first base in San Diego, he should get another look.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds: There is no reason for the Reds not to call up their top prospect at some point in September. The No. 23 overall prospect has hit for average and power while catching every day, and should get the chance to join Yonder Alonso in Cincy and show what he can do.
Matt Dominguez, 3B, Marlins: It's been an up-and-down year for the No. 1 Marlins prospect (No. 40 overall), with injuries hampering his chances of getting a callup. He's currently dealing with a bad hammy, but there was hope he'd get back in time for a September debut.