Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Outlooks for top September call-ups
By Keith Law
Nick Castellanos has moved positions often in Detroit's system, but the bat has been consistent.
This year's roster expansion call-ups already have included a number of top prospects, with a few more likely to come up once minor league playoffs end in the next two weeks.
Here's a look at the short- and long-term outlooks for some of the biggest names who have come up so far, as well as the biggest name whom I expect to see later this month.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle: Walker made his major league debut Friday night at Houston, a good first matchup for any pitcher fresh from the minors. He fared reasonably well, giving up just one run in five innings but not missing many bats. Walker showed a mid-90s fastball and a sharp downward-breaking cutter, as well as his usual slow curveball (about 72 mph) that he threw for strikes, but that is more of a show-me pitch than the other two offerings. My concerns about Walker are the lack of a clear out-pitch and with how upright he is at his finish. But I always prefer to cast my lot with highly athletic players like Walker, and believe there's the potential here for a No. 1 or No. 2 starter with time and work.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati: The luster is somewhat off Hamilton after a disappointing 2013 season in Triple-A, where he hit .256/.308/.343, and his grade-80 speed wasn't enough to make up for his lack of hand and wrist strength at the plate. Pitchers can pound him inside and he hasn't yet shown he can find a way to adjust to this to be able to prop up his batting average. He'll have value this month as a tactical weapon for the Reds because his speed is game-altering, but if he can't get himself on base enough to let the speed play, he'll probably end up little more than Cincinnati's Herb Washington this year.
Nick Castellanos, RF, Detroit: Castellanos was a shortstop in high school, moved to third upon entering pro ball, shifted to right field last summer when it appeared that third base in Detroit was blocked by an immovable object, and spent this year in Triple-A in left. The position question remains unanswered, but he can hit, and he will hit for power, with a rotational swing and rapidly improving approach at the plate. For this year, he can help the Tigers when they sit Miguel Cabrera to get the latter healthy for October, making contact with doubles power for now and perhaps playing every day next year in left field while hitting for average with 15-20 homers.
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland: The A's first-round pick in 2010 had a miserable 2012 season, struggling for a half-year in Double-A before a broken hand ended his year in July. He's bounced back somewhat in 2013, with a higher contact rate but less power than you'd expect from a guy who shows 70 or better raw power in BP, with zero homers in the entire month of August. He profiles as a corner outfielder in the majors and eventually should sneak into the 20-plus homer range, but probably with a low batting average driven by his trouble making contact in the zone.
Xander Bogaerts needs more playing time.
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston: Bogaerts came up from Triple-A almost two weeks ago, apparently because the Red Sox believed they needed someone young and talented to waste away on their bench rather than get regular at-bats. Bogaerts' performance at two levels this season was outstanding when you consider his age (20), and I believe he has an even-money chance to start next year as the team's every-day shortstop, getting on base with nascent power that will eventually develop into 30-homer territory. For now, I'd just settle for seeing him play more regularly to help him start to adjust to major league pitching.
Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox: Johnson took a solid step forward this year from durable but back-end starter to probable mid-rotation guy, showing above-average command of a five-pitch mix. Drafted in the second round in 2011 out of Cal, Johnson has never posted an ERA over 2.74 at any of the four levels he's pitched in the past two years, working mostly with a 90-95 mph fastball and an above-average cutter that he's added since joining the White Sox organization. I'd be surprised if he wasn't one of Chicago's five starters in April.
George Springer, CF, Houston: Here's one top prospect who should be recalled but hasn't been, as the Oklahoma City RedHawks are in the PCL postseason and Springer is their best player. He's a true five-tool player, with power, speed, range, and arm strength, while showing a strong ability to hit despite the utter lack of any two-strike approach. I think he'll have a healthy adjustment period in the majors, where given enough time, pitchers will exploit his tendency to overswing even when behind in the count -- but he'll still find ways to wow fans when he does square something up, with 30/30 potential right out of the chute.