September 1 is right around the corner, coming at you this Thursday. It's one of the most exciting days for prospect freaks like myself (along with the last week of Spring Training, the date of the MLB draft, the signing deadline and the date of the Rule 5 draft. It's going to be nice to see the fruits ripening from our suddenly deep farm system.
The Nats have a lot of decisions to be made, and most likely, I am going to end up disappointed. No team carries a full 40-man roster during September call-ups, so perhaps what I'm thinking is a bit unrealistic. Still, in the best interest of the future of the franchise, here's what I would do with the Nats on September 1:
CLEARING ROSTER SPACE
The Nats have a full 40-man roster right now...sort of. The Nats currently have four players on the 15-day DL who can be moved over to the 60-day DL: Cole Kimball, Ryan Mattheus (if they shut him down, which I think they will), Doug Slaten and Adam LaRoche. Slaten is on the rehabilitation track, but was nothing special when healthy, so I would outright him to AAA or release him. In addition, Adam Carr is out for the season and can be put on the 60-day DL as well.
I would DFA Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen and Alex Cora to create an extra 3 spots, giving the Nats 8 total. Mock's time has been up for quite a while and Stammen struggled in AAA this year. While I'm not opposed to keeping a veteran infielder around, Cora is a leech on the lineup, hitting .218/.282/.254 this season; under my plan, the Nats will have 2 extra middle infielders up that need lots of playing time.
There a a few other players that I could see the Nats DFAing (Maya, Severino and Brown), but all three have enough upside (or in Maya's case, the Nats have invested enough in him) that they'll almost certainly stick around at least until Spring Training next year.
GUARANTEED ADDITIONS TO THE 40-MAN
These guys are almost certain to be called up:
2B Stephen Lombardozzi: Everybody loves a switch-hitting second baseman who can hit for average and get on base. Lombo plays solid defense and has seen his power numbers rise throughout his time in the minors.
LHSP Tom Milone: 2.91 ERA in high A ball in 2009. 2.85 ERA in AA in 2010. 3.33 ERA in AAA in 2011. With solid performance, great control and an other-worldly 10.64 strikeouts per walk rate in AAA this year, Milone is certainly getting a chance this year. Milone is still 15 innings pitched shy of his 2010 finals as well, so he could conceivably throw another 30 innings at least.
C Derek Norris: Norris' prospect status has faded a bit due to a drop in batting average and power in 2010 and average again in 2011, but he's still a shiny prospect at a vital position to have depth at. His .203/.353/.429 bat won't get a lot of opportunities in September, but he'll be up to learn from Pudge, Ramos, Flores and the gang. I also wouldn't be surprised to see him get some innings at 1B.
RHSP Brad Peacock: Peacock has been awesome in 2011, going 14-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 141 and 2/3 innings. His walks have risen and strikeouts have fallen significantly in AAA compared to his AA stats, but he's still having a fantastic season. Peacock is basically at his 2010 workload, so he will probably not pitch a whole lot in September.
All four of these players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December, so they need to be September call-ups or added to the 40-man roster after the season to be protected.
MY 40-MAN ADDITIONS
2B Matt Antonelli: Am I the only one that is impressed with the fact that this guy went basically two years between competitive games and came back to hit .294/.383/.443 in AAA? The 2006 Padres first rounder is still only 26 and can attribute his minor league struggles to injuries rather than poor performance. I'm convinced that this is the real Matt Antonelli, not the one that was rushed to the Majors in 2008 only to hit .193/.292/.281. If Lombardozzi wasn't in the system, Antonelli would be a slam dunk call-up, but since there are at-bats to share, I guess we'll just have to see about Antonelli.
OF Erik Komatsu: This wouldn't be completely merit-based, as Komatsu has only hit .242/.296/.303 for the Nats in AA this year (after hitting .294/.393/.416 for the Brewers' AA affiliate, though). Rather, this would be a show-me situation; Komatsu is Rule 5 eligible after the season and could help the Nats as soon as next season as a 4th OF/defensive replacement type. By getting him some ML reps now, the Nats could make the decision of whether to go with Komatsu (or a guy like Corey Brown) next year or to continue to rely on veteran 4th OF types like Nix, Ankiel and Gomes.
RHP Rafael Martin: Dubbed "close to the big leagues" by Stan Kasten when he was signed out of Mexico in February of 2010, Martin turned a corner in 2011 after a mixed bag of results last season. In 40 and 2/3 innings, Martin has a 1.55 ERA and 12 saves to go along with his 10.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. A lot of people have forgotten about Martin, but he legitimately deserves a shot, and at 27 years old, will likely get one soon.
LHP Oliver Perez: Okay, the former Padre/Pirate/Met isn't the same pitcher who struck out 239 batters in 2004 as a 22-year-old or the one that threw 371 innings of 3.91 ERA ball for the Mets in 2007-08, but he did improve himself in 2011. Ollie went 3-4 in Harrisburg with a 3.04 ERA in 68 innings, but I'm pretty impressed with his 2.9 BB/9; it's far from incredible by anyone's standards, but it was his second lowest walk rate at any level in his entire professional career (after 2.3 K/9 in 47 and 2/3 innings of AAA ball in 2003). If the Nats don't call up Perez now, he's likely gone after the season, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they'll see if the 30 year old who got paid $12 million this year by the Mets to pitch for another team has anything left in the tank.
OTHERS OF NOTE
RHSP Erik Arnesen: Good control, overall performance in 2011. At 27, his window is closing.
1B/OF Michael Aubrey: Former top Indians prospect hit .273/.363/.471 in Syracuse this year. He's not a big power guy (despite having a 4 homer game, he hit only 11 total in 82 games), but walked more than he struck out this season and plays solid defense at 1B.
OF Gregor Blanco: Awful 2011 season will prevent him from getting a call-up, but he is a great base-stealer (24/26 this season) with .358 career OBP in the majors in 836 PA and solid defense. He's similar to Nyjer Morgan (with less power, better baserunning skills, less ego) and is still just 27.
OF Archie Gilbert: He is a 27 year old playing in AA for the third straight year, so I'm not expecting a callup. Still, Archie has good plate discipline (29 BB/35 K) and great speed (31/35 SB) and can play CF. His prospect window may have closed, but he could make it as a righthanded Nyjer-type (sorry to keep bringing that name up).
IF Tug Hulett: Another ML retread, Hulett is hitting .273/.343/.414 this season in AAA. While he's not a speed demon, power hitter or defensive whiz, he does everything just well enough to keep getting shots, and could help out the Nats if they needed a 2B/3B in a pinch. Unfortunately for Tug, the Nats have a ton of young talent blocking him, so he likely won't get the call.
RHRP Jeff Mandel: His 3.39 ERA, 2.6 BB/9 and 7.4 K/9 are all improvements over his career averages. His track record isn't that great (although he had a nice 2009 season in Potomac and Harrisburg), but could get a look at some point soon.
RHSP Shairon Martis: Remember me? We were all reminded of the guy who started out 5-0 for us in 2009 this week when he tossed a no-no in AA ball, but he really deserves another look. Martis' control has improved this season (2.7 BB/9, down from 3.0 career) while vastly improving his strikeout numbers (10.1 K/9 is almost 3 K above his career average and way better than he had done at any higher level in his career). Sure, it's AA, but it looks like Martis has legitimately changed himself as a pitcher.
RHSP Brad Meyers: After dominating AA to start the 2011 season (2.48 ERA, 0 BB/38 K in 36 and 1/3 innings pitched) Meyers has cooled off a little in AAA (3.57 ERA, 1.5 BB/9, 7.1 K/9 in 85 and 2/3 innings). Ultimately, he doesn't have the stuff of Peacock or the numbers of Milone, so he's my odd man out, but I bet he'll be added to the 40-man in the offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
1B Tyler Moore: I'm admittedly not a fan of Moore at all due to his horrendous plate discipline (24 BB and 132 K this season), but you can't argue with back-to-back 30-HR seasons. He's done both while playing at an older age for his level, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nats challenge him either here or in the Arizona Fall League before they have to decide on whether or not to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
LHSP Danny Rosenbaum: Think Tom Milone, just a level lower. Rosenbaum has a 2.28 career ERA across all levels, but I'd like to see some improvement in his BB and K rates (2.6 BB/9 and 7.5 K/9 over his career, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.3 K/9 this season) before he gets a shot. He's still only 23 and will not be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter, so no rush on Danny boy.
C Jhonatan Solano: More of a contender for an ML role than I figured he would be at the beginning of the season, but with Ramos and Flores already up, Norris likely getting a shot and Pudge returning from the DL, Solano will likely have to do with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training next season.
RHRP Josh Wilkie: He should have gotten a shot in 2009 or 2010, but it's better late than never for the 27 year old Syracuse closer. While his 2011 stats aren't as great as his career numbers, a 3.10 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9 isn't bad by any means.
LHRP Cory VanAllen: I wrote him off halfway through 2010 when he was back in Potomac with a 4.14 ERA as a 25 year old reliever, but he had a career resurgence this season, his second year in the pen. VanAllen threw 54 and 2/3 innings of 2.47 ERA ball, allowing 3.6 BB/9 but striking out 11.2 batters per 9. He's a nice LOOGY candidate and honestly can't be any worse than Burnett or Slaten right now.
RHRP Zech Zinicola: Another 2006 college pitcher who was thought to be a quick-mover, Zinicola has finally figured out the upper levels, throwing 37 innings of 1.95 ERA ball with 2.4 BB/9 and 10.5 K/9. Seeing guys like he and VanAllen have career resurgences is great, and they will likely get the chance to battle it out in Spring Training next year.
Here are some other resources if you want to think of your own September call-ups: Nationals Prospects (check the comments for Rule 5 eligibles) and Federal Baseball.