There are fewer than three weeks to go before rosters expand to 40. Roster expansion has an altogether different feel for Pirate fans now than it had in the bad old times. Gone are the days when Lloyd McClendon would carry on about the need to win games (as in, 68 instead of 67) rather than finding playing time for unproven rookies over proven veteran failures. Now, not only are the Pirates in contention, they have a manager who’s willing to maneuver during games with his position players, so a deep bench might actually be useful. They also are heavily dependent on their bullpen, so they’ll surely value some extra arms. They won’t want to get caught shorthanded if they have to use the ‘pen heavily for a couple days.
One wild card that could influence the Pirates’ decisions is the likelihood that Indianapolis will be in the International League playoffs. The IL regular season doesn’t end until September 2, so the playoffs could run well into the month. In past years the Pirates sometimes refrained from calling players up so as not to deprive them of the playoff experience. Things are different now, though, and callups should be based entirely on the parent club’s needs. It’s possible they could pick up a veteran or two just for the AAA playoffs, as they did last year with Hector Luna. They also could promote AA players like Alex Dickerson or Justin Howard, or even Gregory Polanco for that matter.
What follows is a list of players who could merit consideration for September callups. I’m not going to discuss guys who are injury cases rather than callup options. That would include Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Travis Snider. Players not currently on the 40-man roster are denoted by *.
Matt Hague*, 1B: I don’t see it happening. He’s not on the roster and is having the same year he always has.
Alex Presley, OF, or Andrew Lambo, 1B/OF: Assuming Presley gets optioned to make room for Lambo, he’ll almost certainly return in September, or Lambo will return if he gets sent back down for Presley at some point.
Russ Canzler, 1B/3B/OF: The Pirates could use a right-handed bat off the bench and they probably acquired Canzler with that in mind. Unfortunately, he was having a mediocre season (for a corner player dependent on his bat) when they acquired him and he’s hit little since then. Still, he probably has a chance of getting called up because he fills a role where they have a hole.
Chase d’Arnaud, IF: D’Arnaud is on the roster, but he’s struggled all year, both to stay healthy and to produce. He’s out again now with a hip problem. He’d only be useful as a pinch runner, as he’s arguably the best baserunner in the organization, and the Pirates called him up to fill exactly that role last year. It’s hard to see it this year, especially since he should be at or near the top of the list of players to come off the roster in the off-season.
Ivan De Jesus, Jr.*, IF: I’ve wondered all year why De Jesus’ name has never surfaced as a potential callup, especially with him hitting 327/387/469. The Pirates clearly don’t think he can handle shortstop, but his role as a bench player would be to pinch hit and be used in double switches. At most, he only needs to be able to fake it for an inning or two at short and might never be needed there. I wish he’d get a callup, but I doubt he will.
Jared Goedert*, 3B: He looked like a possibility when the Pirates signed him, but a .694 AAA OPS for a bat-oriented corner player doesn’t do it.
Brett Carroll*, OF: Currently on the DL and I don’t know whether he’s expected back. He was having a decent rather than good year and isn’t on the roster, so I don’t see it happening anyway.
Jerry Sands, OF: Like Canzler, he could get called up just because he’s on the roster already and might revert to the hitter he was in the past. He’s having an awful season, though, and should be a strong candidate for the waiver wire at some point.
Kelly Shoppach*, C: The Pirates said they were going to look for a veteran to be a third catcher in September. This appears to be him. It’ll give them both a hedge against injury and a freer hand to use Tony Sanchez to pinch hit.
Kris Johnson*, LHP: Johnson is maybe the most interesting case of all. After being a supplemental first round draft pick, he struggled for six years with the Red Sox. He made a lot of progress last year with the Pirates and is having a standout season now. He’s also been death on left-handed batters the last two years, which could make him very useful in the Pirates’ six remaining games against Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, not to mention the Cubs, whose lineup leans left these days. The Pirates are going to face a roster decision with Johnson after the season anyway, so it wouldn’t hurt to see him in the majors, even if it was only in white flag roles.
Brandon Cumpton, RHP: Cumpton’s spectacular recent effort against the Cardinals no doubt won him some points. He’s actually having only a decent season in AAA, though, and the Pirates might not need a sixth starter in September.
Stolmy Pimentel, RHP: He’s actually pitching a lot better than Cumpton lately. It also wouldn’t hurt to see him in the majors, if only in mopup situations, because he’ll be out of options next year.
Duke Welker, RHP: He hasn’t pitched well lately, posting an ERA of 5.19 and WHIP of 1.67 since the beginning of July. Still, he throws in the upper 90s and did well in two very brief appearances with the Pirates.
Ryan Reid, RHP: He also has struggled since the beginning of July, with an ERA of 5.28 and WHIP of 1.70, but he also pitched well in a longer stint with the Pirates.
Erik Cordier*, RHP: The 100 mph velocity is tempting, but Cordier has been the bullpen version of Andy Oliver, with a number of outings in which he couldn’t throw strikes. By my calculations, Cordier still has an option left, so the Pirates could add him to the 40-man roster in the off-season and give him another year to find the plate more consistently. I can’t see him pitching during a pennant race, not even in mopup roles; if he walks everybody, then somebody else has to finish.
Andy Oliver, LHP: No.
Vic Black, RHP: Yes.
Jameson Taillon*, RHP: This will probably get attention as a possibility, especially in view of the Rays using David Price and Matt Moore as relievers in September in recent years. (Moore only pitched twice in relief prior to the playoffs, though, and Price only four times.) I doubt it will happen. Taillon will be slated for AAA next year and won’t be eligible for the Rule 5 draft for at least another year. The Pirates also aren’t short on bullpen options with plus stuff. I don’t think they’ll want to make a roster move and start burning options until it’s necessary.
The guys I think they’ll call up: Presley (or Lambo), Canzler, Shoppach, Cumpton, Johnson, Welker, Reid, Black.
The guys I’d call up: The same, except for Cumpton and with the addition of De Jesus.