I'm of two minds when it comes to predicting September call-ups. Part of me wants to play it safe, singling out those who are indeed most likely to get the call even if they're lesser known and of little consequence in Fantasy. If nothing else, it's a chance to talk about different players, right?
But then part of me wants to swing for the fences, throwing out the biggest names who could possibly get the call just in case it comes true.
One reason for this indecision is that the incentive structure for September call-ups has changed under the new CBA, of which we're only in Year 2. The old incentive structure encouraged service time manipulation, the practice of delaying a top prospect's arrival until weeks into the season to preserve a year of control. In the new CBA, a prospect can score a team an extra draft pick if he places high enough in awards voting over the first few years of his career, but that's only true if he spends his entire rookie season on the major-league roster.
So now, the way to game the system is to give a top prospect a little big-league exposure late in the year, putting him in better position to place in Rookie of the Year voting the following year, but not so much that he actually uses up his rookie eligibility. Already, we've seen prospects like Masyn Winn, Kyle Harrison and Ceddanne Rafaela called up according to this timeline, but waiting just a little longer, until Sept. 1, opens up two more roster spots and ensures that playing time won't need to be monitored as closely for the sake of preserving rookie eligibility.
It was last year around this time that the Diamondbacks called up Corbin Carroll and the Orioles called up Gunnar Henderson. Both teams had valid excuses not to (neither was destined for the postseason, it turns out), but they decided they had seen enough and wanted to get a jump-start on 2023. And based on the way both players' rookie seasons have gone, there's no faulting the decision.
With that small sample to draw from, I'm inclined to swing for the fences here in the hope a contender does something a little crazy with a prospect who might be a tad underdeveloped. I wouldn't say this entire list is dedicated to that idea, but the top one-third of it certainly is
I could push the idea further with picks like Ricky Tiedemann and Evan Carter, but I'm trying to preserve just a modicum of restraint amid my recklessness. Plus, I'd like to leave a few spots for some of the lesser-known types.
Before we dive in, you should know that I've limited my choices to those who haven't already appeared in the majors, which is why there's no mention of Brett Baty, Matt Mervis, Colton Cowser or Xavier Edwards. As for the order, it's a reflection of how impactful the player would be in Fantasy if he indeed gets the call.
1. Jackson Holliday, SS, Orioles
2022 stats: .297 BA (64 AB), 1 HR, 4 SB, .911 OPS, 25 BB, 12 K
2023 stats: .332 BA (385 AB), 10 HR, 21 SB, .974 OPS, 83 BB, 96 K
The No. 1 pick in last year's draft has cruised to Double-A as a 19-year-old, with basically no letup in production along the way. Pairing him with Gunnar Henderson on the left side of the infield would solve the Jorge Mateo/Ramon Urias issue the Orioles are having.
2. Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers
2022 stats: .288 BA (400 AB), 20 HR, 16 SB, .880 OPS, 32 BB, 118 K
2023 stats: .280 BA (443 AB), 19 HR, 34 SB, .799 OPS, 34 BB, 95 K
Chourio's loud tools rocketed him up prospect lists last year, and already at 19, he's developing the skills to match, striking out less than 20 percent of the time at Double-A. The Brewers are attempting to hold off the Cubs in the NL Central with Tyrone Taylor occupying one of their three outfield spots.
3. Junior Caminero, 3B, Rays
2022 stats: .314 BA (239 AB), 11 HR, 12 SB, .882 OPS, 23 BB, 43 K
2023 stats: .327 BA (401 AB), 25 HR, 5 SB, .966 OPS, 36 BB, 92 K
This year's big prospect riser is primarily a third baseman but has also seen time at shortstop, where the Rays have an unexpected opening both for right now and potentially the long haul. Even if they decide Caminero isn't up to the challenge defensively, the 20-year-old could bolster a lineup that's slipped a bit in the second half.
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4. Jordan Lawlar, SS, Diamondbacks
2022 stats: .303 BA (389 AB), 16 HR, 39 SB, .910 OPS, 57 BB, 115 K
2023 stats: .267 BA (393 AB), 17 HR, 35 SB, .846 OPS, 54 BB, 98 K
Lawlar would be less of a stretch than the three ahead of him given that he's 21 and has spent some time at Triple-A, and he would help to resolve the debacle that has been third base for the Diamondbacks (presumably by bumping Geraldo Perdomo there). He's recovered from a slow start to hit .309 with a .946 OPS in his last 61 games.
5. Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs
2022 stats: .312 BA (423 AB), 16 HR, 32 SB, .896 OPS, 36 BB, 102 K
2023 stats: .279 BA (390 AB), 18 HR, 34 SB, .876 OPS, 43 BB, 110 K
The 21-year-old is enough of a defensive standout in center to send Cody Bellinger to first base full-time, and he plays with the sort of infectious energy that's invaluable during the stretch run. The offensive profile isn't quite as strong as the minor-league numbers, but there are clearly tools to work with.
6. Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles
2022 stats: .309 BA (243 AB), 5 HR, 17 2B, .851 OPS, 29 BB, 64 K
2023 stats: .305 BA (429 AB), 19 HR, 28 2B, .919 OPS, 36 BB, 88 K
The second pick in the 2020 draft has developed contact skills to rival his plus power, with his 91.8 percent zone-contact rate standing out in particular, and at 24, he would hardly be rushed. But if the Orioles couldn't find at-bats for Colton Cowser when he was up, you have to wonder why Kjerstad would be any different.
7. Jasson Dominguez, OF, Yankees
2022 stats: .273 BA (451 AB), 16 HR, 37 SB, .836 OPS, 72 BB, 128 K
2023 stats: .265 BA (452 AB), 15 HR, 39 SB, .802 OPS, 82 BB, 132 K
Dominguez's prospect stock has fluctuated wildly since being billed as the next Mike Trout at age 16, but he's peaking at the right time, batting .366 (67 for 183) with five homers, 17 steals and a .981 OPS over his past 44 games. His short stay at Triple-A has gone so well that it sounds like owner Hal Steinbrenner may be pushing to give a frustrated fan base a little sneak peak at the 20-year-old.
8. Colt Keith, 2B, Tigers
2022 stats: .301 BA (193 AB), 9 HR, 14 2B, .914 OPS, 22 BB, 42 K
2023 stats: .314 BA (423 AB), 23 HR, 32 2B, .949 OPS, 47 BB, 101 K
A move up to Triple-A in late June seemed to slow Keith's momentum, but the 22-year-old has found his footing there in August, batting .330 (30 for 91) with six homers and a 1.059 OPS. The Tigers of course aren't playing for anything, but they haven't had an answer at second or third base all year, which just so happen to be the positions Keith plays.
9. Ronny Mauricio, SS, Mets
2022 stats: .259 BA (509 AB), 26 HR, 20 SB, .768 OPS, 24 BB, 125 K
2023 stats: .295 BA (485 AB), 23 HR, 24 SB, .860 OPS, 35 BB, 96 K
The Mets have tried out Mauricio basically everywhere on the diamond but still have yet to call on a player enjoying an offensive breakout at age 22. A midseason slump didn't help, but he's pulled out of it here in August and could give the Mets a head start on what looks to be a rebuild year in 2024.
10. Coby Mayo, 3B, Orioles
2022 stats: .247 BA (388 AB), 19 HR, 20 2B, .782 OPS, 40 BB, 114 K
2023 stats: .285 BA (417 AB), 24 HR, 40 2B, .970 OPS, 73 BB, 118 K
If the Orioles decide to play it safe with Jackson Holliday, they could instead upgrade the left side of their infield with Mayo, who's a couple years older (21) and has already logged some at-bats at Triple-A. Standing 6-feet-5, he's exactly the slugger he appears to be and has made himself a bona-fide prospect with a more disciplined approach this year.
11. Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Guardians
2022 stats: .327 BA (324 AB), 22 HR, 26 2B, 1.043 OPS, 59 BB, 65 K
2023 stats: .232 BA (284 AB), 11 HR, 20 2B, .762 OPS, 45 BB, 71 K
The production has cratered for Manzardo this year, but the plate discipline and exit velocity readings remain studly, which is presumably why the Guardians jumped at the chance to acquire him in the Aaron Civale deal. They could debut him at DH at the same time they welcome back Josh Naylor at first base.
12. Austin Wells, C, Yankees
2022 stats: .277 BA (336 AB), 20 HR, 16 SB, .897 OPS, 56 BB, 90 K
2023 stats: .243 BA (367 AB), 17 HR, 7 SB, .782 OPS, 47 BB, 96 K
The rumors are loud enough for Wells that he's probably the safest bet of anyone on this list to get the call, and as a catcher, he has a much lower threshold to meet for Fantasy relevance. His exit velocity readings are lackluster, but his fly-ball and pull tendencies from the left side of the plate will fit nicely at Yankee Stadium.
13. Justyn-Henry Malloy, 3B, Tigers
2022 stats: .289 BA (478 AB), 17 HR, 28 2B, .862 OPS, 97 BB, 138 K
2023 stats: .286 BA (419 AB), 19 HR, 21 2B, .903 OPS, 96 BB, 121 K
The Tigers may prefer Malloy in the outfield long-term, but trying him out at third base and Colt Keith at second would address two of their biggest needs for next year. At 23, he's probably maxed out offensively, standing out most for his .426 on-base percentage this year and .413 mark over his minor-league career.
14. Troy Johnston, 1B, Marlins
2022 stats: .261 BA (426 AB), 14 HR, 4 SB, .767 OPS, 50 BB, 95 K
2023 stats: .316 BA (431 AB), 24 HR, 19 SB, .986 OPS, 52 BB, 90 K
Johnston is a statistical oddity in most every way, delivering pitiful exit velocities but considerable home run totals and somehow factoring as a base-stealer despite 30-grade speed. You can chalk it up to him being 26, maybe, but I'd like to see him get some at-bats down the stretch just to rule out the possibility he's an actual asset.