Roster expansion callups on September 1 are generally overrated. Teams frequently use the extra roster spots to reward players for strong minor league seasons or as a chance to add a fourth catcher, eighth left-handed reliever or seventh starter. Sifting through the mess, there are some basement-bound teams who will give playing time to some real talent, and some contenders who will find small, but useful roles, as they try to enhance their playoff positioning.
Without any further ado...
Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN
Billy Hamilton set records in 2012 when he stole 155 bases between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. He came back down to earth a bit in 2013 in his first trial at Triple-A Louisville. By “back down to earth,” I mean he only stole 75 in 90 attempts. Playing time might have been easier to come by a few weeks ago before Ryan Ludwick returned from the disabled list, but he could still conceivably make a handful of starts in the outfield before season's end. The more likely scenario would have him playing in a "designated runner" role, coming in to pinch run in crucial situations. His wheels may also serve him well as a defensive replacement in late-game situations. The Reds have 24 games remaining – if Hamilton makes it into half of those games as a pinch-runner, then he could potentially pick up 8-10 steals without recording an at-bat.
Nick Castellanos, OF, DET
He earns the promotion after hitting 18 home runs and having .343 OBP for Triple-A Toledo. The 18 home runs by far exceeded last year's 10, which was his previous high-water mark, and there is reason to believe there is more power to come. It is worth noting the 21-year-old Castellanos was always facing older pitchers at Triple-A, so the adjustment to MLB may not be that huge. Andy Dirks has been playing better of late in left, but he would not be a huge barrier to getting Castellanos some late-season at-bats.
Quintin Berry, OF, BOS
The Red Sox just picked up Berry from the Royals last week, which makes Boston his third organization of the year. He was a regular outfielder for the Detroit Tigers for parts of the 2012 season, but he has spent the entire 2013 campaign in the minors. Prospective owners should have no illusions of Berry taking on a starting role with the Red Sox, or even of him picking up a countable number of at-bats. However, he could be a poor man's Billy Hamilton, providing nominal value as a pinch-runner, defensive replacement, and sometimes left fielder. He stole 30 bases (on 34 attempts) in just 100 minor league games, so he could nab a few bags over the season's final few weeks.
Josh Rutledge, SS/2B, COL
Rutledge flamed out as the Rockies' starting second baseman earlier this season, and he was less than impressive as a month-long sub for an injured Troy Tulowitzki in June-July. He had more strikeouts (51) than hits (48) in his 227 at-bats between his two previous stints in the majors this season. Still, his numbers from Triple-A Colorado Springs are difficult to ignore. He posted a .444 OBP in 162 plate appearances, and he went 29-for-74 (.392) with 11 extra-base hits since his July 23 demotion. Playing time should be available in the middle infield with Tulowitzki's oblique perpetually threatening to erupt and D.J. LeMahieu putting up a 76 OPS+ from second base. Rutledge could score a few starts per week in the middle infield, and his number of at-bats could be greater if his bat warms up.
Marcus Semien, SS, CHI-A
Every season there seems to be one White Sox prospect that shoots from the organization's bottom minor league levels to the brink of the majors. Now-closer Addison Reed fit that narrative in 2011, and the now-dimming Carlos Sanchez shot through the system in 2012. This year, it's Marcus Semien, who is expected to join the major league club Tuesday. Semien walked 84 times (to 66 strikeouts) in 483 plate appearances for Double-A Birmingham, where he also notched 41 extra-base hits. He fell off a bit after his promotion to Triple-A Charlotte (.262 batting average in 31 games), but he has also took up the third base position in Charlotte. Third base could be the key to playing time, as the team has only received a .627 OPS from the position. Semien could also score a few games at short if Alexei Ramirez needs some rest.
Kevin Gausman, P, BAL
I normally don't profile pitchers in In Some Depth, especially short relievers, but I thought Kevin Gausman merited mentioning after he struck out five Yankees over three scoreless innings this past weekend. Gausman appeared in nine games for the Orioles earlier this season, which included strong starts against the Tigers and Red Sox, and he could slide into a start or two if the Orioles fall out of the Wild Card race (they currently sit three games out of the second spot). He could help bolster your strikeout numbers even if he is limited to a relief role for the rest of the way out.
Michael Choice, OF, OAK
The Pacific Coast League is normally not the best environment to evaluate hitters, but Michael Choice may have redeemed his prospect status with his line at Triple-A Sacramento -- .302/.390/.445 with 14 home runs and 29 doubles in 600 plate appearances. Take away some of the power and a bit of the average, and Choice has still been a stellar on-base player throughout his minor league career. His .356 OBP in in 2012 was his worst of his career, and he has had a .376 mark since being drafted 10th overall in 2010. He should get involved in the left field mix, especially against left-handed starting pitchers.
Delmon Young, OF/DH, TB
Young flopped in his first (and only) season with the Phillies, and now he is back in the majors with the team with which he placed second in the AL ROY voting in 2007. His numbers in Philadelphia were not inspiring (.302 OBP, .397 slugging in 291 plate appearances), and he hit .233 in a seven-game trial for Double-A Montgomery, but manager Joe Maddon may know how to best maximize Young's value. It looks like he will primarily serve as a pinch-hitter for the Wild Card-leading Rays, but he may also see some starts at DH against left-handed starters as the team's current top DH options are both left-handed (Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson).
Dee Gordon, SS, LAD
The stolen base temptation that is Dee Gordon likely elicited some healthy FAAB bidding earlier in the season when he filled in for Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, and he likely elicited some healthy curse words after he only attempted eight steals (and was successful six times) in his 25 games. Of course, it is difficult to steal a base when you get to first in less than one third of our plate appearances. It remains difficult to overlook his 49 steals at Triple-A Albuquerque, and he could contribute a few at the major league level in September as a pinch-runner.
Mike Zunino, C, SEA
Roster expansion brings Zunino back to Seattle after a broken hand ended his tenure as the Mariners' starting catcher after 28 games. He should immediately hop back into that role, as the M's would likely prefer to give him at-bats rather than Henry Blanco or Humberto Quintero. Zunino has struggled at the plate in his first full professional season, but it is worth noting the Mariners will play nearly half of their remaining games away from the pitcher-friendly Safeco.