The end of August marks the time in the MLB calendar when teams (particularly those out of the playoff picture) look to their farm hands for some help to close out the year. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be focusing on diving deep into the minors to help uncover some potential fantasy baseball helpers down the stretch from a September call ups perspective.
Expanded rosters typically give opportunities for lesser-known prospects or those who were not necessarily needed earlier on in the year to show what they can do. Back in the time tunnel we see names like Fred Lynn, J.D. Drew, Josh Beckett and Eric Gagne (just to name a few – Fangraphs has a great article with a highlight on the greatest September call ups from the past) that made their MLB debuts in September as a final month call-up. I also remember a few years back when we saw players like Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel make their debuts late in the second half of 2010… and their resumes speak for themselves. In fact, part of the inspiration for me writing this piece is that I was the proud owner of Kimbrel and Jansen that year, picking them up with $1 of FAAB each in my 20 team keeper league. Needless to say I haven’t had to worry about saves much in that one since that time.
What’s important to recognize is that September call-ups have the ability to help you in 2 ways:
#1 – As an immediate add for your fantasy squad to help you close the year on a high note.
#2 – Getting an opportunity to evaluate their potential for future season(s) – which is of even more importance in keeper and dynasty leagues.
With all this being said, let’s take a look at 3 lesser-known Triple-A pitching prospects that could have an impact for their major league squads at some point in September. Full disclosure: I’m not a mind reader nor do I have the ability to read a crystal ball. If these players don’t get called up to the MLB in 2014, they should be firmly entrenched on your sleeper prospect lists heading into 2015.
Sean Nolin, Toronto Blue Jays
Standing in at 6’5” and throwing with a smooth and repeatable ¾ delivery – there’s a lot to like about the 24-year-old Nolin from a mechanics perspective. Not to mention that he’s a left-handed hurler. He sits in the low-90s most of the time but has the ability to dial it up to 95 if he needs to. He compliments his fastball with a sinker, change-up (rated his best off-speed pitch), slider and curve. The biggest knock on him has been his tendency to leave the ball up in the zone at times, which to no surprise is when he has his worst outings.
After a very solid 2013 season that saw him amass pitch to a 8-3 record with a 2.77 ERA and 9.5 K/9 across AA and AAA (with 17 of 20 starts at the AA level), Nolin has put together a nice 2014 as well. With the Jays advancing him to AAA to start the year, he was challenged to face more established hitters – something it appears hasn’t fazed him very much. He’s currently sitting at a 3.42 ERA (3.85 FIP) and although he’s lowered his strikeout rate to 7.4, his WHIP has held at 1.23 and he’s also decreased his HR rate slightly (only 5 given up on the year across 81.2 IP). If you look at the innings pitched and are wondering why this is so low – he missed about 6-7 weeks of action between May and July due to some minor injuries. The Jays have also made it a point to keep his pitch count at about 90 each time out.
What we see at the major league level is a team currently in a poor position to make the playoffs, who also has some question marks about what their rotation is going to look like in 2015. With J.A. Happ set to be a free agent and Aaron Sanchez looking like he’ll be a nice asset at the back-end of their bullpen next season, Nolin will likely to start a game or two in September for Toronto. Though he profiles as a back-end starter (similar to Happ) over the long haul, we’ve seen pitchers like him put up numbers that are worthy of fantasy attention at times.
Eric Jokisch, Chicago Cubs
Sticking with 24-year-old lefties for a minute, let’s take a look at Eric Jokisch who is currently having a very nice season for the Cubs in AAA. Over 158.1 innings, he currently holds a 8.13 K/9 and 1.76 BB/9 (good for a 4.61 K/BB mark which ranks him 4th in the PCL in this category). He’s keeping batters to a .252 average against, which isn’t driven by luck considering his .310 opposing average and 65.8% strand rate. This all comes on the heels of a nice 2013 for the youngster having posted a 3.42 ERA with a 7.67 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9 over 160.2 IP at Double-A (chipping in with a no-hitter on August 6th).
Jokisch is mainly a fastball, cutter, change-up type of guy, mixing in a breaking ball. He pitches more by feel and control than he does pure stuff, which has resulted in him acquiring the classic “crafty lefty” label. I don’t much mind the fact that he doesn’t have the classic profile that many look for in a prospect… velocity only matters if you can locate it. If you can’t do so but can still keep hitters off-balance with your repertoire and get them out – that’s what counts.
Like Nolin, he profiles more as a back-end starter at best in the majors or a long-man in the bullpen. From everything I’ve seen on film, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if he’s able to establish himself as a 7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 4 ERA, 1.28 WHIP type arm over the long run (SP3/4 type upside in a rotation). With the Cubs going nowhere near the postseason this year, Jokisch could be in line for his first major league action in September.
Nick Tropeano, Houston Astros
Don’t know much about Tropeano? Join the club.
Here’s what you need to know. He’s 23 years old and knows how to pitch. Last year he threw to the tune of a 3.51 FIP (4.11 ERA) with a 8.75 K/9 and 2.63 BB/9. This season he holds a 3.85 FIP (3.12 ERA) with the exact same 8.75 K rate and he’s lowered his walk rate to 2.45, while reducing his HRs allowed by 19% (0.82 HR/9). These numbers won’t blow you away, but they are certainly nothing to scoff at. Especially when you’re in an Astros system that is starving for pitching at the big league level. That’s right – I’m calling you out Brett Oberholtzer, Scott Feldman, Brad Peacock and everyone else not named Dallas Keuchel or Collin McHugh.
While he may not throw all that hard, he does have a couple of things going for him in addition to his solid minor league numbers. He’s tall (6’4”) and has a solid body (200+ pounds). His delivery is very repeatable and doesn’t put a lot of stress on his arm. Even though he was a 5th round pick in 2011, he hasn’t received a ton of prospect love over his minor league career. Much of that is due to the fact he barely touches 90 with his fastball and doesn’t have a great breaking ball.
But what he does have is one of the best change-ups in the business. Scott Strandberg from Fangraphs.com wrote a great piece on Tropeano where he gushes about his change-up and how far it may be able to take him in the majors as well. As we’ve seen with Kyle Hendricks this year (who I’ve babbled on and on about as you know…), a filthy change-up can carry you a long way at just about any professional level if you can disguise it as a fastball coming out of your hand. The safe projection for him is a SP5 or long man out of the bullpen over the majority of his career, but I have a hard time capping him there. I’m a firm believer that a top-notch change-up can lead to great things – so SP3/4 is certainly a reasonable projection for someone who has been able to amass a career 3.28 ERA and 1.199 WHIP across 466+ minor league innings.