On September 1, the Cubs can expand their roster to over 25 players. Even though the minor league season still has a week to go, there are several players who the Cubs could call up to help the big league team down the stretch. Some of the players may just get a cup of coffee and experience the big leagues, while others might be expected to produce in September and in the playoffs.
I think it’s very tempting to bring Albert Almora just for his glove. His bat is clearly not ready but his defense sure is. That being said, I think it’s highly unlikely that Almora makes it to the show this September, but I think he could get a cup of coffee just to give him a little taste of the big league experience. It would be an interesting development and he could provide some serious late inning theatrics on the defensive side of the ball at all three outfield positions.
Two other players who could help the Cubs from Tennessee are pitchers Ryan Williams and Pierce Johnson. With fifth starter Dan Haren struggling, Johnson or Williams could get their first experience in the show. Williams, who is likely to be the Cubs minor league Pitcher of the Year, relies mainly on the control and pounds the lower part of the strike zone with a 91-93 mph fastball. Throw in a curve and a changeup, and he has three pitches he can throw for strikes at any time. He is not going to overpower anyone, but he will paint the black.
Johnson, on the other hand, has electric stuff, including a 93-95 mile an hour fastball, a knuckle curve, a change, and a slider. His issue this year, aside from being injured the first two months, has been walks. He has, however, learned to pitch around them. With an ERA of 2.22 for the season, Johnson, like Williams, could be an excellent option as the fifth starter. Because his arm wasn’t taxed the first two months of the year, I see Johnson as someone the Cubs might put in a position to help the team down the stretch. Heading into this weekend, he’s only thrown 81 innings on the year.
Ideally, you would like most of your call-ups to come from your AAA team. The only question is whether the players the Cubs call up will see much action with so much on the line. You can look at Iowa’s roster and name off 9 players who deserve a shot to play including relievers Ryan Buchter and Zac Rosscup, infielders Emilio Bonafacio, Mike Olt, and Christian Villanueva, or outfielders John Andreoli and Mike Baxter. In all honesty though, the only two prospects/names that matter are Javy Baez and Carl Edwards, Jr.
For me, I think both of the latter prospects will come up and help the team in September. I’m pretty sure Baez, who reshaped his batting stance, stroke, and swing, will be ready. Baez should be a big help for the rest of the year playing third base, shortstop, second base, and maybe even some outfield. I think he is more than ready to show he belongs. In August, Baez is hitting .330 with a .373 OBP to go along with 3 HRs, an amazing 28 RBIs, and 7 stolen bases. To be honest, he did it all without much fanfare or hype. His K% rate was at 26%; I could live with that. I believe the Cubs will easily roll the dice and put Javy on the playoff roster and that he would thrive in that situation and type of pressure.
When it comes to Edwards, however, I’m not so sure he is ready enough for beyond September. He has great stuff. He has the ability to strike out the side. He has the plus-plus curveball and the 95 mph fastball. He has everything he could possibly need to be a great reliever…except control. In 53.1 innings this year, he has 41 walks. That’s an absurd ratio.
When it comes to Edwards, I think they’re only going to put him in positions where he can succeed. He might only be pitching games where the Cubs are either winning by a lot or losing by a lot. Until he can build up some trust not to walk batters, I think the Cubs are going to be very cautious.
The fifth starter position is the most curious to me. It’s obvious that Haren might not be cut out for what Cubs need over the last 30+ games. That position has six starts left. Will the Cubs give them to Haren or gamble on Williams or Johnson?
Williams has already thrown over 134 innings this year after being transformed into a starter from a reliever. I don’t think the Cubs are going to push more innings on that arm. Adding another 30-35 innings in a pennant race for an arm that has never thrown over 100 as a pro is likely a recipe for disaster and injury.
Therefore, I think Johnson getting a crack is the ideal situation. He will have enough cushion and support with extra relief arms that if he does not do well, it will not wear out the bullpen. The fact he has thrown only 81 innings as a starter makes him the perfect candidate, as the additional innings will not be a tax on his arm.
It should be very, very interesting to see what the Cubs do over the next few days with the roster for September and beyond.