COMMENTARY | The Oakland Athletics find themselves at a critical juncture of the 2013 season.
After leading the American League West for most of the season, the A's relinquished control to the Texas Rangers during the dog days of August, only to pull even over Labor Day weekend. For a ballclub with so much on the line, the aura of September roster expansion looms large, and an injection of youth could help to spark a late-season run that invokes memories of yesteryear.
The A's have an appreciation for winning at all levels, and they have prioritized success for their minor-league clubs. The Sacramento River Cats had won the Pacific Coast League's Southern Division for six consecutive years before that streak was snapped this season, as the Cats finished two games short of the playoffs. Sacramento's failure to advance could be a blessing in disguise, and the A's will have no qualms with raiding the River Cats' roster for reinforcements for the stretch drive.
In years past, the A's have routinely promoted seven to nine players from Sacramento over the course of the final month. The majority of these call-ups will come from the 40-man roster, but there are a couple of players whose potential impact could motivate Oakland to make a change to the 40-man, thus requiring that another player be designated for assignment.
Let's take a look at some of the players who could be appearing at the Oakland Coliseum over the next couple of weeks:
Choice is the most tantalizing player on this list, as a top prospect who could be a permanent fixture in the Oakland outfield as soon as 2014. He was on the fast-track to the big leagues until last season, when his journey was derailed by an early-season power outage followed by a broken hand that prematurely ended his season. Choice hit well in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching, with a .302 batting average and .390 on-base percentage, but the raw power that was on display in the low minors has not yet translated to the upper levels. Choice earned his cup of coffee and the A's promoted him on September 1, clearing a spot on the 40-man roster by designating catcher Luke Montz for assignment.
Leon is a control artist who jells with the A's philosophy of commanding the strike zone on both sides of the ball. Armed with a plus fastball and a slider that keeps batters honest, the Tommy John survivor could be an asset out of the Oakland bullpen.
After starting 24 games for the A's over the first five months of the major-league season, Milone was sent up the road to accommodate the emergence of Sonny Gray, and Milone's spot in the rotation has since been blocked by the injury returns of Brett Anderson and Bartolo Colon. Recalled on September 3, Milone will provide the A's with some flexibility down the stretch whether he emerges from the bullpen or makes the occasional spot-start.
The Athletics paid $6.5 million for Nakajima to play up the middle in Oakland through 2014, but his big-league career never got off the ground. He suffered a strained hamstring in spring training that lingered into May, and the fence-clearing skills that were on display in Japan have yet to materialize in the minors.
The A's would need to create room on the 40-man roster in order to call up Nakajima, and while his performance may not beg for a promotion, the A's have the financial incentive to make a move. He would not be a threat to Jed Lowrie's playing time, but the A's could use September as an opportunity to assess whether they can expect any return on their investment.
A former second-round pick of the Cardinals, Peterson came to the organization as part of the trade package that sent Matt Holliday to St. Louis back in 2009. Peterson has fit right in with the Oakland philosophy, with a penchant for drawing walks (77 free passes in 553 plate appearances for Sacramento) and efficient thievery on the basepaths (17 steals in 19 attempts). Peterson could provide rest for the regulars down the stretch, given his ability to cover first base as well as any spot in the outfield.
The right-hander made the big club out of spring training, but a 5.30 ERA over the first six weeks of the season resulted in a return trip to the minors. Scribner spent the next four months shutting down PCL batters to the tune of a 2.22 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in more than 44 innings out of the bullpen, and the A's rewarded him with a recall to the majors on September 3.
Taylor was acquired from the Phillies in a three-team trade in the offseason of 2009, and he has been toiling in Sacramento ever since, having accumulated over 2,000 plate appearances in the cardinal and black. Though he has hit like a far-sighted pitcher in his brief major-league exposure (.135/.210/.189 on the slash line in 81 plate appearances), Taylor has displayed a complete tool kit during his time in Triple-A. The A's entered September with just four full-time outfielders on the roster, and Taylor could help to buffer the recent loss of Josh Reddick to the disabled list.
Weeks played himself out of favor with the Oakland brass last season, but he has shown impressive speed (17-for-19 on stolen bases, 10 triples) while getting on base at a .376 clip for the River Cats this year. His power has disappeared, but Weeks can provide value at the keystone or off the bench, and the A's wasted no time by promoting him on the first day of expanded rosters. Now 26 years old, the former first-round pick is at a crossroads in his career, and Weeks could use this golden opportunity to prove that he belongs in the discussion for the 25-man roster in 2014.
Doug Thorburn worked for the Sacramento River Cats during their P.C.L. championship season of 2004, and he wrote the Oakland Athletics chapter for Baseball Prospectus 2013.
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