With the Blue Jays battling nicks, bumps, outright injuries, and the general fatigue that come with the slog that is the MLB season, the team’s impending September reinforcements will be a welcome sight. They could use help in a variety of spots regardless of whether they’re trying to climb atop Trash Mountain in the chase for the second wild card or looking to get their important players some extra rest ahead of a long offseason.
For reference, here are the team’s September call-ups from the past three seasons:
2014: Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, Kendall Graveman, Anthony Gose, Ryan Goins, Sean Nolin, Brandon Morrow, Dan Johnson, George Kottaras
At the end of the month the team recalled Rob Rasmussen, Steve Delabar, A.J. Jimenez, Colt Hynes and Kyle Drabek.
2015: Aaron Loup, Jeff Francis, Ryan Tepera, Dalton Pompey, Munenori Kawasaki, Josh Thole
That season, the team would later add Steve Delabar, Matt Hague and a returning Marcus Stroman to the mix.
2016: Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody, Dalton Pompey, Darrell Ceciliani
Aaron Loup, Bo Schultz, Chris Smith and Andy Burns were recalled later in the month.
Looking at past tendencies, we’d guess that the team is going to call on a third catcher, an outfielder or two, a handful of pitchers and one infielder for both the middle and corner spots.
There’s plenty of intriguing options up and down the organizational depth chart and the team could go in a number of directions with the final month of the season. While that will largely be determined by the optics of the playoff chase, we’ll try and identify some of the best call-up targets.
Good Chance: Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr., Teoscar Hernandez
If things really go sour in the next week or two, the Jays would have a great opportunity to look at some of their younger outfield prospects. Steve Pearce shouldn’t be patrolling left every day and Jose Bautista probably shouldn’t have been put in right to begin with. Once the season meets its inevitable end, there’s also little sense in risking Kevin Pillar’s health in meaningless games. Bring on the youth.
We’ve already seen two of the above trio in Alford and Smith, and the former has recovered quite nicely from late-May surgery on his left wrist. Through Monday, Alford owned a 13-game hitting streak for AA New Hampshire and boasts a season-long slash line of .322/.418/.455 in 59 games at that level.
Smith has gotten a few short stints with the big club this season and was sent down to Buffalo when Ezequiel Carrera returned from the DL at the end of June. In 97 games with the Bisons, DSJ has been good for a .276/.349/.404 line.
The 24-year-old Hernandez was the key piece in the Francisco Liriano deal, though he has struggled a bit since joining Buffalo. He is hitting just .175 in 17 games as a member of the Blue Jays organization but had a much more palatable .261/.369/.485 slash line in Fresno, collecting 12 homers and 12 steals for his troubles.
The trio are also helped out by the fact that they are currently on the 40-Man Roster, meaning that their call-ups wouldn’t necessitate a secondary move to remove someone else from the 40-Man once rosters expand. We’re very likely to see at least two, if not all three of these outfielders in September.
Maybes: Michael Saunders
Old friend alert. The Jays let Saunders walk following a second half collapse last season and he was forced to sign a relatively cheap deal with the Phillies. That obviously didn’t work out, so he signed a minor league pact with Toronto upon his release from Philadelphia. With just two homers and a line of .267/.318/.392 in 29 games with the Bisons, it’s hard to argue that he’s really earned a promotion on merit. He does have MLB pedigree, however, and though he’s not on the 40-Man it’s not crazy to think that he could make an appearance.
Longshots: Dalton Pompey
Pompey was supposed to be a legitimate contender for an outfield spot out of spring training only for ill-timed injuries to crush any hopes of a full year with the big club. A concussion and some knee problems derailed his year and he has only played 13 games to this point. If he can somehow prove himself healthy he’d be the top choice, but there’s almost zero chance that the team rushes him back from a lost season.
Good Chance: Luke Maile
Sunday’s woeful performance from Raffy Lopez probably drew a disproportionate amount of ire, but he’s likely on the outs as soon as Toronto’s veterans return. If Luke Maile recovers from his right knee irritation soon (and the expectation is that he will), expect he and Miguel Montero to form the one-two punch at catcher. If and when Russell Martin returns, Maile will revert to a third catcher role.
Maybes: Devon Travis, Mike Ohlman
The team would love to have Travis back to man second base and he seems on track to return before the season is up, but whether or not they push it will depend on how much ground they can make up on the teams ahead of them.
Back to catcher now, as Ohlman would probably be the call if Maile doesn’t get healthy and the Jays tire of Lopez. Filling the third (or fourth) catcher role, he’d get minimal playing time anyway.
Longshots: Jason Leblebijian, Rowdy Tellez, Richard Urena, Lourdes Gurriel
If the team can’t get Travis back in time and feels the need for more infield depth, they could call up Jason Leblebijian in his stead. He was the new hotness back in the early going but faded as the season wore on and is currently sporting 11 homers, 58 RBI and a .244/.314./.394 line through 108 games. Leblebijian is not on the 40-Man but it’s not like he’d need to take the place of a super valuable player if push came to shove.
Alternatively, they could call on a middle-infielder currently on the roster in Richard Urena. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to rush him given that the Jays already have three middle infield types on the roster (and seem intent on playing Josh Donaldson more at short now), but stranger things have happened. He’s posted a .285 OBP with New Hampshire so it’d be a real surprise to see him get the call. Versatile 23-year-old Lourdes Gurriel would be a shade more deserving but the Jays don’t seem likely to rush him to the majors.
Tellez was shaping up as the heir apparent at first base coming into the season but has really struggled with Buffalo, delivering just six home runs while hitting .219/.286/.333 in his first season at AAA. It’d take an injury or two for Tellez to get a sniff at this point.
Good Chance: Joe Biagini, Tom Koehler, Tim Mayza, Mike Bolsinger, Leonel Campos, Chris Smith
These are all familiar faces with the exception of Koehler, who the team just went out and acquired. Biagini could take up a rotation spot if need be while the rest would work in relief. Bolsinger would need to be re-added to the 40 Man in order to come up (as would Smith) but at least provides a known quantity.
Maybes: Brett Anderson, Jeff Beliveau, Ryan Borucki
Of this group, oft-injured Brett Anderson has the best chance to appear with the Jays. The team signed him to a low-risk contract that expires at the end of this season, so if he’s healthy it’s probably worth using him at the MLB level to see if there’s anything there for next season.
Beliveau could come up if the team wants another lefty specialist, as he had actually fared pretty well with the Jays earlier in the year. His 7.47 ERA is very misleading as the southpaw was working with an ERA in the mid-threes before getting blitzed for six runs without recording an out against Cleveland.
Borucki has turned a strong season across two levels of the minor league system and could be valuable depth as either a spot starter or a bullpen guy. In 98 innings with Dunedin he delivered a 3.58 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 29 walks and then has been even better since his call up to New Hampshire. In 39.1 innings in Double-A he has pitched to a 2.29 ERA with 35 strikeouts and eight walks . Borucki is also on the 40-Man so there’d be no corresponding move to make if the Jays wanted to test him down the stretch.
Longshots: Conner Greene, Sean Reid-Foley
Though both are some of the team’s more well regarded prospects, neither is on the roster at the moment and they’ve had their share of struggles in the minors. The odds are long, but it’s not as though the team hasn’t called up name brand pitching prospects before.
Picking right now, Dwight Smith Jr., Hernandez, Biagini, Koehler, Mayza, Chris Smith, and Campos seem like the most likely wave of call-ups with the admission that there’s plenty of variables in the stack of pitchers. Luke Maile and Devon Travis will probably join the Jays off the DL. Rob Refsnyder sort of serves as the late-season middle infield depth already, and the potential return of Travis means there’s no urgency to add depth there. It’s a similar story on the corners, where a few current options could play third while Steve Pearce can pick up innings at first base if he’s really needed.
That’s a preliminary guess, and there will almost surely be some events over the next week and a half that change the team’s needs and priorities. The list of players above is also far from gospel, as it was only last year that Matt Dermody got the call out of nowhere. As the season winds down, Toronto can use these extra roster spots to either give John Gibbons more weapons in his uphill battle or get their prospects some valuable big league exposure. There are plenty of options down either path.
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