With rosters expanding after Sept. 1, some of the game’s best prospects will get a chance to aid their club’s run to the postseason. But others who have certainly earned their shot will end their seasons without a call to The Show.
Here’s a look at the most important prospects to watch as the season draws to a close, as well as the two biggest names snubbed from their first promotion to the majors.
Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers, INF
Minor League stats (two levels): .347/.421/.607, 26 HR, 25 2B, 10 SB, 76 RBI, 99 R
The 21-year-old posted jaw-dropping numbers in first 15 games with Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he finished with a .392 average, 1.197 OPS, 13 homers and 39 RBIs in 49 games. His power production has taken leaps forward as he’s matured physically since being drafted out of high school in 2016.
Lux is a natural shortstop and has played the bulk of his minor league games (90 of 108 starts) at the position. But he’s played second base in two games with Los Angeles.
There are questions about where he might fit in on the already stacked Dodgers. Corey Seager pushed him out of his natural position to a spot usually occupied by Max Muncy, who might recover from a wrist fracture in time for the postseason.
Lux is also another left-handed bat in a lineup full of them. He batted .329 (28-for-85) against southpaws in the minors, but still may lose at-bats against lefties in favor of Enrique Hernandez or Jedd Gyorko. But a good month might be all it takes for Lux to stick with the Dodgers through October. And he’s already proven to be capable of that.
Brusdar Graterol, Minnesota Twins, RHP
Minor League stats (three levels): 7-0, 1.92 ERA, 61 IP, 61 SO, 23 BB, 0.98 WHIP, .179 OBA
Graterol is one of 19 pitchers on the Twins current staff, but he’s the only one that’s gone more than a year since taking a loss. The 21-year-old dealt with a right shoulder impingement for much of the season. And last year was the first time he eclipsed 100 innings after missing all of 2016 to recover from Tommy John surgery.
But he was able to maintain the electric fastball that was on display in his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. His sinking heater is his most impressive offering, and it stayed consistent between 98-100 mph in his scoreless inning against the Tigers.
He also possesses a plus 88-90 mph slider. The Venezuelan native didn’t showcase his slower curveball or changeup against Detroit, but his fastball-slider combination is more than sufficient for a bullpen role.
Minnesota built a significant lead on the Cleveland Indians with the most productive offense in baseball and a stingy pitching staff which ranks fifth in the American League in overall ERA (4.17).
The Twins are down a man in their rotation as Kyle Gibson deals with ulcerative colitis. Reliever Sam Dyson, who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline, has pitched much better than his 7.15 ERA would suggest, allowing three earned runs in his past 10.2 innings (2.53 ERA).
Even with a loaded staff, there’s still an opportunity for Graterol to pitch in October, even if it is from the bullpen.
Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros, OF
Minor League stats (Triple-A): .266/.354/.555, 34 HR, 26 2B, 30 SB, 97 RBI, 92 R
The man they call “Ted” is getting another shot at the majors after posting career highs with 34 homers and 30 stolen bases for Triple-A Round Rock.
Tucker collected just 10 hits in 64 at-bats (.141) over 28 games with the Astros last season. He and right-hander Forrest Whitley survived the Astros’ prospect purge, which built one of the best rosters in baseball. The club sent away J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer, Joshua Rojas and Corbin Martin to acquire Zack Greinke at the deadline.
Due to an awful turn of events, there might be some space in the Astros’ lineup opening for the 22-year-old. George Springer suffered an injury that required him to be carted off the field in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. A natural corner outfielder, Tucker played 60 games in right field, 40 games in left and 11 at first base.
Tucker can force his way on to the postseason roster, but it’s going to take some work. He took steps forward in terms of power and speed, but his average (66 points), on-base percentage (46 points) and slugging (35 points) are all lower than last season. He also struck out in 25.1 percent of his at-bats, an increase from the 20.6 mark he posted last summer.
But just like Lux, Tucker has a history of getting hot at the right time. He closed his minor league season an absolute tear in 2018, batting .449 (35-for-78) with 10 homers in his final 19 games.
Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics, C
Minor League stats (two levels): .293/.384/.580, 11 HR, 8 2B, 22 BB, 31 RBI, 34 R, 41 G
When he can stay on the field, Murphy is one of the best catcher prospects in the game.
A torn left meniscus limited him severely in his fourth professional season. But he persevered to hit .308 with a 1.011 OPS in 31 games with Triple-A Las Vegas — an added bonus for a prospect whom many consider to be defense-first.
Murphy’s numbers behind the plate weren’t as eye-popping as last season, where he threw out 23 of 67 base stealers and committed only three errors nearly 600 innings. He made four errors and threw out six of 30 attempted base stealers in 2019, but the skill set remained evident.
He’ll make his first start for Oakland on Wednesday night after Josh Phegley caught both games since Murphy was recalled on Sunday. Phegley and Chris Herrmann are the only other catchers on Oakland’s active roster.
Neither rank among the better catchers in defensive metrics, and Phegley is batting .246 and Herrmann is hitting .195.
Scouts believe Murphy will be a mainstay in the Oakland lineup long beyond this season, so there’s an opportunity for Murphy to not only play in the postseason, should the A’s hang on to their wild card spot, but also take over a starting role.
A few more new names to know this month:
• Andrew Knizer (St. Louis Cardinals) is in a position similar to Tucker, where he has something to prove after struggling in previous chances in the majors. He’s also stuck behind an All-Star named Yadier Molina behind the dish.
• Nate Lowe (Tampa Bay Rays) it all comes down to opportunity for Lowe, who hit .294 with six homers in 32 games for Tampa Bay earlier this season. He’s got Ji-Man Choi and Jesus Aguilar to contend with at first base.
• Jon Duplantier (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Adbert Alzolay (Chicago Cubs) probably won’t fit into their team’s rotation, but no bullpen is beyond help in 2019.
Should Luis Robert come up in September?— White Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 31, 2019
Ozzie Guillen would "just to please my player and to please the organization, to say thank you." pic.twitter.com/NtMA1Wk7S9
Snubs show disappointing pattern
There is, more or less, a direct correlation between which top prospects get boosted to the majors after Sept. 1, and their parent organization’s chances at making the postseason.
In an ideal world, a prospect plays well enough at the highest level — or perhaps lower, i.e. Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. — of the minors to force the club’s hand. In an ideal world, Baltimore Orioles prospect Ryan Mountcastle or Chicago White Sox prospect Luis Robert would be major leaguers.
But, they exist in a world of service-time manipulation. That’s a world where it might not be in the best long-term interests of the Orioles to get a couple wins better, catch the Miami Marlins, and drop a spot in the draft while also starting Mountcastle’s clock in the process.
Mountcastle earned International League MVP honors after batting .312 with 25 homers, 35 doubles and 83 RBIs for Triple-A Norfolk. He was their first-round pick in 2015.
Robert was named USA Today Minor League Player of the Year after crushing 32 homers, stealing 36 bases and batting .328 across three levels of the minors. He played 122 games in 2019 after playing just 78 total in his first two seasons in pro ball after signing out of Cuba in 2017.
The Toronto Blue Jays faced this dilemma last season with Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. The same could be said about the New York Mets and Pete Alonso. The White Sox are repeat offenders after keeping Eloy Jimenez in the minors last September.
These are the decisions that create controversies that persist until the player gets their shot — especially for a losing or on-the-bubble team. But the argument can be made that these decisions prove that winning isn’t always a top priority.