September call ups do not typically have much of an impact on MLB playoff races. But the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates may end up begging to differ.
With the September 1 roster expansion looming Tuesday, the Pirates have several players that could make an impact when called up.
Radhames Liz, Vance Worley, Travis Snider and top prospects Alen Hanson and Elias Diaz are among the top candidates to join the Pirates in September. Bobby LaFromboise, Jaff Decker and Pedro Florimon also could return to the Pirates, though may not see as much playing time.
The biggest worry for the Pirates right now may be starting pitching. Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke have been incredibly inconsistent since the All-Star Break, and neither’s rotation spot should be safe if a better option comes along. J.A. Happ has had a nice turnaround, but may need a few more quality starts to really gain everyone’s trust.
Enter Radhames Liz, whom the Pirates signed to a one-year, $1 million deal over the winter.
Liz started the year in the Pirate bullpen, but was outrighted to AAA Indianapolis in late May after an uninspiring start to the year. Liz was converted to a starter with the Indians, and the results for him since the switch have been outstanding.
In 54 innings spread over 10 starts, Liz has a 1.67 ERA with a K/9 of 10.1. Liz has only walked five batters, while averaging only one hit allowed about every two innings.
The results since his switch to the rotation have been impressive, and he would be a huge boost to the Pirates if it carries over. If Morton and Locke’s struggles continue, the Pirates need to consider adding Liz to the rotation.
If Liz cannot carry his success over to the majors, Worley may be the next man up for the rotation if needed.
Worley had an outstanding year for the Pirates in 2014, going 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts, but has not had the same results this year. He struggled in the rotation, and was moved to the bullpen in May when Morton came off the disabled list. Worley was then used primarily as a spot starter and long reliever, but was designated for assignment and sent to Indianapolis when the Pirates acquired Joe Blanton in late July.
The Pirates know what they are getting with Worley. He is capable of giving them solid starts, but may struggle to do so consistently. He will still be a welcome addition, though, because he can be used as a starter and reliever.
On the offensive side, Snider is the most likely to see a call up.
Snider, of course, was traded to the Baltimore Orioles during the off-season for two minor league pitchers, but was released by Baltimore earlier in August after having a sub par year, and returned to the Pirates on a minor league deal a few days later. Snider was not picked up to stay in AAA, and should make his return to Pittsburgh once rosters expand.
He gives the Pirates a potential left-handed power bat off the bench, something they currently do not have on their roster. Considering the deep Pirate outfield, plus Josh Harrison and Sean Rodriguez ahead of him on the depth chart, Snider is not likely to see many starts, but could still give them some pop off the bench.
Other candidates to return to the Pirates are reliever LaFromboise, shortstop Florimon and outfielder Decker, though LaFromboise and Decker may end up being designated for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster to make room for Liz, Worley and Snider, and the Pirates may not have room on the 40-man roster to add Florimon.
Top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell are unlikely to be September call ups, but Hanson and Diaz could be up.
Hanson may find starts hard to come by with the Pirates’ deep middle infield, but would be an ideal pinch-hitter or runner. He has swiped 31 bases in 42 tries for the Indians this season, and would surely be a good option to have if the Pirates need a pinch-runner late in a tight game.
Diaz would also likely find playing time hard to come by, with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart ahead of him. The biggest thing for Diaz would be to come up and learn from Cervelli and Stewart, while being used as a pinch-hitter and occasional starter.
Both are already on the 40-man roster, so a spot wouldn’t have to be cleared for either, which is good because the Pirates will have some tough decisions to make regarding their 40-man roster.