This week’s installment of Knocking Down the Door features thee starting pitchers, two of whom combined for 16 shutout innings and 23 strikeouts in their last starts. Also making appearances are a reliever who began the season in High-A and a pair of infielders who were both former 1st Round draft picks.
Ross Detwiler might have bought himself several more starts in the A’s rotation after last week’s masterpiece (8 IP, 0 R, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 K), but Andrew Triggs and Zach Neal haven’t earned the chance to stick around much longer. As a result, it’s a good time to be pitching well down in Triple-A Nashville, where Raul Alcantara and Jharel Cotton have each positioned themselves to be next in line for a big league start.
While the 23-year-old Alcantara is probably reaching the end of the line for his 2016 workload—he’s at 120.2 innings after making only 18 starts in 2014-15 because of injuries—the A’s could probably squeeze one or two more starts out of him. The way he’s pitched since a promotion to Triple-A (0.59 ERA, 30.2 IP, 20 H, 3 BB, 22 K), it wouldn’t be a bad idea if he made those starts with the big league club.
Cotton, acquired from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade, has made an outstanding early impression on his new organization. After allowing a run and six hits while striking out five batters over six innings in his Nashville debut, the 24-year-old right-hander turned it up a few notches in his second start when he tossed a one-hit shutout with no walks and 12 strikeouts. At 112.1 innings on the season, it wouldn’t be a major surprise if Cotton is added to the rotation before the end of the month and is able to make at least 2-3 starts before he’s shut down.
Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York Mets (Triple-A Las Vegas)
It was T.J. Rivera who finally got the call to help a struggling big league team last week. While that was very much deserved, his former teammate, shortstop Gavin Cecchini, is still waiting for the call despite being just as deserving.
Jose Reyes’ return from the disabled list probably won’t help, but the 22-year-old Cecchini is making it difficult for the Mets to overlook him much longer. With 17 hits in his last 44 at-bats, the former 1st Round pick has his slash line up to .318/.387/.440 on the season. The scouting reports say he might not be good enough to be a big league regular down the road. His performance in the upper minors the past two seasons (.300+ batting average, .800+ OPS, 83 BB, 99 K), however, tells us that he should at least be given a long look against Major League pitching before determining that.
If the Mets fall any further back in the playoff race, they’ll need to look ahead to 2017. In either case, it would be a good time to see what they have in Cecchini.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A Salt Lake)
The Angels might be the worst team in baseball right now. Looking to the future is difficult with the pitching staff in shambles due to elbow injuries and possibly the thinnest farm system in baseball. Still, they need to find out if there is anyone down there worth auditioning for a job in 2017. Kaleb Cowart is starting to make a case.
The 24-year-old third baseman, who has seen his stock rise and fall drastically a handful of times since he was a 1st Round draftee in 2010, has a .942 OPS in his last 30 games, including a big 3-for-4 day on Sunday with a homer and two doubles. Even if Yunel Escobar and Albert Pujols are locked into the third base and designated hitter spots, respectively, Cowart’s versatility—he’s played 1B, 3B, SS and LF during his professional career—should allow him to play somewhere on a regular basis for the next month-and-a-half.
Jonathan Holder, RP, New York Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
A funny thing happened after the Yankees deciding to become “sellers” at the trade deadline. They’ve played well enough to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot. Their infusion of young hitting talent could help offset the loss of Carlos Beltran, but they’re extremely thin in the bullpen without Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. If there’s a relief pitcher that’s at least worth a look as someone who can help bridge the gap to Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances, it’s Jonathan Holder.
The 23-year-old right-hander, who started the season in High-A — where he pitched in 2015 as a starter — has posted a 1.92 ERA with impressive peripherals (5.4 H/9, 1.1 BB/9, 12.8 K/9) in his 37 relief appearances between High-A (2 games), Double-A (28 games) and Triple-A (seven games).
Whether it’s to help a team that’s just hanging on to slim playoff hopes or as an audition for a team that will be shopping for bullpen help this upcoming offseason, Holder has earned himself a trip to the Bronx in the very near future.
Jaime Schultz, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A Durham)
It was Matt Andriese that was next in line for a rotation spot when the Rays traded away Matt Moore. Who is next after Andriese isn’t clear, although Jaime Schultz is starting to separate himself from the pack after his last two starts for Triple-A Durham.
After striking out double-digit batters in two of his first 22 starts on the season, the 25-year-old right-hander doubled that total with 10 and 11 strikeouts, respectively, in his last two, which included eight shutout innings on Saturday. With Andriese getting knocked around in his last two major league outings, we could find out soon if Schultz, who has a 3.02 ERA to go along with 4.4 BB/9 and 11.0 K/9, has done enough to get the call.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.