This week’s installment of Knocking Down the Door features a pair of lefty starters who are very close to graduating from the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, a strong contender for the Rockies’ catching job in 2017 and a couple of outfielders hoping for a chance to prove that their recent hitting success isn’t an aberration.
Jaycob Brugman, OF, Oakland Athletics (Triple-A Nashville)
It’s fair to say that the A’s could have two, if not three outfield spots up for grabs when the offseason begins (depending on the usage of Khris Davis, who is presently splitting time between left field and DH). And, while there’s no shortage of talented prospects closing in on the Athletics’ big league roster, it’s possible that those outfield spots are occupied next April by players not currently in the organization. August and September can be considered an early audition period for Jake Smolinski and Brett Eibner, who are getting a close look right now. Jaycob Brugman is currently on the outside looking in but doing everything possible to get an invitation.
The left-handed hitting Brugman, who has played mostly in center field this season, has a .393/.456/.539 slash line in August, including 13 hits in his last 22 at-bats. With Coco Crisp and Danny Valencia each potential August trade candidates—the A’s would just need to find a taker for Crisp; Valencia might not pass through waivers—there’s a chance that Brugman could jump right in to an everyday spot in the near future. If that doesn’t happen, the 24-year-old should still be able to take some September at-bats away from Crisp, who will be a free agent after the season.
Josh Hader, SP, Milwaukee Brewers (Triple-A Colorado Springs)
When the Brewers needed a pitcher to make a spot start last week, they turned to a highly-deserving 26-year-old named Brent Suter, who they drafted in the 31st round back in 2012. Suter became the first left-hander to start a game for the Brewers in almost three years. Now in the bullpen after getting knocked around in his MLB debut, Suter might only be around to watch the next time a lefty makes a start for the Brewers.
After Josh Hader’s last Triple-A start—two-hit ball over six shutout innings with 12 strikeouts—it could be time to give the 22-year-old lefty a taste of the Major Leagues before he has to shut it down for the year. While his first taste of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League hasn’t been a walk in the park (4.79 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts; 0.95 ERA in 11 Double-A starts), Hader continues to rack up a ton of strikeouts (11.8 K/9) while keeping the ball out of the stands (0.4 HR/9). Both stats indicate a bright future for Hader, who should crack the Brewers’ rotation in 2017.
Tom Murphy, C, Colorado Rockies (Triple-A Albuquerque)
With Nick Hundley headed for free agency after the season, the Rockies will need to determine if they’ll be able to replace him in-house. They can do that now by starting to give defensive standout Tony Wolters more playing time to find out if he can hit enough—he has 11 hits in his last 20 at-bats, but has only started 12 games since the All-Star break—and/or calling up Tom Murphy, who is slashing .421/.461/.804 over his last 28 Triple-A games, to find out if he is good enough defensively.
In all likelihood, that duo should be able to more than make up for the loss of the veteran Hundley, who has subpar offensive numbers on the road and versus right-handed pitching this season. A call-up of Murphy, who didn’t embarrass himself during a September call-up last year (.876 OPS, 3 HR in 39 plate appearances), could result in a heated competition with Wolters that won’t end until Opening Day 2017.
Austin Slater, OF, San Francisco Giants (Triple-A Sacramento)
Riding a 13-for-18 hot streak coming into Tuesday, Austin Slater was, probably unknowingly, as close as he had ever been to the big leagues when the Giants placed backup outfielder Gregor Blanco on the disabled list. But it was journeyman Gorkys Hernandez who got the call, mostly due to his speed and defensive ability, although he’s also having a good season at the plate and has 78 games of MLB experience under his belt.
While the 23-year-old Slater’s amazing second-half numbers (.353/.439/.640; 10 HR, 21 BB, 23 K in 37 games) have undoubtedly opened some eyes in the organization, he likely helped his cause further with two hits, including a three-run homer, on the day he was passed over for what would’ve been a well-earned promotion. Slater could get the call in September and has an outside chance to play a bigger role if the oft-injured Angel Pagan is unable to stay on the field.
Nate Smith, SP, Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A Salt Lake)
No team in baseball could use some good news from down on the farm more than the Angels. With their pitching staff decimated by injuries, they should be delighted with the the recent work of lefty Nate Smith, who allowed just one single over seven shutout innings on Tuesday against a stacked El Paso lineup (see Margot, Asuaje, Renfroe, Hedges).
While the 24-year-old Smith has had an up-and-down season in a tough league for pitchers, he’s likely done enough (4.62 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 7.1 K/9) to warrant serious consideration for a 2017 rotation spot. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt for the Angels to get an early look. With his innings total up to 142 1/3 after 137 2/3 in 2015, it should happen in the next week or two.
Angels Depth Chart
“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.