Yasiel Puig’s return to the Majors this month will be carefully monitored by both the Dodgers and the teams around the league as they look to decide if he’s worth pursuing as a potential trade candidate. However, while Puig might be the most high-profile case of a once-top-tier talent looking to rebuild his stock, he’s far from the only player looking to do so. September was once looked at as a trial grounds for top prospects to cut their teeth in the Major Leagues, but as ESPN’s Keith Law recently wrote (subscription required and recommended), the “traditional” September call-up has fallen to the wayside as teams rely more heavily than ever before on their top-rated prospects throughout the course of the regular season. Only a few select top 100 prospects are even making their Major League debut this September — Yoan Moncada, Jose De Leon, Yohander Mendez and David Paulino, thus far — but there are a number of former top-ranked prospects that have exhausted their rookie eligibility (or will do so quickly this month) without yet establishing themselves as big league regulars.
MLBTR’s Jason Martinez has kept track of all of this month’s transactions over at Roster Resource. Among them are the call-ups of some once-lauded youngsters that are looking to make good on a second, third, or even fourth opportunity at the major league level (statistics through 9/8/16):
- Byron Buxton, Twins: Buxton has returned to Minnesota for another MLB stint after yet another demotion to Triple-A, and the Twins will hope this last bit of seasoning he received was enough for him to capitalize on the potential that made him the game’s No. 1 overall prospect in back-to-back years. Buxton’s overall .305/.359/.568 line in 49 Triple-A games this season is tantalizing when combined with his outrageous speed and defensive prowess, but he was hitting under .200 with a .578 OPS in the majors at the time of his recall. Buxton, however, has already shown signs of at last figuring out MLB pitching, as he’s homered on four occasions for the Twins in September en route to a .462/.481/1.077 batting line. It’s a small sample, but it’s encouraging.
- Jose Berrios, Twins: Berrios entered the season as one of the very top pitching prospects in baseball and was supposed to be a polished, near-MLB-ready arm. Many, in fact, believed he should’ve made the Twins’ roster out of Spring Training. Berrios was knocked around considerably in his two big league stints prior to September, though, demonstrating uncharacteristically poor control and allowing an unthinkable 38 runs in 37 innings of work. The Twins, as has been the case for years now, are perilously thin on starting pitching, and a strong September effort could go a long way toward strengthening Berrios’ case for a rotation spot in 2017. Surrendering five runs in five innings in his first September start wasn’t a good beginning, though.
- Luis Severino, Yankees: Severino looked to have gone a long way toward solidifying his standing in the Yankees’ rotation in 2015, but those rushing to proclaim him the team’s future ace received a kick to the gut in 2016 when Severino limped to a 7.19 ERA in 51 1/3 Major League innings. Severino’s strikeout and walk rates went in the wrong direction, and he struggled tremendously with home runs. He’s slated to work out of the bullpen for the final month of the season and could prove that he’s a weapon in that capacity. Fans may hope that Severino ultimately resurfaces in the rotation, but as Dellin Betances has demonstrated, there’s plenty of value to be had if Severino ends up working in relief when all is said and done. Six shutout relief innings have been a nice start for the 22-year-old.
- Michael Conforto, Mets: Few would’ve expected the Mets to add a corner outfielder like Jay Bruce entering the season with Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson all in the fold, but Conforto struggled at the plate after a terrific 2015 debut and a brilliant start to the season. The 2014 first-rounder hit .365/.442/.676 in April but tanked thereafter, hitting .148/.217/.303 across his next 44 games before being optioned to Triple-A. Conforto would return the following month and struggle once again, leading to another demotion. His final stint in Triple produced comical numbers, as he obliterated Triple-A pitchers with an obscene .493/.541/.821 batting line, six homers and four doubles in 17 games. The Mets and Conforto both hope that’s the last Triple-A assignment he’ll ever require. With Cespedes likely to opt out of his contract this winter, it’d behoove Conforto to show that he can fill those shoes, if needed, with a strong September.
- Cody Reed, Reds: Reed has been quite good at Triple-A, working to a 3.08 ERA with strong K/BB numbers, but he’s been pummeled for a 7.36 ERA and allowed a staggering 12 home runs in just 47 2/3 innings in the Majors this season. He ranked firmly among the game’s top 50 prospects entering the season and, according to some scouting reports, has a better shot to stick in the Cincinnati rotation than teammate Brandon Finnegan, who came to the Reds in the same trade as Reed (sending Johnny Cueto to Kansas City). There looks to be at least one spot up for grabs next season, and while he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen for the final month of the year (via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Zach Buchanan), a strong showing this month will help his chances next season. At the very least, it’d be a positive sign for the Reds if he could simply avoid the long ball in his limited work.
- Joey Gallo, Rangers: Gallo may have the toughest time finding regular playing time of anyone on this list, as the presence of Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Mitch Moreland, Nomar Mazara and Carlos Gomez limits his ability to get into the lineup. However, Gallo could be used to spell any of the aforementioned corner bats this month, and a player with his game-changing power would figure to be a potential add to a playoff roster as well. He struck out in his lone plate appearance to date and will look to demonstrate an improved knack for contact as he closes out the year.
- Justin Nicolino, Marlins: Nicolino turned in a solid, albeit unspectacular rookie season in 2015 before being torched for a 5.48 ERA in 70 2/3 innings earlier this year. Like Reed, he’s currently ticketed for bullpen duty, but with talk of possibly shutting Jose Fernandez down for the season if the Marlins fall out of contention, Nicolino could find himself making a few starts one way or another. He hasn’t missed bats in the Majors and will need to show an improved ability to do so, though his pristine control has been on display this season in the minors and should help offset the lack of whiffs to some degree.
- Eddie Butler, Rockies: Another starter that will work out of the bullpen in the final month, Butler recently made some notable changes to his delivery that he feels were directly correlated with his late surge at Triple-A. Butler was shelled for a 6.96 ERA earlier this season and has a career 6.37 ERA in the bigs but did manage a 2.58 ERA in his final 45 2/3 innings at Triple-A (albeit with an unimpressive 15-to-10 K/BB ratio). With so many impressive young arms beginning to surface for the Rox, Butler could carve out a role as a hard-throwing reliever with a high ground-ball rate, and this September will be an early shot to prove that.
Beyond the listed names, players such as Kevin Plawecki, Andrew Susac and Dalton Pompey also fit the criteria specified for this post, but the former two are serving as third-string catchers while the latter looks to be solely in a pinch-running/defensive replacement role. Names like Robert Stephenson, Tyler Glasnow, Alex Meyer and others were also considered initially, but didn’t quite fit because they haven’t yet exceeded the rookie limits or haven’t really struggled in limited exposure. Among those three hurlers, for example, only Stephenson has even thrown ten MLB frames, and he owns a 3.12 ERA.