In past seasons, September was a time for Mariners prospects on the verge of contributing to get much-needed big-league experience.
When rosters expand Monday, making any player on the 40-man roster eligible, teams around Major League Baseball will take advantage by adding a handful of players.
Teams out of the postseason race will call up prospects to get them major-league playing time in preparation for next season. It at least makes the dog days at the end of the season a little worthwhile and interesting.
In a change from recent history, the Mariners are in the postseason race. So their September will already be interesting. Because every game counts in the quest for a playoff berth, the thinking behind Seattle’s September call-ups will be a little different.
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“With teams that have a chance to advance to the playoffs, you bring up guys that can help you win games,” manager Lloyd McClendon said earlier this week. “I don’t think you venture out and bring in young guys just to get them experience, because there isn’t going to be any experience to get. You’re playing meaningful games and you want your veteran guys out there performing in high-level, high-pressure games. For me, I don’t see bringing up a lot of young players just to get experience.”
So who are those players not on the current 25-man roster that can help the Mariners in the stretch run? Starting pitcher James Paxton isn’t technically on the 25-man roster, but he’s slated to start Tuesday in Oakland.
Here are a few more candidates.
Who will likely be called up?
Justin Smoak, first base: He provides a late-inning defensive replacement for Logan Morrison. Smoak is a top-level defender at first base. In his last 23 games with Class AAA Tacoma, he is hitting .400 (34 for 85) with eight doubles, 13 RBI, 17 walks and a .495 on-base percentage.
Corey Hart, designated hitter: Hart is rehabbing with the Rainiers after being placed on the disabled list with a knee contusion on Aug. 2. Hart has struggled this season with Seattle, hitting just .203 with five homers and 20 RBI in 58 games, but he’s an experienced player and could be a late-inning pinch-hitter.
Michael Saunders, outfielder: His return from a strained oblique was sidetracked by the birth of his second child that caused him to miss four days of his rehab stint with Tacoma and a viral infection that forced the Mariners to recall him from his rehab assignment five days ago. Saunders will have to get his strength back and see more than a handful of rehab at-bats before coming back. He may return in mid-September to see time in the outfield.
James Jones, outfield: The one-time starting center fielder lost his starting job when the team traded for Austin Jackson. Jones has elite speed, perfect for a pinch-runner late in games. He stole 20 bases in his MLB time, and that’s a huge plus. He can also be a late-inning defensive replacement for corner outfielders.
Humberto Quintero, catcher: Most teams add a third catcher when the roster expands for obvious reasons. Quintero gets the nod over prospect John Hicks because he has plenty of big-league and stretch-run experience with the Phillies. He’s not as good of a defender as Jesus Sucre, but he’s a better hitter. The M’s would have to add him to the 40-man. That wouldn’t be difficult since Willie Bloomquist can be moved to the 60-day DL.
Lucas Luetge, reliever: September call-ups usually feature lots of relievers. The Mariners’ bullpen is already so good, but Luetge gives them another experienced left-hander that can soak up a few innings.
Carson Smith, reliever: Yet another hard-throwing college pitcher the Mariners drafted and made into a reliever. Smith, a sidearm slinger, touches mid 90s with his sinking fastball and has a nasty slider. Smith has a 2.35 ERA this season with 42 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched. He’s allowed just two earned runs in his last 22 appearances. Smith also isn’t on the 40-man roster, but the Mariners can find ways to get him on there.
Who might be called up?
Stefen Romero, outfielder: He would provide another right-handed bat and emergency pinch-hitter if needed. Romero has torn up Class AAA pitching since being sent down to play every day. He’s in the midst of a 16-game hitting streak. In his last 21 games, Romero is hitting .419 (36 for 86) with five doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 24 RBI.
Todd Coffey, reliever: the veteran right-hander, who signed on as a minor-league free agent, has been one of the Rainiers’ best relievers this season. He has a 4-1 record with 10 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 34 appearances this season. He’s struck out 34 batters, and opponents are hitting .200 against him.
Taijuan Walker, starting pitcher: McClendon said he’d likely keep an extra spot starter in case it was needed. It appeared to be Erasmo Ramirez. But after his less-than-stellar start on Wednesday, that could change. Walker is 6-4 with a 4.81 ERA with the Rainiers this season, but he might be a better option than Ramirez.