September Call-Up Greats Of The Last Decade

David Price pitches against the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series. (GettyImages)

A great September debut doesn't mean a great career is coming, but either way, productive September call-ups exist.

September 1 is a special day on the baseball calendar for fans and prospects alike, because with the minor-kleague season coming to a close, major league clubs are able to expand their teams to include the whole 40-man roster. While it's rare that a September call-up will make an impact -- or even get that much playing time during their cup of coffee -- it does happen. Out of the 492 players who made their major league debuts in the month of September in the last decade, there are a number of stellar performances -- though they didn't always lead to a stellar career.

 

  • Case in point: Jeremy Reed in 2004. According to Baseball America, Reed was the #25 prospect in the game, and had hit .289/.361/.436 between the two Triple-A affiliates that year (he was dealt to the Mariners from the White Sox along with Mike Morse and Miguel Olivo for Freddy Garcia). The Mariners showcased their new toy, as he played in 18 of the team's remaining games, hitting .397/.470/.466 for an OPS+ of 149. That would be about it for Reed, though; in parts of seven seasons since, he has hit a combined .245/.301/.348. 
  • Nyjer Morgan, also known as Tony Plush, came up with Pittsburgh in 2007. In a rarity for a September call-up, Morgan played the entire month, appearing in 28 games. He hit .299/.359/.430 with seven steals and four triples in that stretch, and, according to Baseball Reference, was worth 1.3 wins above replacement thanks to excellent defensive play. His career has been up-and-down since, and he is now with his third organization in three years, but on occasion he still flashes the promise he showed in his first taste of the majors.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is the rare beast who was impressive in their September debut, then carried that into future seasons as a star. He hit .397/.419/.569 in 2005 with the Nationals, just months after the 20-year-old was drafted fourth overall out of the University of Virginia. After just 67 games in the minors and that ridiculous September showing, he stuck in the majors, and all he has done since is be one of the most productive third basemen in the game on either side of the ball.
  • Zimmerman is a rarity, because lately it's players like Willie Bloomquist coming up strong in their debuts, and then either fading into obscurity, or refusing to go away. Bloomquist had an OPS+ of 198 back in 2002 with Seattle, as he hit .455/.526/.576. Even back then he was versatile defensively, as he played in both left and at second base. Those 12 games are the only "season" in his now 10-year career in which he slugged over .400, or had an above-average OPS.
  • Bloomquist isn't alone, as Daric Barton's finest moment as a hitter came in his debut September. His .347/.429/.639 line in 84 plate appearances made the Mark Mulder trade with the Cardinals look even more lopsided. Since then, though, he has an OPS+ of just 98, and has relied almost entirely on his defense for his value.
  • J.R. Towles was rated the #53 prospect in the minors heading into 2008, in part due to his impressive performance in September of 2007 with the Astros. Towles hit .375/.432/.575 in 44 plate appearances, for an OPS+ of 158. His highest OPS+ since? All of 59, in 2009.
  • It's not all hitters who succeed in September. Wade Davis started six games for the 2009 Rays, posting a 3.72 ERA and just under a strikeout per inning over 36-1/3 frames. While he has yet to match that performance, he has at least stuck around, and the Rays still have faith in him to turn things around, too, as evidenced by his four-year extension.
  • Finding successful pitchers among September call-ups is difficult, as teams generally don't give them many opportunities to shine. Josh Fogg was one, though, even though it was an odd debut: he struck out 17 batters in 13-1/3 innings in 2001 with the White Sox. "Odd" because Fogg stuck around for another eight years, in his career struck out just five batters per nine innings. It was never Chicago's problem, though, as they dumped Fogg, Sean Lowe, and Kip Wells on the Pirates for Todd Ritchie, in a trade that worked out for no one.
  • David Price made his debut in September of 2008, striking out 12 batters in 14 innings as a reliever, but thanks to Jae Kuk Ryu hitting the 60-day DL, there was a spot on the postseason roster for him. In the playoffs, Price was phenomenal, striking out eight batters in 5-2/3 innings, including a save in the ALCS against the Red Sox. While that performance vaulted expectations higher than they should have been for a 23-year-old rookie pitcher in the AL East, he has since made good on the promise shown in his debut, and is now one of the top pitchers in the game.
  • Despite Price's strong showing, the most famous September call-up who also made the playoffs is Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod didn't pitch until September 18, but he made his mark before the season ended, whiffing 13 hitters in just 5-2/3 innings, and without allowing a run. With pitcher Steve Green going on the 60-day DL, the Angels included Rodriguez on their playoff roster, and, with his help, won the World Series. Rodriguez struck out 28 hitters in 18-2/3 innings of relief -- including 8-2/3 in the World Series -- and posted a 1.93 ERA and 5.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the process. It's one of the great playoff performances of all-time, and it all started with a few innings of expanded-roster baseball.
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