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Color by Numbers: See You in September

For minor leaguers, September 1 is like the day after high school tryouts when you check the list on the gymnasium wall to see if you made the team. After being confined to only 25 men, the active rosters expand to 40 once the calendar turns from August, allowing for reinforcements from the minors. Dating back as far as the beginning of the last century (the concept was based upon a delicate business arrangement with what was then the independent minor leagues), this tradition of promoting serviceable journeymen and/or promising young prospects marks not only a rite of passage for the players finally getting a crack at the big leagues, but also heralds the final month of the pennant race.

This year, the Yankees announced that their lone September call-up will be Jesus Montero, a 22 year-old catcher who ranks among the best prospects in the game. Although many September promotions are regarded more as a chance to give a young player a taste of the major leagues, Montero is expected to play a significant role for the Yankees as they head down the stretch. There has even been some speculation that Montero will take over as the Yankees’ DH against left handers.

Whatever role he plays, the promotion of Montero is a bit of a departure for the Yankees, who have not had a position player make a September debut since 2008. In addition, the team has not had a raw rookie compile more than 25 plate appearances in the final month since Gerald Williams came to bat 27 times in 1992. So, if Montero does in fact see regular playing time, he will distinguish himself in that regard.

Yankees’ September Call-Ups, Since 1919

Note: Only those players making their major league debut in September are considered. Years without call-ups are omitted.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Of the 84 position players that the Yankees have promoted for the first time in September, only 17 have had more than 25 plate appearances. With a few notable exceptions like Roy White, Bobby Murcer, and Hank Bauer, not many from the list went on to make a lasting impression. In fact, only a handful made much of a first one. Included in the latter group is the aforementioned Williams, who posted an OPS of 1.000. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, is Charlie Spikes, who managed an OPS of .348 in his September call-up. However, Spikes made up for his lackluster debut during the off season when he was traded as part of package that helped the Yankees acquire Graig Nettles from the Indians.

What makes Montero’s promotion different from most in the above list is the Yankees’ place in the standings. Aside from Hank Bauer in 1948 (1.5 games behind) and Fenton Mole in 1949 (three games ahead), all of the prior September call-ups were given their shot when the team was playing out the string (i.e., seven or more games out of a playoff spot).

Yankees’ September Call-Ups with At Least 25 PAs, since 1919
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Just because the Yankees haven’t had much of a meaningful impact from their position player call-ups is no reason to despair. After all, the team has promoted several impact players who were only given a September cup of coffee. Included on that list is Yogi Berra, Don Mattingly, and Jorge Posada, so if Montero falls in line, the Yankees should be more than happy.

Notable by their exclusion from the call-up list this year are Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, the two most heralded pitching prospects in the Yankees’ farm system. Once again, that’s mostly par for the course in the Bronx as only seven Yankees’ pitchers have made their major league debut in September since 1992. However, that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had rookies make an impact on the pennant race. Mel Stottlemyre and Joba Chamberlain are two examples to the contrary, but each was promoted before the final month. When confined to September, there haven’t been many notable additions.

Yankees’ September Call-Ups with At Least 3 GS/15 IP, since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Once again, with the exception of Walter Beall in 1924 (one game behind) and Ian Kennedy in 2007 (five games behind), if a Yankees’ pitcher was given a significant look in September, it was done at a time when the team wasn’t competing for the post season. Among those with at least three games started or 15 innings pitched in their September debut, the most notable call-ups were Vic Rashi, Al Leiter, Dave Righetti, and Kennedy. It’s also worth noting that both Righetti and Stan Bahnsen won the rookie of the year award two years after their initial September call-up.

Montero’s ascension to the major leagues has been long awaited by Yankees’ fans, so expectations are bound to exceed reason. Nonetheless, the young catcher has a chance to make a rare September contribution for a Yankees’ team in pursuit of a championship. More importantly, however, the Yankees hope their wunderkind will do much more than help out this year. After all, making it the majors is often said to be the easy part for the most talented players. Remaining there is another story. A look at the Yankees’ past September call-ups illustrates that often repeated adage. That’s why what Montero does in his first month will be nowhere near as important as the impact the Yankees hope he will have over the rest of his career.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:07 pm

Man, I'm excited to see him, though cautious not to expect too much. Hey, William, do you like the way the Yanks are handling the young "B" pitchers?

2 William J.   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:11 pm

[1] Neither was dominant in the minors and both are probably near their innings limits, so I think it makes sense to shut them down and start them off in the minors next season (although rapid promotions should be on the table), assuming, of course, they aren't traded.

I think one thing evident from the experience with Hughes and Joba is there really is no such thing as a pitching prospect. Sometimes, more fringe guys like Ian Kennedy and Ivan Nova wind up having more success.

3 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:25 pm

William, Montero was born 11/28/89, so he's still 21.

Maybe there is no such thing as a sure-thing pitching prospect, but obviously that's true of all prospects at all positions. I don't think Joba and Phil tell the first thing about the nature of pitching prospects in general except not to over-value them.

The real question the Yankees have to answer for themselves is did their delpoyment of Hughes and Joba, which obeyed both strict inning limits and the needs of major league pennant races at the same time, somehow contribute to their injury history and inability to fulfill expected potential.

Or were these two guys going to get hurt and develop this way regardless.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:32 pm

It is safe to assume that Posada won't return next year. So if Montero is with the Yanks in the Bronx, do they resign Martin and let Cervelli go and have Montero serve as a back-up catcher and DH?

5 William J.   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:33 pm

[3] Thanks. I'm aging him prematurely.

However, the no such thing as a pitching prospect concept refers exactly to what you stated: don't overvalue young pitchers. There are too many variables that make definitive predictions difficult for all but the elite.

6 William J.   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:34 pm

[4] I can see a scenario in which all three on the roster, which would allow Montero to DH some without leaving the Yankees without a backup on the bench.

7 RIYank   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:40 pm

Jon, it is indeed true with all prospects, but historically pitching prospects have been much more uncertain that position players. That is, a highly rated position prospect is quite likely to be a good player; a highly rated pitching prospect is more of a crap shoot. (That's why it's wise to stockpile pitching prospects, so you have a decent chance of actually getting a good MLB pitcher out of your stock.)

8 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:41 pm

I'd like to see them keep Martin.

9 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:47 pm

[8] I can't see them dropping Martin. What would be the reason? Surely he's worth whatever salary he'll get, he's under the Yanks control for 2012, and if he becomes surplus to requirements, they can trade him for something useful.

[5] & [7] This is a lame argument, in which we all agree and say the same things.

10 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:51 pm

But more on Manny and Dellin vs Phil and Joba? Should they use these guys to help in the pennant race next year out of the bullpen or in an unconventional role while also being very careful with their usage patterns and innings limits? Or is that way doomed for folly by the example of Joba and Phil?

The more I think about it, I believe Joba and Phil were gonna turn out this way regardless. But I also believe that if you want to develop a starting pitcher, the best way is to keep him as a starter or a very long reliever throwing lots of innings each appearance.

11 a.O   ~  Sep 1, 2011 3:59 pm

[8] I think Martin's contribution this year has been under-appreciated despite his extended mid-year offensive slump.

12 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 1, 2011 4:00 pm

Shit, I didn't realize they had him signed through next year. Cool.

13 William J.   ~  Sep 1, 2011 4:04 pm

[9] It may be lame, so but so is the argument that advises we exercise more and eat healthier as we get older.

[12] He isn't signed, but he has one more year of club control before he can file for arbitration. The Yankees can either work out a deal or decide to offer him arbitration.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 1, 2011 4:11 pm

13) Thanks.

15 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 1, 2011 4:11 pm

[13] Well actually there we could probably start an interesting argument, because I'm totally turned in circles on what it means to eat healthier.

But it is nice to agree on some points.

16 Start Spreading the News   ~  Sep 1, 2011 4:20 pm

In the meantime, it turns out that Cano is a pretty good defender. At least he was in August:

17 RIYank   ~  Sep 1, 2011 4:53 pm

[15] More butter.

18 cult of basebaal   ~  Sep 1, 2011 5:04 pm


As annoying a baseball cliche as there is, but there's still truth to it.

19 Shaun P.   ~  Sep 1, 2011 5:10 pm

[2] I'm not sure Kennedy was a "fringe" guy - though he certainly did not have the raw stuff of either Joba or Hughes, he was a legit 1st round pick and did put up excellent numbers in the minors.

That said, there's no doubt that much of his success this year is due to the league and division he plays in, and the opponents he's drawn. I don't say that to take anything away from him, but to highlight that its not just him, circumstances and his defense (3.52 FIP vs 3.02 ERA) are contributing, too.

20 a.O   ~  Sep 1, 2011 5:15 pm

[16] If Brett Gardner has saved 22 runs over the average left fielder, that translates to -- what -- 45 runs over Johnny Damon?

21 Just Fair   ~  Sep 1, 2011 5:16 pm

John Ramos? My junior year brain does not recall that guy.
WWJD! Homer off Lester, of course.
I hope Jorge has a few more magic making opportunities in September. And October? hmm
It'll be quite the swan song.

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