With September callups imminent, there are a number of players who should be locks to get added to the big league club. With the exception of Brusdar Graterol, the players most assume will get a call have already contributed on some level to the Twins this season. Outside of those known commodities, though, are several players currently in Triple-A who haven’t appeared with the Twins this year, but could provide value down the stretch.
Injuries in the outfield have left Minnesota short-handed heading into September. Byron Buxton remains on the IL with a shoulder injury, and after his rehab was cut short earlier this week, his activation doesn’t appear imminent. Max Kepler sat out most of the Chicago series with lingering knee and groin issues. Marwin Gonzalez has an abdominal/oblique issue, and is likely a few days away from playing in games.
Until Buxton, Kepler, and Gonzalez return, there’s a clear need for additional outfielders. The injuries have forced Ehire Adrianza and Luis Arraez into outfield duty, and while they’re serviceable there, both those players are infielders by trade and provide the most defensive value there.
LaMonte Wade Jr. figures to be the first addition the Twins make to help address the outfield. Wade Jr., who appeared in two games this year with the Twins before hitting the IL, is a top-30 prospect who gets on base at a high rate and can play the corner outfield spots well. Importantly, he’s on the 40-man roster.
Beyond Wade, there are a number of intriguing outfield options in Rochester. Some of these players provide most of their value defensively, while others would be considered because of what they can do with the bat. The one trait they all have in common, though, is that they don’t occupy a spot on the 40-man. While that hurts these players’ chances of joining the Twins, if the front office feels they could provide a meaningful contribution this season they have the ability to create room, either by DFA’ing someone currently on the 40-man, or calling up an injured player and placing them on the 60-day IL.
With that in mind, here are four under-the-radar outfielders who could receive a callup.
The Twins traded for Miller on August 9 (as a non-40 man minor leaguer, he was eligible to be traded after the July 31 trade deadline), a few days after Buxton went on the IL. It was an interesting trade at the time, because Miller isn’t the type of player that normally gets moved.
As a 27-year-old who hasn’t yet appeared in the big leagues, Miller isn’t a prospect. He’s a career minor leaguer who’s been at Triple-A the past three years. Further, it’s not likely a trade the Twins would make simply to give them Triple-A depth. There are plenty of players in the independent leagues the Twins could have signed if they had a shortage at Triple-A. This suggests Minnesota had ulterior motives in acquiring Miller, and a deeper dive into his player profile provides some answers.
Miller doesn’t hit for much power, and his career average in the minors is a decent, but not spectacular, .274. What he has in abundance, though, is speed. Miller has 35 steals in 42 attempts this season, after stealing 43 and 33 bases in 2017 and 2018, respectively. He’s played exclusively center field since coming to Rochester, and played all three outfield spots with Triple-A Tacoma.
Add it all up and you have a player who can be used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement late in games. One only needs to look at the 2014 and 2015 Royals to see the importance of such a player. Kansas City used Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson as game-changing late-inning weapons in their run to back-to-back World Series. Miller doesn’t have the base-stealing ability of those two, but he would fill a significant need for the Twins, particularly given their injuries. It’s probably not a coincidence Minnesota traded for him shortly after Buxton went on the IL. If called up, he’d be an intriguing option off the bench late in games for Rocco Baldelli.
You probably remember De Aza from his time with the White Sox earlier this decade, when he was a Twins killer. Back then, he was a young, speedy outfielder with a little bit of pop. Now, he’s a 35-year-old fighting for one last shot in the majors.
De Aza last appeared in the big leagues with the Nationals in 2017. Since then, he’s spent time in Triple-A and Indy Ball. The Twins signed him from independent New Britain earlier this summer, after he hit .346/.413/.513 there. Since joining Rochester, he’s continued to swing a very hot bat, slashing .357/.443/.616 with six home runs in 131 plate appearances.
De Aza’s more of a corner outfielder at this stage in his career, but he could play center field in a pinch. He wouldn’t bring the base stealing ability of Miller, but he has ten years of major league experience and a bat that appears to have something left. Like Miller, he’d fill a need for the Twins. The two might be competing for one spot; it’s difficult to see the Twins creating two 40-man spots for both Miller and De Aza.
Rooker, drafted by the Twins in the first round in 2017, was having a really good year before a groin injury sidelined him in July. In 274 plate appearances, he was slashing .281/.398/.535 with 14 home runs and 16 doubles. He was particularly hot in the month leading up to the injury, with an OPS of .999 in that span. He just returned from injury earlier this week, appearing in two games for the GCL Twins. He could be back in Rochester for the season’s last few games.
The front office clearly likes Rooker. He’s been fast-tracked through the minor leagues after a stellar career at Mississippi State, and has hit for average and power at every stop. A top ten prospect, Rooker may have already been up had the injury not occurred. As it stands now, he’s probably a long shot because of the time he missed, but if he can convince the front office he’s healthy and has his timing back in the last few days of the minor league season, there’s a chance he could be added in September.
Wiel is a 1B/OF who’s spent most of his time at first this season. Last season in Chattanooga, he made 28 starts in the outfield. Wiel’s probably been Rochester’s most consistent bat this season. In 122 games, he’s slashing .253/.323/.518 with 23 home runs, 39 doubles, and five triples. Wiel’s flashed a lot of extra base power, and put himself in position to be considered for a callup. The fact that he’s not on the 40-man hurts his case, and the Twins are set at Wiel’s primary position with C.J. Cron. If they wanted to add a bit more pop along with some defensive versatility, Wiel could be a good option.
In addition to the four outfielders, there are two pitching prospects not currently on the 40-man who are candidates to see time in September. The first is top prospect Brusdar Graterol, who appears more likely than not to get a promotion. The second is a lesser-known prospect who’s put up outstanding numbers since being converted to a reliever.
Alcala, who was acquired in the Ryan Pressly trade last year, features a 100 MPH fastball. Like Graterol, he began the year as a starter in Double-A, but is now pitching out of the ‘pen in Triple-A.
Although he struggled as a starter, he’s been phenomenal since transitioning to relief. In 16.2 relief innings across Double-A and Triple-A, he has a 1.08 ERA, 16 strikeouts, and just three walks. If the Twins decide to pair Graterol and Alcala, they’d be adding a huge amount of velocity to the ‘pen. Both would need 40-man spots, however, so it remains to be seen whether the Twins will be able to create an opening for Alcala, if they do indeed use one 40-man spot on Graterol.