Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Danny Espinosa's fine minor-league season could result in a September promotion.
September call-ups tend to draw a lot of attention, and often for good reason. Among the most notable guys who made their major-league debuts for the Nats in September are the franchise's current left side of the infield: Ryan Zimmerman (2005) and Ian Desmond (2009).
Then again, plenty of September promotions go to players who quickly disappear into the abyss of anonymous ex-Nationals and are never heard from again. (Hello, Mike Hinckley and Arnie Munoz!)
So you can't get too worked up about these call-ups. September performances offer only a glimpse into a player's full potential. Still, there are a couple of guys in the upper levels of the Nats' farm system right now, knocking on the door and itching for a late-season promotion. Here's a rundown of some of those who could wind up in the Nationals Park clubhouse come the first week of September...
Probably the safest bet of the group to be on the roster later this season, the young catcher (he turned 23 yesterday) acquired from the Twins in the Matt Capps trade figures to hold a prominent role on this team in 2011. Mike Rizzo has all but said he'll be in D.C. for this season's final month, and he'll probably get a fair share of playing time alongside Ivan Rodriguez. In nine games so far at Class AAA Syracuse, Ramos is hitting .286 with a double, a triple, a homer, five RBI and eight runs scored.
Espinosa has been in the news lately because of a torrid power surge (he's got 20 homers this season) that earned him a promotion to Syracuse from Class AA Harrisburg. The 23-year-old shortstop has been on a fast track since he was drafted in the third round out of Long Beach State in 2008, and he's long been looked at as a candidate to start either at shortstop or second base in the big leagues by 2011. If that's going to happen, it's probably worth it to give him a taste of the majors in September, much as the Nationals did last year with Desmond. Espinosa will only have one month of Class AAA experience, but he's a pretty advanced player who already appeared in the Arizona Fall League and held his own against that top competition. One possible hang-up: He's not currently on the 40-man roster.
Another fan favorite because of his ties to D.C. (he went to George Washington), Wilkie has had a fantastic season in relief at Syracuse (2-3, 1.88 ERA, six saves in 44 appearances). He's maintained a sub-3.00 ERA in the minors each of the last three seasons, and at 26, he's certainly mature enough for life in the majors. The problem, once again, is that he's not on the 40-man roster. The Nats could have put him on it last winter after he pitched in the Fall League, but elected not to and took the chance another club would take him in the Rule 5 draft. No one did, so he's remained in the organization and has continued to pitch quite well.
The Nationals' top position player prospect since he was drafted in the first round in 2006, Marrero is putting together another solid, if not spectacular, season in the minors. In his first full season at Harrisburg, he's batting .291 with 14 homers, 64 RBI and 24 doubles. Defense at first base remains something of a question mark, and he's still only 22 years old with zero experience at Class AAA. If there's a reason for the Nationals to bring him up this September, it's to get a sense of his readiness just in case Adam Dunn isn't re-signed by the winter. That said, few in the organization believe Marrero will be ready to be the everyday first baseman by Opening Day 2011, and some aren't sure if he'll ever be a productive major-leaguer, especially in the field. The hunch here is that we don't see him this September.
JORDAN ZIMMERMANN AND YUNESKY MAYA
I know these guys wouldn't be considered traditional September call-ups, and there's a chance we'll see one or both before the end of August. But technically speaking, they fall into the category of late-season call-ups because they're minor leaguers on the 40-man roster and not on the disabled list. (Zimmermann was activated a couple weeks ago and optioned to Syracuse.) Obviously, both of these right-handers could play a significant role in the Nats' rotation in 2011, and the club would love to get a good look at both guys before this season ends.