BALTIMORE – This was supposed to be the day.
Sept. 1 is the day major league teams can expand their rosters to 40, the day they can bring up their star prospects for their first look at the big leagues. It’s a date that Twins fans had in mind for the past couple of years as, maybe, potentially, fingers crossed, the day when Byron Buxton might fly into the Twin Cities, when Miguel Sano might find himself in the lineup, when Alex Meyer might jog out to the mound.
But this Labor Day is a Labor Dud.
The Twins will reveal the names Monday of between five and 10 players who will spend September in a big-league uniform — they will actually join the team Tuesday at Target Field — but none of the franchise’s most exciting and promising prospects will be among them. Buxton’s concussion, Sano’s elbow and Meyer’s shoulder spoiled the scheduled coronation of the Twins of the Future.
That doesn’t mean there is no intrigue in this crop of call-ups. In most cases, they will serve as auditions for 2015 jobs, or at least give the Twins an idea of who might make the team with a strong spring. A bullpen shake-up is seemingly on the horizon, and a handful of openings as backups figure to be available, too.
“This is a chance to show you belong — that’s about as simple as I can say it. We’ve got guys who have earned an opportunity, but it’s up to them to take advantage of it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said last week. And, he added Sunday, “I don’t plan on bringing someone up just for the meal money, put it that way.”
Any player on the 40-man roster can be promoted for September, and the Twins have three vacancies on the roster that they can fill with other prospects. (They added a third spot by removing lefthander Edgar Ibarra from the roster Sunday, an indication that they might plan to add three nonroster players.)
So what new faces will be in the Twins clubhouse when they arrive home Tuesday? Here’s a guess at who might get good news:
Aaron Hicks: His second chance in the majors this year didn’t go much better than his first last year, and he was sent down two levels to Class AA New Britain in June. But maybe he has finally had some of the minor league development he needed; the talented outfielder showed steady improvement during a month each at Class AA and AAA, and General Manager Terry Ryan has said the team is to blame for his difficulties.
“He’s not in any doghouse or anything. He’ll get another chance. We still believe in him,” Rob Antony, Ryan’s top assistant, said in August. “Hopefully the next time he comes up is the time he clicks.”
Hicks’ presence also allows the Twins to move Danny Santana to shortstop on a semi-permanent basis, helping the team understand his readiness to take over that job. And he would shore up an outfield defense that has been a major problem all season.
Josmil Pinto: He lost his backup catching job when the Twins decided they wanted more defense, but he has shown already that he can hit, and hit for power, at the major league level. Pinto reportedly has made progress behind the plate, and the Twins want to see for themselves. His .342 September last year is fresh in their minds.
Chris Herrmann: He has a .180 average in the majors over the past three years, but he figures to be brought up to add depth in the outfield and behind the plate.
Stephen Pryor: He’s only 25 and has 34 games of big-league experience with Seattle, and after being acquired for Kendrys Morales, the righthander struck out 21 in just 19 innings for Rochester, with a 0.95 ERA. He also walked 15, so control remains an issue, but the Twins understandably want to see whether his 96-mile-per-hour fastball belongs in their bullpen next year. He would have to be added to the 40-man roster.
Michael Tonkin: Speaking of hard fastballs, Tonkin struck out 44 batters in 44 innings at Rochester, with 10 saves. He might be a setup man in waiting.
Lester Oliveros: Originally acquired from Detroit in the Delmon Young trade in 2011, the righthander was sidelined by elbow surgery two years ago. But he is still only 26, his arm has come back strong — 87 strikeouts in 65 AA and AAA innings this year, with 17 saves — and along with Tonkin and Pryor, he gives the Twins another hard-throwing reliever to consider for next year.
Kris Johnson: With Sam Deduno waived and claimed by Houston, the lefthander, who turns 30 in October, would give Gardenhire another long-man option in the bullpen.
Other possibilities: Opening Day starters Chris Colabello and Pedro Florimon are at Rochester, but the Twins might have moved on. There are no vacancies in the rotation at the moment, so starting pitchers are less likely to be summoned, though Logan Darnell or Mark Hamburger could be exceptions. A.J. Achter, who pitched in the Arizona Fall League a year ago, is another bullpen arm who could be considered.