September means pennant chases but, until recently, it also meant greatly expanded rosters and the chance for teams not in the post-season hunt (or even some that were) to take a look at some of their top minor league prospects. That is the topic of this post, looking at those players who made the most of a short rookie audition. More after the jump.
By short audition, I’m meaning more than a cup of coffee, but less than an extended rookie season. Thus, I’ve set the boundaries as rookie seasons for non-pitchers with a minimum 75 PA, but no more than a quarter of the season, so a maximum of 40 games. The minimum PA requirement eliminates the one and two week wonder seasons, while the maximum leaves out those players given more than just a short look. These boundaries encompass some typical rookie seasons, such as a player playing regularly after a September call-up, or a player doing the same after appearing earlier in the season but being sent back down. If a particular player happened to have two such seasons (rare, but certainly possible), only the first is considered.
So here is the list of those seasons, ordered by WAR. For the narrative, I’ll take a closer look at the top 16 WAR scores, as shown here.
So, right off the hop, we can see four players (Tenace, Seager, Perez, Mauer) among these sixteen with 30+ WAR careers, and a fifth (Hayes) on that trajectory with almost 13 WAR in fewer than 400 career games. So, probably there is some predictive value from the first impressions a player makes. Following is a brief rundown of these fifteen players.
1. Jose Lind: Lind got his chance after the Pirates traded away their 7 year veteran second baseman Johnny Ray in August. Lind’s leading WAR total is paired with the lowest OPS+ on our list, as that WAR score was driven mainly by his defense, amassing 1.4 dWAR (a nice full season total) in only 35 games. Lind’s unlikely dWAR total is based on Total Zone Runs, which awards him 12 more TZR than the average second baseman, based on 6% more chances than average (Ray was 2% fewer that season) and a .995 fielding percentage (one error in 193 chances) compared to .982 for the average second baseman. Lind became Pittsburgh’s everyday second baseman the next season and turned in the best campaign of his career, with 3.5 WAR in 1988. But, he never approached that level of performance over the remainder of his 1044 game career, with -1.8 WAR over his final seven seasons.
2. Ke’Bryan Hayes: One could make the case that Hayes doesn’t belong in this discussion since his 24 games in 2020 represents 40% of that truncated season. But, regardless of how long a season is, 24 games is still not much time to make a good impression, so I’m comfortable including him here. Hayes was the opening day starter the next season, but an injury suffered in game no. 2 kept him out of action until June. Upon his return, Hayes assumed the everyday third base position for the rest of the 2021 season, with his flashy glove convincing the Pirates to ink him to a long-term contract. Hayes has compiled 4+ WAR this season and last, becoming just the 5th Pirate third baseman with a pair of such seasons; one more will tie him with HOFer Pie Traynor for the franchise record.
3. Davis Schneider: One of two players on the list from the current season, Schneider got his call-up in August with Bo Bichette on the IL and the Blue Jay offense scuffling (1-4 over their previous 5 games, with just 12 runs scored). Schneider homered in his first AB and reeled off a major-league record 9 hits over his first three games as Toronto swept the Red Sox. Schneider’s 1.315 OPS over his first 25 career games is a record in 75+ PA; an 0 for 31 slide that followed lowered his OPS to the 1.008 shown here. Schneider is just the second player (after Ray Blades in 1922) to record 20+ R, 20+ BB and 20+ RBI in a rookie audition season.
4. Aaron Altherr impressed after his August 2015 call-up, showing some pop (20 XBH) and some speed (6 steals) over that season’s final weeks. An injury, apparently, sidelined him until late July the next season, and he struggled over the remainder of that campaign. Seeing action in 107 games in 2017, Altherr improved on his 2015 rate stats and launched 19 dingers. But, it was all downhill after that, as Altherr cratered to just 51 OPS+ in 154 games over his final two major league seasons. Altherr finished his pro career with two seasons in Korea, surpassing 30 home runs in both campaigns, and a final season in independent ball, swatting 21 HR in 82 games for the Tri-City Valley Cats of Troy NY.
5. Gene Tenace followed his 1970 season shown here with two seasons backing up A’s catcher Dave Duncan, but with his OPS+ dropping 35 points in the latter campaign. Tenace made up for that 1972 dip in production when he was elevated to Oakland’s primary post-season catcher that year, earning World Series MVP honors as the A’s claimed their first championship in more than 40 years. Tenace’s batting stroke returned with a move to first base in 1973, while continuing his backup catcher role. That would be the first of 10 straight 150+ PA seasons catching 30+ games with 130+ OPS+, tied with Mike Piazza for the longest streak of such seasons (give the tie-break to Tenace with an 11th such season in 1971).
6. Corey Seager made his major league debut as a September call-up for the 2015 Dodgers, bumping 36 year-old Jimmy Rollins who had turned in a forgettable season in his lone campaign in LA. Taking over as the everyday shortstop the next season, Seager earned NL RoY honors, setting NL rookie shortstop records for Hits and OPS, and tying the OPS+ record set 98 years earlier by Charlie Hollocher. Despite losing substantial playing time during his career to injuries and COVID, Seager this season joined Trea Turner as the 10th and 11th shortstops to record 1000 hits including 150 HR and 400 XBH (bizarrely, both reached these thresholds in their Sep 12th games) over the first 9 seasons of a career (for perspective, Cal Ripken Jr. was only the 3rd shortstop with that accomplishment).
7. Evan Carter is the second player on our list from the current season and, at age 20, is the youngest player in our group of sixteen. He was called up in the second week of September and played in every game the rest of the season in the Rangers’ successful quest for a post-season berth. Carter’s 182 OPS+ in his audition season ranks third in our group, while his 2.13 WAR per 100 PA is the top mark. Carter, Corey Seager and Dwayne Hosey are the only players in our group to start in the post-season in their rookie audition season.
8. Dwayne Hosey: After his 24 game look-see shown here, Posey got a similar 28 game audition the next year, but with dramatically different results, as his OPS+ dropped more than 100 points to just 55. Hosey departed for Japan and turned in a monster 38 HR, 100 RBI, .965 OPS season in 1997, but couldn’t follow that up with anything remotely similar.
9. Casper Wells‘ 2010 season shown here came primarily after a late August call-up to the Tigers. Wells made the big club coming out of spring training the next year, but was used mainly as a fourth outfielder/late inning defensive replacement prior to a trade deadline move to the Mariners. Wells got regular playing time in Seattle, for about 5 weeks, but didn’t do much with the opportunity (conversely, that trade did wonders for pitcher Doug Fister going the other way, turning a 3-12/3.33 season in Seattle into 8-1/1.79 with Detroit as the Tigers claimed the AL Central crown with ease). Wells got one more decent shot in 2012, with 93 games and 316 PA for the Mariners, but again failed to deliver, with only .698 OPS.
10. Salvador Perez‘s season shown here came after an August call-up to the Royals. He graduated to a half-time catcher role the next season, before becoming the Royals’ primary catcher in 2013. Perez backstopped the Royals to pennant-winning campaigns the next two seasons, claiming World Series MVP honors in 2015. Among 40 catchers with 40+ career PA in the Fall Classic, Perez ranks 4th in BA (.348) and 9th in OPS (.853). Last season, Perez became the 7th catcher to reach 15 oWAR and 15 dWAR over the first 11 seasons of career. This year, he has become the 11th catcher with 6+ seasons of 20+ HR and 70+ RBI.
11. Chris Dickerson debuted with an August call-up to the Reds in 2008. The next year, he was on the Reds’ opening day roster and compiled about a half-season’s worth of PA until an August injury shut him down for all but the last game of the season. Dickerson struggled to start the 2010 season, then suffered another injury, putting him out of action for almost three months. Coming off that injury, Dickerson tore up AAA pitching to the tune of .442/.528/.767 over 13 games, enticing the Brewers to trade for him by sending 40 year-old Jim Edmonds the other way (the Reds were looking for Edmonds’ veteran experience to help them in their division chase; Cincinnati did claim the division crown as Edmonds closed his career slugging .587 with 3 homers in only 13 games, but unfortunately lost more than a month of playing time due to injuries suffered down the stretch). Dickerson’s fortunes didn’t improve in Milwaukee and he struggled to get meaningful playing time after that, with fewer than 300 PA over his final four seasons.
12. Jerry White: After a cup of coffee the year before, White made the opening day roster for the 1975 Expos but hardly played (6 PA in 15 games) before being sent down a month-and-a-half into the season. He got regular playing time in CF after a September call-up, including starts in the last 20 games of the season, to produce the totals shown here. White recorded career highs in games (114), PA (309) and most other counting stats in 1976, but his OPS dropped more than 150 points, as he showed some speed and a discerning batting eye, but not much else (he recorded higher OBP than SLG in that season and three others). The die was pretty much cast after that, as White was used mainly as pinch-hitter/pinch-runner/reserve outfielder the rest of his career, aside from a regular turn in the outfield in a half-season for the 1978 Cubs.
13. Joe Mauer was an opening day starter for the 2004 Twins, reaching base four times in his debut, then went down to injury the next day. He returned to the lineup in June, played regularly until the All-Star break, then was shut down for the season (he was 1 for 13 over his last 5 games, so maybe he reaggravated the original injury). Mauer became the Twins’ primary catcher the next season, the first of 5 straight seasons catching 100+ games. In 2006 at age 23, Mauer became the youngest catcher to win a league batting crown, posting the highest qualified BA (.347) by an AL catcher since Bill Dickey in 1936. Mauer added a second batting title in 2008, then led the junior circuit in all three slash categories in his 2009 MVP season, with his .365 BA breaking Dickey’s AL record for catchers. After catching 921 games over his first 10 seasons, Mauer switched to first base for his last 5 campaigns, not once returning behind the plate save for the last inning of the final game of his career. Mauer will be eligible for the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot this coming January; his 55.2 WAR is comfortably ahead of Wally Schang‘s 48 WAR, currently the highest total by an eligible non-HOFer who caught 900+ games.
14. Mike Redmond was called up at the end of May by the 1998 Marlins and settled immediately into the role of backup behind primary catcher Gregg Zahn (I’m guessing Zahn was nursing an ailment in late July when Redmond caught 5 games in a row, including both ends of a double-header that both went into extras). Other than that aberration, Redmond generally caught a couple of games a week, save for a four week stint in Aug/Sep when he was apparently out with an injury. Zahn was traded to Texas after the season, and Redmond graduated to be the principal Marlins’ catcher the next two seasons, but not really a primary catcher as he started less than half of his team’s games and failed to reach 300 PA in either campaign. That would be the story of his career, some seasons in the traditional backup role and other seasons catching more than that, but never reaching 90 games or 300 PA in any season. Redmond is the most recent (dare I say “the last”) of a dying breed of catcher with ISO under .075 in a career of 2500+ PA and 500+ games caught. That group numbers 31 in the modern era, only six of whom have played since 1955; Redmond’s career .287 BA ranks second in the group to Johnny Bassler‘s .304 mark.
15. Chris Duffy made the Pirates opening day roster in 2005, but played only briefly before being sent down. He was called up after the All-Star break and took a regular turn in the outfield until late August, when an injury (?) shut him down the rest of the way. Duffy graduated to opening day starter the next year, but was batting under .200 when he was sent down in mid-May; he did much better after getting called up at the beginning of August, slashing .282/.345/.366 with 23 steals in 55 games to close out the season. Duffy played regularly the first half of the 2007 season, again showing some speed but little power. Didn’t play again after late June and played only 30 minor league games in 2008, so he may have suffered a significant injury. Duffy finished his major league career playing briefly for the 2009 Brewers.
16. Chris Parmalee was a September call-up for the 2011 season shown here, graduating to opening day starter for the Twins in 2012. Parmalee took a regular turn at first base to start that season but, with his OPS barely clearing .500, was sent down in mid-May. He played regularly after a call-up at the end of August, posting a respectable .752 OPS to close out the season. Similar story for the next two seasons, both split between the Twins and the minors, and both producing anemic batting totals. As a first round pick, Parmalee was given good opportunities for three straight seasons, but never showed much with the bat. After his time in Minnesota, Parmalee signed free agent contracts with the Orioles, Yankees, A’s and Marlins, playing briefly for the first two. Parmalee homered twice in his first game batting for the Yankees (they would be the last homers of his career), a distinction shared with only Roger Maris and Giancarlo Stanton.
The next group of sixteen includes such names as Bob Elliott, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Greg Luzinski, with Bill Madlock, Bill Melton and Corbin Carroll following closely after that. Farther down the list are these twenty Hall-of-Famers with a rookie audition season since 1900.