September baseball has earned a reputation for being one of the two worst months to evaluate big-league talent. The other is March, when spring-training rosters aren’t all that different than the bloated September rosters.
Expanded final-month rosters end after this season, with a maximum of 28 players available for September games beginning in 2020.
Good for September.
But the silliest MLB rule has two more weeks of shelf life at an unfortunate times for teams like the Texas Rangers, who are using the final month to begin tryouts for next season.
As the Rangers have said, they are grateful to have a string of contenders in opposing dugouts to close the season. Those teams are playing for something and playing their best players to get that something.
In the process they are giving young Rangers players a good test and Rangers coaches and scouts a little better September evaluation than if the schedule were full of Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles.
Manager Chris Woodward, though, has made it clear that no young player will win a spot on the Opening Day roster based on this month. March will mean something, depending on how the Rangers add to the roster in November, December, January and February.
Of all the rookies who have received a chance to audition this month, some of whom were called up in August, only a few look to be headed to Seattle for the March 26 season opener.
Jose Trevino: The Rangers have given Trevino the majority of the games behind the plate this month, and he will get an extended stretch to open the upcoming road trip with Jeff Mathis dealing with back stiffness.
With the exception of Saturday’s issues with Mike Minor, Trevino has shown the Rangers that he works well with pitchers and has lived up to his reputation as a premium defender.
Trevino, who was recalled Aug. 2, has also shown more with the bat than expected and will take a four-game hitting streak into Tuesday’s game at Houston against Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander.
The Rangers need a catcher to pair with Mathis next season. Trevino has the clear edge.
Emmanuel Clase: Clase was never really eased into the major leagues, getting high-leverage situations almost from the moment he was promoted Aug. 2.
It’s not hard for Woodward to do that with a pitcher who throws 101 mph.
Clase has encountered some bumps in his six weeks in the majors, but the Rangers have continued to use him with games on the line and he has mostly been successful.
He has things to improve. He’s not really a strikeout pitcher despite his velocity, and he might be asked to throw more four-seam fastballs next season and tweak his slider.
But he should be in the bullpen to start next season.
Kolby Allard: Only two rotation spots are locked down for 2020, and the Rangers will be adding at least one veteran starter in the off-season. Allard has impressed since his first Rangers start last month and has won over the coaching staff with the way he competes.
He can pitch, too.
Allard also has an edge on fellow left-handers Joe Palumbo and Brock Burke because the innings he pitched in the minors. Allard threw 115 at Triple A this season and has 37 1/3 more with the Rangers with two more starts remaining.
Burke and Palumbo both dealt with injuries this season and might not finish with 100 innings.
Allard is looking good for 2020.
Nick Solak: How is it possible that the best of the Rangers’ rookies the past month isn’t a safe bet for next Opening Day? Here’s how:
The Rangers have Rougned Odor and his contract at second base, Solak’s prime position. The expectation is they will attempt to sign a third baseman, where Solak is getting his feet wet, even if on a short-term deal until first-rounder Josh Jung is ready.
That would leave Solak without regular playing time, even though he can also play in the outfield. He can’t be the utility infielder without proving he can play shortstop, and he has never played there since turning pro.
He would be better served getting everyday at-bats at Triple A Nashville than getting buried on the Rangers’ bench as the 25th or 26th player.
But ... if the Rangers do not sign a third baseman and if they do not sign a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder (Hunter Pence), there would be enough at-bats to keep Solak sharp.
There’s also this novel concept: Put the best players on the Opening Day roster and figure out how to get them all playing time.
Brock Burke/Joe Palumbo: They’re not the same pitchers, but they’re both left-handed and in the same situation.
As pointed out above, injuries have limited their workloads this season, and that will be a concern as the Rangers weigh their status for 2020.
There will be another numbers game at play, too.
The Rangers have three rotation spots to fill entering the off-season. One of those will to go a veteran right-hander. If Allard gets a spot, that leaves Burke and Palumbo fighting for the last spot.
There also could be a spring surprise, which seems to be the case each year with the Rangers, that makes it tough for Burke and Palumbo.
They will have hurdles to clear, especially on a team that values starting pitching depth in the minors but never seems to have enough of it.
Jonathan Hernandez: The new rule that will push the active roster from 25 to 26 players will likely mean that an eighth reliever is carried.
Looking at the 2020 bullpen, Jose Leclerc, Rafael Montero and Jesse Chavez have spots locked up. Clase and Brett Martin should be in there. The Rangers will be enticed to exercise their option on Shawn Kelley.
That would leave two spots and the need for them to be filled by multi-innings relievers. Hernandez would be a strong candidate.
However, the Rangers are still deciding whether they should give him another chance at starting games. The decision to move him to the bullpen was based in part on seeing if he could find better mechanics that would give him better success as a starter.
If he goes the starter route, he will be ticketed for the minor leagues. If not, he’s got a shot at a bullpen spot.
Scott Heineman: His biggest strength is that he is versatile. He can play all three outfield spots capably, and he has started playing first base.
His next biggest strength is that he bats right-handed. The Rangers have a glut of lefty-hitting outfielders, and first baseman Ronald Guzman also bats from the left side.
Woodward is not a fan of platoons, but he is a fan of data. Some of that plainly states that some hitters don’t do well against certain pitchers, and almost forces a manager to react.
This season, Woodward’s first, allowed some leeway for players to acclimate themselves to the new data and swing changes that were asked of them for the first time.
The kid gloves will come off in Woodward’s second season, when regulars must produce or risk losing playing time. That could benefit players like Heineman.
Of course, the Rangers will look at right-handed bats during the off-season and might find a veteran one they simply like more.