We're starting to get to that point in the season when teams begin to look to their minor league systems for reinforcements. Whether a player is injured or merely playing far below expectations, sometimes a quality replacement or alternative is just one call away, toiling for the organization's Triple-A affiliate. And when it comes to looking for those players that can provide upgrades and/or depth, calling up minor league talent is usually the way to go- the cost in terms of money and talent in minimal compared to what you'd generally give up in a trade.
So here are five young players currently in Triple-A that could get the call at some point this season, particularly given how well they're playing right now. And remember that we're not looking at monster names here, so don't expect to see guys like Dustin Ackley, etc.
Dayan Viciedo, Chicago - .301/.351/.503 in 211 PA
By now, most people are probably familiar with Viciedo on some level. Signed to a major deal out of Cuba in 2008, he was ranked as the No. 61 prospect in the game by BA coming into the 2009 season, but saw his stock drop as evaluators became more familiar with his plate discipline, defense and athleticism issues. He spent the 2009 season at Double-A and split last year between Triple-A and Chicago, but the common factor between all of those at-bats was a startling impatience at the plate. Spending most of his time at third base in 2010, Viciedo smacked 25 homers in just 469 PA's, but walked just 13 times the entire season, including 1 walk in 106 MLB plate appearances.
Now playing right field at Triple-A given that Brent Morel has surpassed him on the organization's third base depth chart, Viciedo's finally making some key improvements as a hitter. In 49 games this season, Viciedo's already walked as many times as he did in 124 games last year, and he's done so while cutting down on his strikeouts as well. It's easy to forget that he's just 22, and given the recent improvements in his game it appears that he's back on track to be a contributor with this club in short order. Whether he's the short-term replacement for Juan Pierre or the long-term replacement for Paul Konerko, expect Viciedo to find his way into Chicago's plan pretty soon.
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati - .283/.367/.544 in 207 PA
Expect this guy to get a good deal of attention down the stretch this season. Ranked as the No. 43 prospect in the game by Baseball America coming into the 2010 season, a rough year at Triple-A caused many to take a step back on the 2007 1st Round Pick. But he's returned to the same level this year and shown marked improvement, particularly in bumping his walk-to-strikeout ratio from 0.35 to 0.50 this season.
Even though the 25-year-old is currently blocked with Cincinnati, he could still get playing time with the club either in left field (where Jonny Gomes and Fred Lewis have struggled) or in a utility role where he plays some third, second and outfield. Marc Hulet of FanGraphs recently suggested that Frazier could be a good fit for the Marlins as an option at third base, and that's a reasonable possibility as well if the team is interested in possible trades. The Reds have a good deal of upper-level depth among infield prospects, with Juan Francisco, Zack Cozart and Chris Valaika all offering MLB-ready talents as well.
Mike Carp, Seattle - .317/.380/.603 in 214 PA
Carp isn't quite on the same level as Frazier or Viciedo in terms of prospect status or pedigree, but he's always shown impressive power and solid overall numbers at Triple-A. It's easy to forget that the former Mets farmhand is only 24 because it feels like he's been around for so long, and you'd sort of be right: he's already in his third full season at Triple-A.
But the Mariners badly need some added power given how poorly guys like Jack Cust, Carlos Peguero and Michael Saunders have looked in premium offensive spots like left field and the DH spot, and Carp just might be able to provide it. Over the past three years, he's seen his Triple-A slugging percentage increase from .446 to .516 to .603, and he's actually on pace to top the 29 homers he hit last season right now. It's not clear what his upside is, and he's worthless if he doesn't hit, but the Mariners need some offensive spark plugs and Carp has an outside shot at filling that kind of role.
Jesus Guzman, San Diego - .333/.425/.519 in 223 PA
The baseball world hasn't been particularly kind to Mr. Jesus Guzman. Currently the third baseman for San Diego's Triple-A affiliate, he's done nothing but hit at Triple-A for the past three seasons, but has yet to get more than a small cup of coffee at the MLB level. After batting .321/.379/.507 in his first full Triple-A stint in 2009, he followed that up by hitting .321/.376/.510 last season and he's bumped it up to .333/.425/.519 this season. He's been remarkably consistent in terms of power production (.186, .189, .185), with most of the recent improvement coming in the form of an increased walk rate.
San Diego has been primarily using Jorge Cantu as the right-handed portion of a first base platoon with Brad Hawpe, but he's been remarkably bad and showing few signs of getting better. At this point, the Padres should probably let Cantu go and see what someone else could do in that role. Given how the 25-year-old Guzman is hitting so far this season, it seems like he'd be a pretty solid first option if they want to give additional minor league at-bats to the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Blanks.
Adrian Cardenas, Oakland - .339/.406/.444 in 203 PA
Most people presumably remember Cardenas as the young Phillies prospect that eventually got traded to Oakland in the Joe Blanton trade, as the infielder saw his stock drop not long after being dealt. Ranked as the No. 74 prospect in the game by BA coming into the 2009 season, Cardenas would spent both 2009 and 2010 trying to figure out how to hit for Triple-A Sacramento. He thrived at Double-A to begin the 2009 season, but really struggled upon moving up to Triple-A later in the season. The A's let him began the 2010 season at Double-A again in order to get comfortable, but he once again struggled after moving up to the next level.
It's a new season though, and at 23, Cardenas is finally thriving for Sacramento even though he's spending most of his time in left field these days. Still a capable third baseman but a fringy second baseman, Cardenas is going to have to depend on his impressive contact skills at the next level to succeed because his power has never really developed. He can still really hit- he's only struck out in 8.6% of his PA's this year and has more walks than strikeouts- but he's going to be limited by his lack of power if he's forced to play a non-premium defensive position.
The A's have some ridiculous infield depth in the upper minors right now, so Cardenas is also a possible trade option: Cardenas, Jemile Weeks, Eric Sogard and recently-acquired Scott Sizemore at Triple-A, and Grant Green, Stephen Parker and Tyler Ladendorf at Double-A.