Ten high-impact minor league call-ups for the second half
Neftali Feliz should be able to help the Rangers' bullpen down the stretch
The Brewers' Alcides Escobar is the best defensive shortstop in the minors
Kyle Drabek will likely move to a relief role upon joining the Phillies this summer
Matt Wieters hit his third big-league home run Sunday, an opposite-field shot off Angels left-hander Joe Saunders that had that different sound off the bat. It prompted Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, doing color commentary on MASN, to joke, "Well, that's why they paid him $6 million."
Wieters was showing why he was the top prospect in the game coming into the 2009 season, and he and No. 2 David Price were first-half call-ups who will play major roles in the jumbled American League East playoff picture, Price as a member of Tampa Bay's rotation and Wieters in the spoiler role for the Orioles. In fact, the top four players on Baseball America's preseason top 100 prospects list are playing big roles in the big leagues -- center fielder Colby Rasmus has emerged as St. Louis' best left-handed power threat, and right-hander Tommy Hanson just had a 26-inning scoreless streak as Atlanta's new ace.
Many of the minors' top prospects have already been promoted to the majors, but there will still be some second-half call-ups who will have an impact on playoff races. Here's Baseball America's take on the 10 most important, in order of their projected impact on the postseason picture:
1. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
The hard-throwing Feliz entered the year as the Rangers' top prospect and best arm. He got off to a tough start in the Triple-A Oklahoma City rotation, with 25 walks in his first 38 1/3 innings. But the Dominican, acquired from the Braves in the blockbuster Mark Teixeira trade in 2007, has adjusted since a move to the bullpen. He has just three walks in his last 29 innings and still hits 98 mph regularly, with easy velocity that should be able to help Texas' bullpen down the stretch.
2. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers
With J.J. Hardy struggling (.663 OPS) in Milwaukee and Rickie Weeks out at second base, Escobar is closer than ever to being able to help the Brewers in a pennant race. He's the best defensive shortstop in the minors, with smooth infield actions, soft hands and excellent footwork. He also is a plus runner who is starting to make his tools play better offensively. He's up to .302 at Triple-A Nashville, is an excellent bunter and improved base stealer (28-for-35).
3. Kyle Drabek, RHP, Phillies
The 2006 first-round pick has the stuff and the attitude to help the Phillies down the stretch, particularly in the bullpen. The son of the ex-Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, he has come back from Tommy John surgery and broken through in his first full, healthy season in the minors. He is 9-1, 2.58 overall this season, experiencing success at Double-A Reading. He has given up only one home run in 101 innings and has a dominant fastball/curveball combination. The biggest issue is Drabek's durability -- he had just 110 career innings coming into the season. He's not likely to be a big-league starter this year due to that workload, but he could be a useful relief option down the stretch.
4. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
The 10th overall pick in 2007, Bumgarner is the best pitching prospect in the minors, a precocious power pitcher with premium velocity. His fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range with good life and movement down in the strike zone. He also has fastball command, so that he can pitch off his heater more than most pitchers. With Randy Johnson and Jonathan Sanchez either hurting or ineffective, the Giants could use another left-hander for their playoff push. No team has a better in-house answer than Bumgarner.
5. Steven Tolleson, 2B/SS, Twins
Minnesota hasn't solved its middle-infield issues this season, shuffling through the likes of Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto along with the modestly productive Brendan Harris. Tolleson -- whose father, Wayne, was a light-hitting, all-glove big leaguer for 10 seasons -- could provide an answer. He's a better fit defensively at second, but he has more offensive upside than any Twins infielder save Casilla. He has solid gap power from the right side, as well as patience and speed and has excelled since a promotion to Triple-A Rochester (.316/.392/.456).
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