One of the more entertaining aspects of the final month of any baseball season—the only fun part for some noncontenders—is watching newly promoted minor leaguers make their major league debuts. But because of expansion in the National League next year, fans won't get to see some of the game's best young prospects this season.
On Nov. 17 the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies will each draft three players from every National League team or its affiliates, and two to three from each American League team. Minor leaguers with fewer than three years of pro experience at season's end will be protected from the draft—unless they have been called up during the season by a major league club. "If you think a prospect is going to make the difference between winning and losing, bring him up," says Padres general manager Joe McIlvaine. "But if he's just going to be another player for you, it doesn't make sense."
There almost certainly will be no pennant for the Phillies this year, so they almost certainly won't call up righthander Tyler Green, their No. 1 selection in the 1991 draft. Green, 22, was recently promoted to Triple A Scranton after having excelled at Double A Reading, where he was 6-3 with a 1.88 ERA. Through Sunday the Phillies had used 13 starting pitchers, and the rookies on their staff were a combined 4-22. Surely Green might have pitched better than a few of those 13. Says Philadelphia general manager Lee Thomas: "We think the world of Tyler Green. If it reached the point where I thought he was completely ready to go and there were a few months left in the season, then I'd bring him up." But don't bet on it.
Other players who will probably deserve September call-ups but will be left down on the farm because of the expansion draft include outfielder David McCarty, the Twins' No. 1 draft choice in '91, who was hitting .273 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs for Double A Orlando at week's end; Rene Arocha, a righthander from Cuba who was 7-5 for the Cardinals' Triple A affiliate in Louisville; righty Salomon Torres of Double A Shreveport (Giants), who was 6-5; and righthander Paul Byrd, who was 9-5 for Double A Canton- Akron ( Indians). "It's obvious that most clubs are going to be very careful," says Chuck LaMar, the Braves' director of scouting and player development. "Why give a player a month in the majors and take a chance on losing him when you don't have to?"
That month, however, often gives a young player a chance to get acclimated to the majors. Then, if he opens the following season with the big league team, he isn't so awestruck and has a better idea of what it takes to play in the majors.
Last winter catcher Glenn Sutko, 24, who is in the Reds' farm system, paid Royals scout Steve Smith $5,000 to be his personal off-season hitting instructor. But after batting .180 with 44 strikeouts in his first 100 at bats this year for Double A Chattanooga, Sutko saw his career take an unusual turn. At the end of May, Jim Bowden, Cincinnati's director of player personnel, asked Sutko to throw in the bullpen. "I'd never pitched in my life," says Sutko. "I had no form, but I threw 91 miles per hour."
Sutko is now a catcher-pitcher. On June 26 he caught the first nine innings of a game and went 4 for 5 with two homers, including a three-run shot in the top of the 10th inning. Then he pitched the bottom of the 10th and got the save. "I've never had four hits in a game, not even when I was five years old," says Sutko. "When I finished rounding the bases, I did some high fives, ran to the bullpen, threw 10 pitches and then went to the mound. I was tired and out of breath, but I threw well. The fans went crazy, saying, 'That's the catcher!' "
Not everything about the change has been easy, though. "The first batter I faced hit a grounder back at me," says Sutko. "I froze. I didn't know what to do. It went right by me into center."