The odd part of Triple-A baseball is, just when the season is ending, it’s sometimes the opportunity of a lifetime for some players who live out their dream and play in the big leagues.
Because major league teams can expand beyond the normal 25-man roster on Sept. 1 several players are called up. A few are handed late-season auditions to try to experience the big leagues so they can concentrate on areas that need work during the offseason.
The Oklahoma City RedHawks, though, are in a unique situation. Heading into Tuesday night’s game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City was tied for first in the Pacific Coast League’s American Northern Division with Omaha with six games left in the regular season.
“It’s exciting for the guys that could have a chance to go up, but none of us have been thinking about that,” said utility man Joe Sclafani. “We have a job to do and are trying to make a run to get into the playoffs. That’s the No. 1 priority. Everything else will take care of itself.”
The Astros showed last season they prefer to leave non-40-man-roster players in the minors to gain playoff experience.
Still in the playoff chase, the RedHawks’ season could extend deep into September. But if they don’t win the division, several players could join the big league club as early as next Tuesday after the PCL regular season ends on Monday.
“Everyone is focused on trying to win games so we can get into the playoffs,” said catcher Max Stassi, a likely call-up since he’s on the 40-man roster. “Whatever happens after our season ends here remains to be seen. Obviously it’s something you’re aware of, but our focus is to win games and get on a roll in the playoffs.”
Last season, the Astros left stars George Springer and Jon Singleton in Oklahoma City for the playoffs instead of promoting future foundation pieces to the majors. It appears they will take a similar approach this season.
“Roster decisions have to be made during the offseason that may or may not affect who we decided to bring up in September,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow recently told the Houston Chronicle. “Quite frankly, September’s not just a tryout for us. We do want to finish strong.”
The Astros have lost 111, 107 and 106 games the past three seasons but should end the triple-digit slump this season. Houston is on pace to finish 68-94 but has gone 19-22 the past seven weeks, which makes 70 wins a realistic goal as they slowly turn things around.
Two of the bigger decisions for Luhnow could be outfielder Preston Tucker and PCL All-Star pitcher Nick Tropeano. Since neither is on the 40-man roster, the Astros might have to expose a player to waivers if they promote Tucker or Tropeano.
Players the Astros probably could call up since they’re already on the 40-man roster include shortstop Jonathan Villar, outfielders L.J. Hoes and Domingo Santana, Stassi and pitchers Paul Clemens, Anthony Bass and Rudy Owens.
“We’re looking at obviously anybody that’s been on the team already this year,” Luhnow said. “Villar, and anyone that’s been here, will be strongly considered in addition to some of our top performers in Triple-A.”
Tucker leads all of the Astros organization in RBIs (92) but is focused on the RedHawks making a deep playoff run that would extend the season to mid-September. Under that scenario, most players called up wouldn’t join the Astros until the final two or three weeks of the season.
“Anytime you gain playoff experience it’s something that benefits you over the long run,” Tucker said. “No one has really been thinking about (September call-ups) but if I were to get called up obviously it would be pretty cool.”