MLB roster rules get muddy at this time of year. Postseason eligibility becomes a frequent topic of discussion, and rosters balloon as minor league seasons conclude. In 2020, the rules governing September call-ups will change. MLB’s active roster size will expand from 25 to 26 at the start of next season, with rosters expanding from 26 to 28 on September 1st. This is a big change- current rules allow players to use their entire 40-man roster for regular season play during the month of September, so teams will be under much greater restriction in future seasons.
In 2019, however, the Astros and their competition will be playing by the old rules, meaning that in theory, in a week and a half the team could call up any and all players on their 40-man roster who are currently healthy. Teams differ quite a bit in their handling of roster expansion. Some clubs do in fact “call up” their entire 40-man, while some make just one or two moves. Last year, the Astros were part of the latter group, deciding to promote just two players, pitchers Josh James and Cionel Perez.
This season, I’d expect the Astros transaction log to be a bit lengthier on September 1st. On the pitching side in particular, the Astros have an abundance of capable players who are currently on the 40-man but not the active roster. Here’s a rundown of those names:
Bryan Abreu, RHP - Abreu made a brief major league debut earlier this season in which he looked to be pumping with adrenaline. Unlike some of the names to follow, Abreu still needs a good amount of work before he can approach his big-league ceiling, but on raw stuff alone, he might be able to help a bullpen now. He’s a longshot to see meaningful action in 2019, but don’t be surprised if the Astros reward his efforts with another call-up to get his feet a bit wetter. He’s no doubt a part of the team’s plans.
Rogelio Armenteros, RHP - A finesse starter who pitches off a plus changeup, Armenteros has been up-and-down in 2019, both in terms of assignment and performance. His performance in Triple-A’s bonkers offensive environment has trended backward a bit compared to 2018, which is to be expected, but his K/BB numbers have remained quite strong and he handled himself well in MLB action. He’s a longshot for the postseason roster but can definitely help take some pressure off of the pen as the season winds down, or perhaps even make a spot start.
Joe Biagini, RHP - This one is rather obvious. Biagini was optioned to the minors recently but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come back up to the big club before September, never mind afterwards. Biagini is a proven big league arm who has a chance to thrive with adjustments to his pitch mix in the Astros organization. Like Armenteros, he’s a postseason roster dark horse, but his ability to shoulder some of the bullpen down the stretch will be of great service to the club.
Dean Deetz, RHP - A longtime fan favorite prospect, Deetz has had a year to forget. The Triple-A environment is exceedingly difficult to pitch in, but Deetz’s struggles have been tied to his inability to find the plate this year (29 walks in 33 IP). He’s still missing plenty of bats, but even in middle relief, he’s going to have to locate better. I’d be surprised if Deetz came up this year, and even more surprised if he’s still on the 40-man to start next year.
Cionel Perez, LHP - Perez has struggled with injury this season but is currently rehabbing in the GCL and has had successful outings thus far. If he’s ready to pitch full-bore in a couple of weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the big club, where he got run last September as well. He remains one of the better pitching talents in the system.
Brady Rodgers, RHP - Like Perez, Rodgers is currently with the GCL club working his way back from injury. He got some action for the Astros earlier this year, and was a complete disaster. The command artist hasn’t demonstrated he has the stuff to get outs consistently at the big league level and is unlikely to contribute this year or down the line.
Framber Valdez, LHP - Framber is technically in the minors right now, but with Aaron Sanchez’s injury he’s the overwhelming favorite to be called up before rosters expand. Valdez has a chance to run with the 5th starter job for the last month as he’s currently on a great run in Triple-A and has already gotten his big league jitters out of the way.
Jose Urquidy, RHP - The Mexican breakout prospect has been dominant for many of his minor league starts, and had some good moments in his big league debut as well. He hasn’t found consistency at the highest level yet but has the stuff to do so with a vicious change, hard fastball that can get up to 96 regularly, and a solid breaking ball that he knows how to use. I’d expect him to come up in September, though he’ll be without a clear role. He’s yet to throw out of the pen but could profile there with his velocity, potentially.
Cy Sneed, RHP - Dallas Baptist alum Cy Sneed has been an admirable Swiss Army knife for the Astros in times of need this year, and is a capable long/middle relief type who can make spot starts. Like many of the names above, Sneed will primarily be used to take pressure off of the bullpen in advance of the playoffs, and he’s proven that he’s more than adequate in that capacity.
Reymin Guduan is also on the 40 man but is currently injured.
As for position players, the list of options is a lot shorter. As of right now, with Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz both on the shelf and Jack Mayfield in Houston, there are only two bats on the 40-man who aren’t already with the major league team. Those players, Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw, are familar to fans and, in all likelihood, both will be brought up to the big club. Straw, with his plus-plus speed and strong defense, would look to be a good bet for the playoff roster, but the Astros may prefer Jake Marisnick’s polish in the outfield over Straw’s speed advantage and ability to slide into the middle infield. I’d prefer Straw, but the decision could go either way.
As for Tucker, his immediate future is anyone’s guess. I’d be very surprised if the Astros didn’t reward his 30 homer campaign with a September call-up, but it doesn’t appear they have any plan to include him on the postseason roster at this point. I don’t want to rule the possibility out, but it looks more likely that Tucker will just come up to get a handful of big league starts in to prepare him for 2020. If they want to give him a chance to seize the right field job before October, the clock is ticking, and to me it appears that the only way that will happen is if the team suffers an injury to a corner outfield starter.