This is the time of year when baseball roster expand, minor league players make their major league debuts and others gain valuable playing time.
This year, however, the Rochester Red Wings have other plans.
Rochester is the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. On the Red Wings’ last day of the regular season Monday, they snuck into the International League playoffs as a wild card thanks to a combination of a 13-3 win and a 1-0 loss by Norfolk. It’s the first time since 2006 that Rochester has made the postseason.
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Last season, the Red Wings finished 72-72 under first-year manager Gene Glynn. That was a big step forward from 2011, when they went 53-91. The year before that it was a disappointing 49-95 record for Rochester.
With Monday’s win, they clinched a 77-67 season and a playoff berth.
“We’re just really happy for the Red Wings organization,” said Brad Steil, the Twins’ director of minor league operations. “I know it’s been a little bit of a tough go the last couple years. … It is nice to get in the playoffs for them.”
If the Red Wings missed out on the playoffs this year, Twins fans would have seen an influx of Rochester players making their way to the majors, donning Minnesota uniforms for the remainder of September. Twins general manager Terry Ryan hasn’t said which players will eventually be called up when Minnesota does indeed expand its roster — Steil added the front office has had preliminary discussions about it — but there are several who might make that trip to Minneapolis.
That includes a number of players who spent time in the majors throughout this season, including infielder Eduardo Escobar, first baseman/right fielder Chris Parmelee and center fielder Aaron Hicks. Escobar would provide versatility in the infield defensively and an option as a pinch runner. He was instrumental in Rochester’s win Monday, going 4-for-5 with three doubles, a home run and five RBI.
Parmelee debuted in the majors as a September call-up in 2011 when he made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. After a torrid September that year — during which he hit .355 with four homers in 21 games — Parmelee has struggled offensively at the major league level. He also had his struggles in the minors this year as well, batting just .231 with three homers and 22 RBI in 44 games. Still, Gardenhire told reporters Monday in Houston that, “We need Parmelee.” With Justin Morneau gone, the Twins could use another option at first base besides rookie Chris Colabello.
Hicks, meanwhile, began the season on the Twins’ 25-man roster despite not having played in Triple-A prior to this year. He was optioned back to Rochester in early August and has been there ever since. As Minnesota tries to figure out what pieces it might have to work with in 2014, the Twins would likely want to see more of Hicks before the season is over.
Rochester also has a bevy of pitchers who at one point this year were in the majors: Cole De Vries (who began the year on the 25-man roster but never pitched for the Twins), Vance Worley, Michael Tonkin, P.J. Walters and Scott Diamond. While it’s unlikely all of them will have been called up in September, teams can never have too much pitching — especially when rosters expand.
The Red Wings will begin the playoffs on Wednesday against Pawtucket, with the second game of the best-of-five series played on Thursday. Depending on what kind of success Rochester has in the playoffs, there’s a chance it could be playing all the way until Sept. 14. That doesn’t leave a lot of time between the end of their season and the end of the Twins’ season.
For those players who do wind up as September call-ups, there won’t be as many chances to showcase their talents given Rochester’s playoff run. But the opportunity to play in a playoff atmosphere is certainly a valuable lesson, even if it is at Triple-A. Those players will get to experience postseason baseball, something the players in Minnesota will not.
But how much stock can be put into a player’s performance in September? In Ryan’s eyes, not a ton — whether it’s a good performance or a bad one. As was previously mentioned, Parmelee hit the cover off the ball as a September call-up in 2011 but hasn’t been able to duplicate that success since. Meanwhile, second baseman Brian Dozier wasn’t called back up in September last year. Now he’s perhaps one of the Twins’ best players in 2013.
“You can’t equate it to success or failure,” Ryan said late last month. “Guys that play against the Oaklands and the Tampa Bays and the Rangers and the Royals and the Indians that we all play in September, you’re going to see our best club. It doesn’t matter if it’s a September call-up. We’re going to play our best team.”
It’s certainly a bit of a unique situation this year in regards to Minnesota’s September call-up situation. The last time Rochester was in the postseason, the Twins were making a playoff push of their own in 2006 when they won the American League Central. That Minnesota club called up just three players — including one from Double-A New Britain — on Sept. 1. Another was called up from Rochester on Sept. 4, and two more made the jump to the majors when the Red Wings’ season ended on Sept. 16.
The 2013 Twins aren’t playing for much besides pride. There’s something on the line for Rochester, however. That means Ryan and Minnesota’s front office likely won’t step on the Red Wings’ toes as they try to win an International League title.
“As long as they have a shot, I’ll try to stay clear,” Ryan said. “They deserve to get in. They’ve had a tremendous year.”