On Sept. 1, when teams are allowed to expand their rosters from 25 to 40, they traditionally call up their top prospects. With 16 clubs within five games of a playoff berth at week's end, several of those latecomers could be added before the Aug. 31 deadline for postseason eligibility and may play decisive roles down the stretch. Here are five probable call-ups who could be thrown right into battle.
•Craig Hansen, RHP, Red Sox
Pitching for the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs, Hansen, a first-round pick in the June draft, is blowing away hitters at the Double A level with his 96-mph fastball and filthy, 90-mph slider. The 21-year-old righty could give a boost to Boston's bullpen.
•Jeremy Hermida, RF, Marlins
Hermida (.293 average, 18 homers and 63 RBIs through Sunday for Double A Carolina) might spark Florida's sputtering offense, much as leftfielder Miguel Cabrera did after he was a call-up in June 2003. Hermida, the 11th overall pick in the 2002 draft, is a 6'4", 200-pound, sweet-swinging lefty who was hailed by some scouts as the best schoolboy hitter since A's third baseman Eric Chavez.
•Ben Johnson, CF, Padres
Struggling San Diego, which was shut out twice last week and ranked 12th in the NL in runs scored (4.3 per game), could use Johnson (.309 average, .544 slugging percentage and 22 homers at Triple A Portland) immediately. The 24-year-old slugger led the Southern League in extra-base hits (57) last year.
•Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins
Minnesota's pursuit of Rangers second baseman Alfonso Soriano last month ultimately fell through because the Twins refused to part with Liriano, the organization's top pitching prospect out of the Dominican Republic, who has a fastball that tops out at 97 and an above-average slider. He was 8--1 with a 1.59 ERA in 12 starts at Triple A Rochester. With lefthanded reliever J.C. Romero struggling, Liriano could assume a key setup role as the Twins try to stay in playoff contention.
•Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
The prospect who Washington's interim G.M., Jim Bowden, likens to Cal Ripken Jr. and Scott Rolen has been slicing up pitchers at Double A Harrisburg, hitting .305 with a .510 slugging percentage while playing slick defense. Bowden recently ordered that Zimmerman (the fourth overall pick in the June draft out of the University of Virginia) get playing time at shortstop, hinting that the 20-year-old could soon replace the struggling Cristian Guzman.