Just hoping to pitch in more than one game when first called up by the Diamondbacks during the final month of the 2001 season, Mike Koplove wound up striking gold — literally.
An injury to reliever Bret Prinz resulted in Koplove being used in several key situations down the stretch, and he impressed enough to earn a spot on Arizona’s roster for both National League playoff series (though he did not appear in a game).
Koplove was inactive for the World Series triumph over the New York Yankees, but he was awarded a championship ring — a nice, unexpected dividend for nine games of regular season work.
“I don’t think I came down until the next season,” Koplove said. “It was a crazy month. Every day I woke up, every park I went to, I thought of how I couldn’t believe I had gone from Double-A to this in a few months.”
In the world of big league September call-ups, Koplove is a success story.
Usually, those joining a team when rosters expand to 40 players — even if that team is a contender — are there to watch, learn and, when they can get into a game, try to make an impression for next year.
Rosters expand on Wednesday, though the D-Backs do not plan to bring anyone up from the minor leagues until after Sept. 6, when the seasons at Class AAA Tucson and AA El Paso have ended.
“We want to get guys up here and give them a chance to play,” Arizona manager Al Pedrique said. “We don’t want to bring up guys just so they hang around the locker room and make the road trips, and we can’t get them an at-bat. That doesn’t make sense to me.
“We can give them a good look for the last month of the season and find out where they are at.”
For those D-Backs fans disillusioned with the team’s last-place standing and eager to see more players of the future, understand that the number of players summoned to Bank One Ballpark might be counted on one hand.
Thanks to injuries, Arizona made most of its September call-ups in July and August. Ideal late-season promotions such as outfielder Luis Terrero, shortstop Jerry Gil and reliever Greg Aquino are already in the majors.
“There aren’t too many guys on the 40-man roster that haven’t been up here,” assistant general manager Bob Miller said. “A lot of those guys that are already here are guys who would have been call-ups.”
Of 47 players on the 40-man roster — seven are on the 60-day disabled list — just five have seen no action with the D-Backs this season.
The most likely players to be brought up include those who were recently sent down by Arizona: relief pitcher Randy Choate, infielder Tim Olson and outfielder Doug DeVore. It is possible a prospect such as pitcher Mike Gosling will get an invitation.
Relief pitcher Scott Service, catcher Robby Hammock and infielder Greg Colbrunn could come off the DL soon, lessening the need for bodies from the minors.
“Too many guys can be a distraction,” Pedrique said. “When you have 40 guys in the locker room, you can only play so many.”
Playing time is not the only issue in deciding whether to bring a player up for the stretch run. There are also cost-effectiveness criteria.
September call-ups are paid the prorated major league minimum salary, and the team takes on the travel and hotel costs and daily per diem on the road. Also, the service-time clock starts ticking, putting that player closer to salary arbitration.
“Financial issues have never been a reason we haven’t brought a guy up,” Miller said. “If they won’t play, it doesn’t make sense from a management standpoint to add service time to a guy’s career.”
Outfielders Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson and infielder Sergio Santos, all among the D-Backs’ top prospects, are not options this September since they are not on the 40-man roster.
The D-Backs don’t have to put them on the 40-man roster until they need to be protected from exposure to the Rule 5 draft.
Players 19 or older (Quentin and Jackson) on the June 5 preceding the signing of their first contract must be protected after three professional seasons; those 18 or younger (Santos) after four years.
Quentin and Jackson are in their second pro seasons, Santos his third.
“Generally, you don’t want to put players on the 40-man before you have to protect them,” Miller said.
Outfielder Quinton McCracken came to the majors as a September call-up by the Colorado Rockies in 1995. With the Rockies battling for the NL wild card spot (which they won), McCracken appeared in just three games, with one at-bat.
Despite his limited action, McCracken said, he used those three weeks to become a better player.
“I watched the veterans on a daily basis,” McCracken said.
“I was like a sponge, learning things. It wasn’t a dress rehearsal. It was the beginning of the culmination of all the hard work and a lifelong dream coming true.”