UPDATE: Rob Zastryzny was not added to the roster today and will likely have to wait until the Iowa season concludes. Leonys Martin will also not be added right away so only two 40-man roster moves were necessary. The club has designated Seth Frankoff and Jose Rosario for assignment to make room for Dillon Maples and Mike Freeman.
UPDATE 2: Martin will join the club Saturday. Another roster move will be necessary at that time.
The first wave of September call ups are on their way to Chicago. The Cubs will welcome back Victor Caratini to fill the role of a 3rd catcher and bat off the bench and Rob Zastryzny as a long reliever and 3rd lefty option out of the pen. The Cubs will also activate Justin Grimm from the 10-day DL. All three moves were expected and do not require any additional roster shuffling in order to bring the players up from their recent stints in Iowa. The club also announced that Jon Lester will be activated from the DL for a start on Saturday. Mike Montgomery will remain in the rotation and the Cubs will use six starters down the stretch, just as they did last season.
It will undoubtedly be a nerve-wracking day for the players on the fringe of the 40-man roster (Seth Frankoff, Jose Rosario, Pierce Johnson, Jack Leathersich) as it appears the Cubs will need to make room for not just reliever Dillon Maples and utility man Mike Freeman as we speculated a couple of weeks back, but the club also acquired veteran center fielder Leonys Martin and cash in the hours before the Aug. 31st deadline in exchange for a PTBNL or cash. That means three 40-man roster spots need to be freed up to accommodate the new arrivals. I will update this post as news of the roster moves comes out.
Martin, once a promising young player for the Texas Rangers, had been demoted to the minors by the Mariners (and off their 40-man roster two different times) after failing to hit even a lick this year (.174/.221/.287). Just 29 years old, Martin still possesses good speed (31/41 SB combined between AAA/MLB) and is still a plus defender in the outfield. He will likely take over the role of pinch runner and defensive replacement that I envisioned Jacob Hannemann filling down the stretch. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Martin can contribute a bit at the plate as well. A career .248/.300/.361 hitter, he has hit .306/.346/.492 with Tacoma this year and is coming off a .247/.306/.378 season with Seattle in 2016.
Mike Freeman will step in as the backup shortstop while Addison Russell remains on the DL with his foot injury. He is a capable pinch runner as well and has experience at every position on the diamond except catcher and pitcher, but with the Cubs possessing so many other options with better track records at the Major League level, I would not expect to see Freeman on the field much except to give Javier Baez the occasional day off.
The player that could have the greatest impact on the club, not just in September but potentially in the playoffs as well, is Dillon Maples. It has been an insane turnaround year for the once-promising turned nearly-forgotten right hander. Maples was actually on the brink of walking away from baseball last season. But thanks to some good work by South Bend pitching coach David Rosario and some encouragement from his father, Maples has come back this season with a vengeance. The key has been the development of a third pitch, that quickly has become his first pitch. In the offseason he developed a slider/cutter that has proven a devastating out pitch, and along with some mechanical tweaks that have unlocked a few extra MPHs on his fastball (now regularly 97-99) without losing any of the hard downward bite, Maples has propelled himself from a shared closer role in High-A ball this April all the way to the Major Leagues.
Once the AAA season ends next week, it is possible that additional players from the squad could join the Cubs but at this point I would not count on it. Any additional reinforcements are more likely to come in the form of players returning from the disabled list (MLB and AAA). Of course, we are all patiently awaiting the returns of Willson Contreras and Addison Russell, but Mark Zagunis and Eddie Butler are also currently out due to injury in Iowa. If they can get healthy in time, both seem logical choices to rejoin the club once they are ready.