Standout September players to watch

September 15th, 2020

“Don’t tell me who has the best record. Tell me what teams are healthy and which players are hot in the final month.” -- Jim Leyland

With that quote at top of mind, pay attention to White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who entered play on Monday leading MLB with a .435 batting average this month. Likewise, three of September’s top four home run hitters all play for the Atlanta Braves: Adam Duvall (9), Ronald Acuña Jr. (6) and Marcell Ozuna (6).

Reds ace Trevor Bauer has a 0.66 ERA, which is a hair better than Gerrit Cole of the Yankees and Chris Bassitt of the A’s, who are close behind at 0.69 on the month.

What’s also interesting is how many teams are still evolving and how many surprise names appear likely to end up having a big impact in October. To play at the highest level, when the stage is big and the light bright, is to get to a place every player wants to be.

With the postseason starting in just two weeks, here are seven surprise September stars to keep an eye on:

1. Sixto Sanchez, Marlins, RHP (September highlights: 1.35 ERA, 0.80 WHIP)
The Marlins tossed their 22-year-old No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, into the heat of a postseason race, and he has looked every bit ready for it, allowing three earned runs in 20 innings this month. He has a 98-mph heater with a full assortment of breaking stuff, including a tremendous changeup. He’s ninth in MLB in WHIP and sixth in ERA this month.

2. Alec Mills, Cubs, RHP (1.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)
His no-hitter against the Brewers on Sunday shined a brighter light on what was already one of the best stories of the year. Better yet, the 28-year-old is performing so well that he surely is under consideration to get the No. 3 spot in the postseason rotation behind Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish.

3. DJ Stewart, Orioles, RF (1.476 OPS, 6 HR)
The Orioles are quickly putting building blocks in place, including this 26-year-old 2015 first-round Draft pick. He was summoned back to the big leagues on Sept. 1 and has taken off. He’s leading MLB in OPS this month and is tied for second in home runs, alongside Ozuna and Acuña.

4. Donovan Solano, Giants, 2B (.410 BA, 5 2B)
His breakthrough season came at 32 with his fifth organization. He’s hitting .410 this month and helping the Giants chase down a playoff spot while establishing himself as one of the NL’s steadiest offensive players.

5. Alec Bohm, Phillies, 3B (.356 BA, 5 2B)
After Bohm was called up on Aug. 13, he’s now hitting .356 in September and reminding us that hot prospects sometimes turn out be every bit as good as advertised. The 24-year-old is a big reason the Phillies have won 14 of their last 23 and are making a serious postseason push.

6. Ian Anderson, Braves, RHP (1.69 ERA, 1.06 WHIP)
It’s one thing to boast about a team’s young pitching depth. It’s another to see it pay off at the most important time of the year. Anderson’s seven shutout innings against the Nationals on Saturday -- his third quality start in four games since being called up in late August -- helped keep the Braves atop the NL East.

7. Randy Arozarena, Rays, OF (.333 BA, 4 HR)
The Rays lead the world in under-the-radar acquisitions that end up being major contributors to postseason teams. Arozarena, 25, was acquired in the trade that brought Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay last January. He began the season on the COVID-19-related injured list, but since being called up, has four homers in nine games this month.