PHILADELPHIA -- It was the first day of September in 2005, and the Phillies remained in hot pursuit of the first-place Braves. As clubs do every season when the rosters expand, the Phils promoted a few lesser-known players from their farm system to bolster their big league roster.
One particular September callup, a former Rule 5 Draft pick, made the most of his time with the club. By the middle of the next season, he was a starter. A few years later, he had a World Series ring and two All-Star Game appearances on his resume. That player was Shane Victorino, the now former Phillies center fielder.
In a little more than three weeks, the Phils will get the chance to see how several of their younger players look in red pinstripes. This season is probably as good a time as any to give players a month-long audition, because there will not be the pressure of a pennant race.
The Phillies have nine players on their 40-man roster who are not with the big league club or on the disabled list. All but outfield prospect Tyson Gillies are with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, giving at least most of those eight a solid shot at getting a September nod.
The most intriguing of those prospects may be right-hander Phillippe Aumont, a 2007 first-round Draft pick and a big part of the return package the Phils received when they traded Cliff Lee to the Mariners in December 2009. Aumont, 23, stands an imposing 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, and he has what assistant general manager Benny Looper calls a "power arm."
Projecting as a late-inning reliever, Aumont owns two Major League-ready pitches, in his fastball, which regularly hits 95 or 96 mph, and his curveball. He also throws a splitter.
Aumont is 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA and 13 saves for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He's got great stuff, but the Phillies would like him to be more consistent with his command. He's recorded 53 strikeouts, but also issued 32 walks.
"His mound presence has improved," said Looper, who is in charge of player personnel. "He's a great competitor. But a lot of times, those long-limbed guys, it takes them a little longer to be able to repeat the delivery, and that's what Phillippe [is] working on. But he's definitely got two out pitches that'll work in the big leagues. We're happy with his progress. Certainly in his case, he's going to be at the big leagues at some point."
"You walk in on certain nights and Phillippe [Aumont] will show you stuff that will dominate [at] the Major League level," said director of player development Joe Jordan. "And even on nights that he doesn't execute and command the baseball, most nights he'll still show you that type of stuff."
The fact that Aumont is on the 40-man roster makes him a solid candidate for a September promotion. Right-hander Tyler Cloyd, one of his IronPigs teammates, is not on the 40-man roster, so the Phillies would have to add him first. As of Thursday morning, the Phils had three open spots on their 40-man roster.
Cloyd, 25, has caught fans' attention with his 11-1 record and International League-leading 2.12 ERA in 19 starts.
He's definitely made his case.
"I don't know that I've seen very many guys go through the course of a year at an upper level and execute and have the type of the year he's had," Jordan said. "There are certain types of pitchers who kind of have to prove it level to level. And he's almost run out of levels."
Before this season, Cloyd, an 18th-round Draft pick in 2008, was not considered a highly rated prospect. That's likely because his fastball reaches only 85 to 89 mph. Looper said Cloyd has recently added a cutter to his repertoire, which he relies upon and commands well.
As Looper often tells young pitchers: "A radar gun will get you drafted, but getting people out will get you promoted. There's a lot of examples of guys that weren't flamethrowers but know how to pitch."
Cloyd could finally get his chance in September, if not sooner.
Another candidate is right-hander Justin De Fratus, who was a September callup a season ago. De Fratus, who projects as a late-inning setup man, is described as having a live fastball and slider. The only thing that might hold him back is that he only recently returned from a long-term elbow injury. He is 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA and two saves in nine games with Lehigh Valley.
Triple-A position players on the 40-man roster include second baseman Cesar Hernandez and catcher Sebastian Valle. However, because both were in Double-A Reading until just last week, they might not be ready to make their Major League debuts this fall.
Hernandez, a switch-hitting 22-year-old from Venezuela, hit .304 in 103 games in Double-A and is hitting .296 through six games with the IronPigs. His promotion has given him the chance to work with Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman.
Valle, also 22, is the Phillies' top-ranked catching prospect at the Triple-A level. His bat is a little ahead of his defense behind the plate, but Looper said Valle's catching skills have been improving. If Carlos Ruiz has not yet returned from the DL in September and the Phils want a third catcher with the big league club, Valle could be their guy.
Infielder Hector Luna and left-handed relievers Joe Savery and Jake Diekman could also return to the Phillies next month to provide depth. Savery and Diekman were both sent down last week to work on command.
Whoever the Phillies bring up for a September audition has the chance to not only gain immeasurable Major League experience, but also put himself on solid footing leading into Spring Training next year.