For the Milwaukee Brewers and every team across Major League Baseball, roster depth is on the way.
Baseball is perhaps the only sport that dramatically alters its roster rules for a portion of the regular season: Once the calendar turns to September (around the time the minor league seasons wrap up) teams are allowed to bring any member of their 40-man roster onto the active roster, which had previously been limited to 25 players.
For teams in contention, September roster expansion gives them an opportunity to add a few needed pieces to their roster to strengthen themselves for the stretch run. For teams whose playoff hopes have already ended, September can be a time to get top prospects a taste of the big leagues and give their fans a glimpse of the future.
The Milwaukee Brewers have been the latter more often than the former over their history, and have given a total of 78 players an opportunity to make major league debut in September over the years. Here are some of the best:
Darrell Porter (1971)
The forth overall pick in the 1970 draft, the Brewers called Porter up to the majors in September 1971 despite the fact that he was only 19 years old and had never played above low-A ball. Porter had dominated the Midwest League that season, however, as he and teammate Gorman Thomas combined to crush 55 home runs for the now-defunct Danville Warriors.
The Brewers put Porter right into the starting lineup at catcher on September 2 of that season, and he went 0-for-3 in a game where the Brewers collected just one hit, but won anyway. Porter appeared in 22 games for the Brewers that September and batted .214 with a .300 on-base percentage and .329 slugging in 80 plate appearances before returning to the minors in 1972. He eventually made it to the big leagues for good in 1973.
Sixto Lezcano (1974)
A native of Puerto Rico, Lezcano was still only 20 years old but had played four professional seasons when the Brewers called the slugging outfielder to Milwaukee for the first time in 1974. He had crushed the Pacific Coast League with Sacramento that season, batting .325 with a .393 on-base percentage and .602 slugging, but those numbers could have been a bit deceiving: Sacramento had five players hit over 30 home runs that season, including the aforementioned Gorman Thomas’ 51.
Lezcano had three hits in his MLB debut on September 10 (a Brewers franchise record that still stands) and stuck in Milwaukee for the long term, winning a full-time role in the team in 1975 as a 21-year-old. He was with the Brewers through 1980, when he was sent to the Cardinals in the deal that brought Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers.
Jim Gantner (1976)
Gantner is the Brewers’ all-time leader in games played at second base, but he had never played a professional game at that position when he got the call to the majors for the first time in 1976. He was nearly exclusively a third baseman in the minors, spending 124 games there for the Berkshire (Massachusetts) Brewers of the AA Eastern League before getting invited to join the parent club.
Gantner had two hits in his MLB debut on September 3 of that season, but he was overshadowed by teammate Mike Hegan, who became the first Brewer ever to hit for the cycle. Gantner played in 26 stretch run games for the Brewers in 1976 and was back as a September callup again in 1977 before settling in as a full-time big leaguer in 1978 and staying in Milwaukee through 1992.
Gary Sheffield (1988)
The sixth overall pick in the 1986 draft, Sheffield’s tumultuous run in Milwaukee started with a late-season cup of coffee in 1988. He had quickly climbed the organizational ladder that season, starting the year with AA El Paso before playing 57 games with AAA Denver. He had a .974 OPS (on-base plus slugging) as a shortstop in those two hitter-friendly leagues.
Sheffield played in 24 games for the Brewers that September and slugged four home runs in just 80 at bats. He opened the 1989 season with the Brewers as a 20-year old and went on to make 294 appearances for Milwaukee before his career really took off following a trade to the Padres in 1992.
Cal Eldred (1991)
The number 16 overall pick in the 1989 draft, the Brewers wasted no time finding a heavy workload for a young righthander from the University of Iowa. He pitched 185 innings as a 23-year-old during the ’91 minor league season for AAA Denver before joining the Brewers for three more starts and 16 frames down the stretch.
Eldred went on to be a big part of the Brewers’ playoff chase in 1992, topping 100 innings (plus 141 more in the minors) with a 1.79 ERA. Unfortunately, he became the poster child for better management of pitchers’ workloads: He had eight of the 10 highest recorded pitch counts in franchise history before the end of the 1993 season (when he was still only 25) and eventually suffered a career-altering arm injury.
Jose Valentin (1992)
Valentin, then just 22 years old, was one of three players to join the organization in the aforementioned Sheffield deal. The Brewers sent him to AAA following the trade, where he played in 139 out of 144 games for Denver in the Pacific Coast League before getting his first call to the majors that September.
With the Brewers in a pennant race, Valentin didn’t get much playing time down the stretch: He appeared in just four games and got three at bats. His first MLB hit didn’t come until 1993, when he was also a September call-up. Valentin stuck in the big leagues for good in 1994 and spent six seasons with Milwaukee, where he’s the longest tenured switch-hitter in franchise history.
Mark Loretta (1995)
A seventh-round pick out of college in 1993, Loretta’s trademark strong hitting skills were already on display in the high minors in his second full professional season: He tied for second place in the AAA American Association with 137 hits, trailing only fellow future Brewer Brooks Kieschnick.
As a hitter, Loretta had a much better career than Kieschnick, however: His 19 games that September were the first of 1,726 across 15 MLB seasons. He collected 751 hits as a Brewer and later became a two-time All-Star with the Padres and Red Sox.
Rickie Weeks (2003)
A candidate to be considered the greatest collegiate hitter of all-time, the Brewers drafted Weeks second overall in the 2003 draft and brought him up to the big leagues for the first time later that same year, getting him into seven games on a team that lost 94 games and didn’t give fans much else to be excited about.
Weeks went just 2-for-12 that September, but also drew a walk and got hit by a pitch, the first of his franchise record 125 plunkings as a Brewer. He returned to the minors the following season and wasn’t back in the big leagues again until 2005, when he claimed a permanent role. Weeks’ 1,142 games as a Brewer are the tenth most in franchise history.
Nelson Cruz (2005)
Perhaps one of the greatest “what could have been” stories in franchise history, Cruz joined the Brewers by way of a trade before the 2004 season. He clubbed 27 home runs for the Brewers’ AA and AAA affiliates in Nashville and Huntsville, and earned an opportunity to make his big league debut in September.
Cruz, however, played in just seven games that September and they were his only Brewers’ appearances: He was sent along to the Rangers has part of the 2006 Carlos Lee trade. In 2009, he made the first of his six All-Star appearances. Cruz hit his 350th career home run this season.
Mike Fiers (2011)
One of the best Brewers underdog stories in recent memory, Fiers was a 22nd round pick who succeeded at every level of the minors despite below-average fastball velocity. His effectiveness eventually forced the Brewers to give him a shot. His first opportunity came in September of 2011, when he made a pair of scoreless appearances for the Brewers during their pennant race.
Fiers returned to the majors in 2012, making 22 starts for Milwaukee, and has been in the big leagues more or less ever since. The Brewers traded him to the Astros in 2015, where he promptly threw a no-hitter and went to the postseason with them that season. Fiers is now chasing a pennant again with Oakland.