Last September was a time for experimentation. Ryne Sandberg was an interim manager. He started infielder Cesar Hernandez 22 times in center field. He flipped Darin Ruf to right field for 11 starts and played him every day in various positions. He acclimated Cody Asche, a rookie third baseman, to the majors.
This September? The plan is muddled. The potential additions from the minors - with Maikel Franco the exception - are familiar names.
How Sandberg juggles veterans with the desire to see other players remains to be seen. He has installed a rotation in left field this month among Domonic Brown, Grady Sizemore, and Ruf. There are contracts, egos, and legacies to be considered.
"September could be a little tricky, too, with some added numbers," Sandberg said last week. "It'll be more challenging then. So . . ."
Is there benefit to seeing how a young player treats major-league games in September rather than Grapefruit League action next spring?
"Sometimes September is not the best time," Sandberg said, "but it's obviously better than spring training."
With the caveat that many of these players may not actually play, here is a look at candidates for September call-ups:
Maikel Franco, third base: The Phillies could have started Franco, 21, at double-A Reading this year and no one would have faulted them. Franco played just 69 games there last season. Instead, they were aggressive with the prospect and anticipated a significant adjustment. His .245 batting average and .684 OPS do not make a September promotion a slam dunk. But he was the only 21-year-old player to spend the entire season in the International League.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, righthander: The mystery man should make his major-league debut in September as a reliever. The Phillies paid $12 million for the Cuban import, and that was an investment for three years - one lost year does not yet ruin it. His command has wavered at triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his body has adjusted after the shift to relief. The 27-year-old has a 2.53 ERA in 102/3 innings for the IronPigs, with eight strikeouts and seven walks.
Freddy Galvis, infielder: He batted .048 in 16 games in the majors, so most fans have deemed his career over. But Galvis, 24, will always have a job because of his glove. And he has demonstrated an improved power stroke during his 33-game stint at triple A since returning from a fractured collarbone. He has a .781 OPS in 33 games at Lehigh Valley this year.
Cesar Hernandez, infielder: He represents another conundrum. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has flashed good on-base skills (an .896 OPS earned him a promotion to triple A), but the tryouts at third base and shortstop have been all but abandoned. Scouts love his bat. Is his future as an everyday player or a utility man?
Aaron Altherr, outfielder: When the Phillies needed a temporary outfield replacement, they twice turned to Altherr. He may not come in September because of the crowded outfield situation. (Grady Sizemore has started two of the team's last nine games, and it is worth wondering why he remains.) If this was about 2015, Altherr would be promoted. But his numbers (a .285 on-base percentage and .404 slugging) did not make the ideal jump in a hitter's park at Reading.
Luis Garcia, righthander: The 27-year-old has a 0.89 ERA in 35 games at triple-A Lehigh Valley and a 12.71 ERA in four major-league games.
Ethan Martin, righthander: Remember how Martin looked like a capable setup man last September? A shoulder injury sapped him of velocity and developmental time. Innings could be limited in the minors, so Martin could go to Florida for more regular work.
Cameron Rupp, catcher: This was an overwhelmingly disappointing season for Rupp, 25, who has struck out in 40 percent of his at-bats in triple A and batted .147 with a .534 OPS. He's the third catcher.
Phillippe Aumont and B.J. Rosenberg, righthanders: Both have big-league experience, but neither has performed well. Aumont has a 1.462 WHIP at triple A, while Rosenberg's is 1.895 with a 6.63 ERA. They could be headed home.
Hector Neris, righthander: He moved ahead of the aforementioned on the depth chart and impressed Sandberg in his one appearance. He has a 1.59 ERA in his last 10 appearances with Lehigh Valley. Expect him to return for a longer look.