Baseball's annual winter meetings have begun and the hot stove is simmering as teams have made trades and signings. The festival of roster building ends on Thursday December 14th (beginning at 9am ET) after the completion of the Rule 5 draft. Like last year, the White Sox are still in rebuilding mode and this event is a bit more significant because of their status.
The Rule 4 First Year Player Draft is notably a much bigger deal for front offices but the Rule 5 is still an important part of the talent procurement picture for major league clubs. Minor leaguers not protected on the 40-man rosters who were signed either 4+ or 5+ years ago (depending on signing age) are eligible to be selected by other clubs in the major league phase, in exchange for $100,000. The selected player must be kept on the active 25-man roster for the entire season or accrue 90 days of service if time is spent on the disabled list. If these stipulations aren't met, the chosen player must be offered back to their previous club for $50,000.
Note: There is also a minor league phase of the draft. Players not on the 40-man and not on their minor league reserve rosters are eligible to be picked in those rounds. The minor league phase rarely sees any legitimate prospects moved though the White Sox did use that method to swipe catcher Omar Narvaez in 2013. Picks in this phase cost $24K. The minor league reserve lists aren't published so we won't get into predictions for this phase.
We will look first at which White Sox minor leaguers are at risk of being swiped, then get into some players on other teams that the White Sox could target.
White Sox Players at Risk
There are three players in the system currently who stand out as the highest risk to be selected by another team. The selection risk isn't just about prospect status or future value because the roster restriction rules make it tough for teams to just stash a player with upside. The three players to focus on are:
It was a surprise that left-handed starter Jordan Guerrero wasn't added to the 40-man roster to ensure his protection. Guerrero has been a fixture on the White Sox top 30 prospects lists at numerous publications and was the #18 prospect in the system at our mid-season update here at FutureSox. Guerrero is crafty and has an excellent changeup. His fastball sits in the low 90's but his breaking pitches (now a slider and a curveball, with the cutter being dropped in 2017) are inconsistent. The 6'3 195 pound southpaw posted a 4.18 ERA in AA with the Barons last season but struggled in the second half. In 146.1 innings, the left-hander compiled 136 strikeouts with 45 walks and had a 2.91 FIP. Jordan was a 15th round pick of the Sox back in 2012. He profiles as a back-end starter but could realistically be kept in a major league bullpen for the majority of next season.
Jake Peter was another surprising omission at 40-man roster addition time. One week prior to the 40-man roster deadline, White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn mentioned Peter by name when referencing an under the radar prospect that could surprise next season. Many assumed that the versatile Creighton product would be protected. The left-handed hitter slashed .279/.344/.417 while playing at AA and AAA. Peter is 6'1" and 185 pounds and put up an .OPS of .856 while mashing 9 homers in 194 plate appearances for the Knights this past season. He played mostly 2B this year but also saw time in the OF and at DH, and in the last two years has played everywhere other than pitcher and catcher (he was also a part-time pitcher in college). Peter is a utility type that might be able to help a big league club, but his relative lack of experience at shortstop and only average speed could be reasons why he was left unprotected.
Connor Walsh was a 12th round pick out of the University of Cincinnati in 2014. He has pitched in the Arizona Fall League the last two seasons and really struggled there this year. The 6'2" righty struck out 50 hitters and walked 27 while compiling a 3.19 ERA in 42.1 innings for Birmingham this past year. Walsh struggles with his command and control at times and throws hard (typically mid-90's fastball) with a slingshot motion. It would be a bit of a surprise to see a team keep him in their big league plans all season but stranger things have happened. JJ Cooper of Baseball America releases an extensive Rule 5 Preview every year and he said this about Walsh, "his numbers aren't the sexiest, but he throws his fastball in the upper 90's and his curveball will flash plus". It will be interesting to see if a team is willing to ignore the hard-throwing right-hander's fall league struggles.
Players the White Sox Might Pick
The Pale Hose 40-man roster currently sits at 36 players, pending any trade additions or signings in the next couple days. With the club still in rebuilding mode, the Rule 5 draft presents an opportunity to pick up some talent on the cheap, especially since they are picking 4th in each round (or effectively higher depending on what teams ahead of the do). I've put together a list of players that may be of interest to the Sox on Thursday morning.
It's a fair assumption that the White Sox will target pitching of some variety in the Rule 5. Out of the 36 spots presently occupied on their 40-man roster, only 13 are filled by pitchers with a chance at cracking the opening day roster. There are 6 starters currently and that includes last year's Rule 5 selection Dylan Covey along with the rehabbing Carlos Rodon, with the latter unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. There are only 7 relief pitchers on the roster at this point as well. Pitching is usually aplenty in the Rule 5 with many back-end starter types and fire-balling relievers with command issues available. There's a chance that the Sox could choose to gamble on an outfielder or a catcher but they are probably set in the middle infield and on the corners. There are indications the Sox could even take two players in the Rule 5, which could happen with one in each round, or the possibility that the Sox could acquire pick slots from other teams.
Note: I haven't seen any of the players below in person and I'm relying heavily on Baseball America's Rule 5 Preview (it's behind a paywall but is always excellent so you should definitely subscribe) and other reports that were strewn across the internet. Here are the pitchers who seem to profile in such a way the Sox might take a shot:
- Burch Smith RHP Tampa Bay: The former Oklahoma product missed all of 2015 and 2016 while recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The big right-hander is 27 years old now and has had some serious arm issues but he profiles as a back-end starter or possible bullpen piece. The White Sox love players who have participated in the Arizona Fall League and they also got a good look at him while pitching for the Durham Bulls this season. In 16.1 innings, Burch had a 1.65 ERA while striking out 19 and walking 4. JJ Cooper of Baseball America notes that while in Durham and the AFL, Burch "sat 94-96 with his fastball, flashed a knee-buckling curve, and showed a swing and miss 79-81 mph changeup". His three pitch repertoire could interest the Sox.
- Cale Coshow RHP New York Yankees: Coshow was a 13th round pick of the Yankees out of Oklahoma Christian University back in 2013. He's another hard-throwing right-hander that is very imposing at 6'5", 270 pounds. He's big and strong and has a clean delivery. In 60 innings across AA/AAA last year, Coshow had a 3.75 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 24 walks. He has touched triple digits with his fastball and pairs that pitch with an above average slider. The White Sox frequently take chances on guys that throw as hard as Coshow does.
- Anyelo Gomez RHP New York Yankees: Gomez possesses an upper-90s's fastball with a 70-grade changeup and that arsenal allowed him to dart through the Yankee system in 2017 as a 24-year-old. The righty pitched at 4 levels last year while finally reaching Triple-A. The smallish fire-baller compiled 87 strikeouts while walking 21 and posting a 1.92 ERA in 70.1 innings. He could throw gas out of a major league bullpen this year and the White Sox have plenty of roster space.
- James Farris RHP Colorado: Posted a 3.59 ERA across AA and AAA in 2017 with 69 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 57.2 innings. His fastball sits 91-95 and he also possesses a change-up that has been graded out in national publications as solid-average. He was dominant in AA in the Rockies organization but struggled a bit in AAA. The White Sox have loved AFL players in the past (another theme that will repeat) but he really struggled this fall with an 11.57 ERA in 9.1 innings.
- Jimmy Cordero RHP Washington: You might be sensing a trend here but Cordero is another guy that throws really hard. The 26-year-old hits triple digits regularly and compliments with a swing-and-miss slider but he has really poor control. The 6'3" flamethrower struggled to the tune of a 6.84 ERA in 51 innings for Double-A Harrisburg. He did strikeout 13 hitters over 12 innings for the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL while posting a 1.50 ERA.
- J.P. Feyereisen RHP New York Yankees: The Yankees system is loaded with right-handed relievers that throw really hard, in case you hadn't noticed yet. Feyereisen will be 25 years old in February and was part of the trade that brought Andrew Miller to Cleveland. The righty throws upper 90's and displays an above average slider but lacks consistency. He pitched to a 3.27 ERA across the upper minors last year while striking out 60 and walking 29 in 63.1 innings. Also he's got a pretty cool name.
- Jacob Webb RHP Atlanta: Webb has bounced back nicely after missing the 2015 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had a 2.63 ERA since moving to the bullpen and had a 2.34 ERA with 74 strikeouts over 65.1 innings at High-A and AA in the Braves system. The 24-year-old has a fastball that reaches 97 mph but he struggles with control and walked 36 batters last year. He has trouble repeating his delivery and that specific problem is a Don Cooper special thus making him an interesting candidate for the White Sox 2018 bullpen (and the Don Cooper Center for Kids Who Throw Real Hard).
- Nestor Cortes LHP New York Yankees: Cortes made 30 minor league starts last season but could potentially be used as a piece out of the bullpen as well. The 5'11", 205 pound southpaw doesn't have otherworldly stuff but he attacks the zone "relentlessly" according to JJ Cooper and has been successful at every minor league stop. His fastball slots in at 87-93 mph and he changes speeds frequently while alternating arm angles. The 23-year-old also throws a curveball and a change. Cortes finished the year in AAA but posted a 2.06 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 104.2 innings across multiple levels of the Yankee system.
- Kohl Stewart RHP Minnesota: Stewart was the #4 pick in the draft out of a Texas high school in 2013. He is 23 years old and his fastball sits in the 94-96 mph range but has been described as "vanilla" in scouting circles. He has an inconsistent delivery and below average control and much of the prospect shine has worn off. Stewart had a 4.09 ERA in 77 innings at AA Chattanooga last season and struggled to miss bats while walking 45 and only striking out 52 hitters. I don't see Stewart as likely unless the Sox bet on his lofty draft status from 2013 but he was an interesting enough name to include on the list. The organization has gambled on high first rounders in the past.
- Nick Burdi RHP Minnesota: The flame-throwing righty from Downers Grove, Illinois is currently recovering from Tommy John Surgery but would be an interesting play for the White Sox on Thursday. Burdi, the brother of Sox prospect and 2016 first rounder Zack Burdi (who is also recovering from TJS), was a 2nd round pick by the Twins in 2014. The 24 year old was 2-0 with 0.53 ERA and a WHIP under 1 in 17 innings pitched for AA Chattanooga before going under the knife last season. His fastball sits 95-100 and he also throws a slider. This Burdi is 6'5" and weighs in at 220 pounds. If the Sox were to select him, he could spend the majority of the 2018 season on the DL while making up time late in the year and being carried on the opening day roster in 2019.
I don't believe that the White Sox will select a position player in the Rule 5 Draft but there is one interesting outfielder to keep an eye on and two catchers just in case...
- Franmil Reyes OF San Diego: Reyes is only 22 years old but he's a very imposing figure physically. The 6'5", 240 pound corner outfielder broke his hamate bone during the Arizona Fall League and the Padres left him unprotected. The large righty possesses 70-grade raw power and also has a feel for hitting. In 135 games for AA San Antonio, Reyes put up an .OPS of .785 and clubbed 25 homers.
- Max Pentecost C Toronto: Pentecost was the 11th overall pick of the 2014 draft out of Kennesaw State. Shoulder injuries have destroyed his promising career to this point but he did catch in the AFL recently. He hasn't played above A-ball in the Toronto system but he has enough bat to moonlight at 1B or DH as well. It's unlikely that any team will take a chance on Pentecost at this point but he's an interesting possibility due to his raw talent.
- Nick Ciuffo C Tampa Bay: This backstop was a 1st round pick of the Rays in 2013. He bats lefty and has developing power. At Double-A Montgomery, Ciuffo put up a .704 OPS in 417 plate appearances. He has an average arm and is a solid game caller based on reports we could find, but his weak footwork prevent him from being a plus defender.
Check back with FutureSox after the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning for reports on the newest members of the White Sox organization (as well as news on any players they may have lost).
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