White Sox Protect Seven Players in Advance of Rule 5 Draft

The 40-man roster of the Chicago White Sox stands at 40 players after the club added 7 prospects to the mix in advance of December's Rule 5 Draft. We released a primer earlier this month with details regarding the protection rules and Rule 5 ramifications for the current players in the system. Today, the White Sox decided who they couldn't risk losing.

The biggest surprise of the group is catcher Yermin Mercedes, who was originally acquired in the Triple-A phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft. Yermin is regarded as a poor defender behind the dish but he's done nothing but hit since becoming a member of the organization. The 26-year-old posted a 136 wRC+ with the Dash of Winston-Salem in 2018.

Last season, the right handed slugger managed a 157 wRC+ in Birmingham before finishing up his year with the Charlotte Knights of the International League. The 5'11" 225 pound Dominican hit 23 homers in Triple-A while posting a 150 wRC+ with a wOBA of .418. Mercedes played some first base and third base for the Knights late in the season in order to keep his hot bat in the lineup more consistently. There are real defensive concerns but this allows the White Sox more time as an organization to ponder a potential role moving forward.

Blake Rutherford was a 1st round pick of the New York Yankees out of a California high school back in 2016. The 22-year-old struggled with the Birmingham Barons in Double-A in 2019 after posting a 98 wRC+ with 7 homers and 50 RBI. The 6'2" 210 pound left-handed hitter did post a 120 wRC+ with the Dash in the Carolina League in 2018, however.

Rutherford will likely be relegated to an outfield corner and he needs to hit for more power, but it's not surprising that the organization would like a longer look at a guy with as much potential as he once oozed. With the 26-man roster being implemented in Major League Baseball for 2020, there was a definite scenario in which a rebuilding club could hide Rutherford on the roster for a full season. Whether it's in Double-A or Triple-A, this former top-100 prospect will get another chance to impress the decision makers in Chicago next year.

The protections on the pitching side weren't a surprise outside of the inclusion of reliever Matt Foster. Foster was a 20th round pick of the Sox back in 2016 out of Alabama. The 24-year-old righty breezed through the system and pitched well at both High-A and Double-A in 2018. In 55 innings with the Knights last year, Foster struck out just over 10 hitters per 9 innings and posted an ERA of 3.76. In the inflated offensive environment that was the International League, his 4.59 FIP and 4.58 xFIP were respectable numbers as well given the circumstances. The rest of the pitchers that were added to the roster had a very high likelihood of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Zack Burdi, Dane Dunning, Bernardo Flores and Jimmy Lambert were all drafted in 2016. Burdi, Dunning and Lambert would have had a chance to be selected due to the ability of teams to manipulate the rules with injured players. Dunning and Lambert are both working their way back from Tommy John Surgery.

The 24-year-old Dunning was a top-100 prospect in the sport at the time of his injury and he should be pitching at an affiliate by late summer. The former first rounder profiles as a mid-rotation starter and he posted a 2.76 ERA with a 2.40 FIP in 62 innings with the Birmingham Barons in 2018. He missed the 2019 season.

Lambert was selected out of Fresno State in the 5th round. The 25-year-old right hander really made a name for himself during the 2018 season and he possessed solid spin rates with an increase in velocity. Lambert posted a 4.55 ERA with a 2.73 FIP while averaging over 10 K/9 with the Barons before succumbing to the knife after 60 innings in 2019. He has recently started throwing and will hopefully join and affiliate late in 2020.

Flores is a 24-year-old southpaw who was drafted in the 7th round out of USC. He battled an oblique injury in 2019 but still posted a 2.93 xFIP with an increasing strikeout rate and decreased walk rate in 78.1 innings in the Southern League. Flores profiles as a back end starter and should be in the Knights' rotation with AAA Charlotte.

The White Sox selected Zack Burdi with a 1st round pick (26th overall) in 2016. The 6'3" 205 pound righty possessed an 80-grade fastball and a 70-grade power slider coming out of Louisville. He was touted as one of the very best relief pitching prospects in baseball upon arriving in the system.

The 24-year-old battled back from Tommy John Surgery this past season and was starting to get a feel for his former stuff when he went back on the shelf again. Burdi missed most of 2018 and a significant portion of 2019. He is recovered from elbow surgery and should be ready to take on a full workload in spring training after having ligaments in his patella repaired this past season. Burdi still profiles as a high leverage relief option barring health and should be given an opportunity to pitch in Chicago in 2020.

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