White Sox prospects who are unprotected for the 2016 Rule 5 Draft

Friday, November 18th is the deadline for players to be placed on the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. The White Sox currently have 27 minor leaguers who will be eligible for the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, including 4 of the Top 30 Prospects from our July list and a handful of other notable names. Players are eligible to be selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft (which will occur on December 8th) if they are not on the 40-man roster, and either A) approaching their 4th Rule 5 draft since signing at age 19 or older, or B) approaching their 5th if signed at 18 or younger.

It is important to note that risk of being drafted is not solely about how good a player is or will be. A team that selects a player in the Rule 5 pays $50,000 to the originating team, and then has to keep that player on their active 25-man roster all the following season, or risk having to sell them back for $25,000. So selection is also about how “ready” for the majors a player is, along with team needs and other factors.

The White Sox 40-man roster currently stands at 38, so there are already 2 open slots. And there are some players who could be designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man roster with little risk, such as:

  • Brandon Brennan, who struggled in his first shot at AA last year and is no risk to be selected
  • Juan Minaya, who has major league experience but doesn’t seem to be in the White Sox plans for the future
  • Matt Purke (see Juan Minaya)

Now let’s look at the prospects who are exposed to the draft as of today, and would need to be added to the 40-man roster prior to the draft to be protected from it (with their ending team from 2016)…

Significant risk to be claimed

There are four players who, if left unprotected, have some significant risk of being claimed. The one who may be closest to MLB-ready is Will Lamb, who shut down left-handed batters in AAA this year to the tune of a .161/.277/.250 line against him with just one home run allowed despite pitching in a homer-friendly home ballpark. The White Sox didn’t call him up for September (which was somewhat of a surprise), but they traded a semi-significant prospect away (Myles Jaye) to get him. Lefty specialists are always in demand, especially in the Rule 5.

Nicky Delmonico is a bit of an enigma. He’s a former top prospect who struggled to live up to the hype, but opened 2016 with a big offensive output in AA Birmingham. He was promoted to AAA and missed some time to injury, but finished August and September with an .843 OPS to get back on track. The White Sox had him play a few different positions in 2016 (1B, 3B, RF) in order to give him more options for Chicago if needed, which didn’t play out but now makes him more of a risk to be selected. He’s a gamble to be sure, but a rebuilding club might take a flier on him as a bench bat.

Then there are the two speedy outfielders, Engel and May. Both probably need another year to be truly MLB-ready with the bat, but they aren’t far off. What they do both right now is plus speed (perhaps even plus-plus for Engel), and true natural CF defense. May adds some advanced bat to ball feel, while Engel adds a little power and a strong arm. A team looking for a 4th outfielder to play plus defense and pinch run, while taking a gamble on some possible offensive projection later, might nibble.

Low but non-zero risk of being claimed

Not coincidentally, three of these four players are currently participating in the Arizona Fall League, where the team is using the extended look at them to decide whether or not they should be protected. Goldberg is the lone name who is not in the AFL, and while he’s got a limited ceiling, what he also has are a mid-90’s fastball and nearly a full season showing he could tamp down AAA hitters pretty effectively.

Among the three AFL arms here, Tago is likely the highest claim risk but is also technically a minor league free agent. That means he can sign anywhere he wants right now, but whomever does sign him will need to put him on the 40-man roster (unless he signs after the Rule 5). Tago came to the Sox via the Rule 5 to begin with, though in the minor league phase. Turner and Sanburn carry some intrigue and could perhaps be hidden in the back of a bullpen, though such a gambit only rarely is attempted.

Everyone else who is eligible, but aren’t going anywhere

These players are simply not legitimate risks to be picked. Most are a year or more from being MLB-ready, and none are high end prospects. Only Guerrero and Hawkins among these names have made our Top 30 Prospects lists in the past year or two, and even if a team sees value in them, they won’t stunt their development by trying to hide them on a 25-man roster. So if either of them are added, it’s more of a nod and reward than any real protection needs.

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