The Winter Meetings, currently underway, rightly get attention for all the hot stove action as teams start making big trades and signings. But the festival of roster machinations (built around the meetings’ stated purposes of conference sessions and front office job matching for teams at all levels) ends with the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place this year on Thursday, December 8th, at 8am Central Time. Given it’s now clear the White Sox are rebuilding, this event takes on a little more significance, both for who they might select and who they might lose.
While the June Rule 4 amateur draft is the big kid on the block, the Rule 5 professional draft is a much smaller but still consequential part of the talent acquisition picture for MLB clubs. Minor leaguers not on 40-man rosters who were signed either 4+ or 5+ years ago (depending on age at signing) are eligible to be selected by other clubs in the MLB phase, in exchange for a $100,000 price tag (was 50k, went up with the new CBA). The selected player must be kept on the active 25-man roster all the following season or risk being returned to the plundered club at half the price.
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 Sox did nab Peter Tago that way in 2014, and Omar Narvaez in 2013. Picks in this phase also doubled in price to now $24k. I won’t get into any predictions on the minor league phase in this article because the reserve lists aren’t published so we have no idea who is available on the Sox or any other team.
We will look here 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 two players in the system currently who stand out as the highest risk to be selected by another team. Remember that selection risk isn’t just about prospect status or future value – the roster restrictions for picks means that teams must see a reasonable chance that the selected player could be kept on their active roster for a full season. The two players to focus on are:
It was a mild surprise that Lamb wasn’t added to the Sox 40-man roster in time to be protected. The lefty was acquired in exchange for RHP Myles Jaye last offseason, and as Jaye was a legitimate prospect, the team clearly saw something to like in Lamb. The 6’6″ southpaw spent 2016 in the hitter-friendly environment of AAA Charlotte, where he excelled in the role he’s likely destined for – LOOGY time. Left-handed batters posted an anemic .161/.277/.250 line against him, and he allowed just one home run in 65 LHB faced despite pitching in a band box. Lamb will be 26 years old for the 2017 season, and teams are always looking for lefty relief help.
Nicky Delmonico is not as much of a draft risk as Lamb, but he does present an interesting potential pick. A former top prospect who’s star faded early in his pro career, Delmonico came to the Sox in the 2014-2015 offseason after essentially going AWOL from the Brewers. After a lackluster 2015, Nick exploded in AA to open 2016 (.338/.397/.676, 10 HR in 38 games) and was promoted to AAA. He struggled in Charlotte with a minor injury, but when he returned to health he finished the season posting an .843 OPS in August and September. While he does not excel defensively anywhere, he played at first, third and right field in 2016 to give him a flexible profile. A rebuilding team could take a gamble here on potential, using him as a bench player and pinch hitter as he adjust to the majors. He’s still on the young side too, and will open 2017 at 24 years old.
Beyond those two, there are about 30 other players who are theoretically eligible, but for most of them the risk of being selected is virtually zero. That said, here are a few other names who’s chances are non-zero but still quite low:
- LHP Jordan Guerrero (legit prospect but struggled in aggressive AA assignment last year)
- RHP Nolan Sanburn (two pitches that flash plus, but erratic and unclear role, never above AA)
- RHP Robin Leyer (throws near 100, but lacks a reliable secondary pitch, hit hard in AA)
- OF Courtney Hawkins (everyone knows the story here – maybe someone thinks they can fix him)
- OF Hunter Jones (strong defensive OF all slots, plus speed, but barely reached AA)
Players the White Sox might pick
The South Siders’ 40-man roster currently sits at 38, pending any further trades or signings (Chris Sale came off the 40, but Yoan Moncada is now on it – same with Adam Eaton departing, and Lucas Giolito arriving). With the club in rebuilding mode, the Rule 5 presents an opportunity to pick up some talent on the cheap. Using this Baseball America guide (behind paywall – if you don’t subscribe to BA you should) of top players of interest eligible for the draft and further sources around the prospect media world, I’ve put together a list of a few players who might be a good match for the Sox.
How do I interpret what a good match would be? This is based on the team’s current construction and an anticipated rebuild. My assumptions are that the team may deal one more starting pitcher, a reliever or two, possibly a 3B and/or 1B, and maybe in a long shot an outfielder. And they already need a catcher, center fielder and a reliever or two. I also look at what prospects the team already has that profile similarly to candidates eligible for the draft, because there isn’t much point in picking up a player when you have the same guy in-house.
Using that lens, I didn’t find a whole lot of eligible names that jumped out. Only three, in fact. But here are their cases anyway, as all three seem like real possibilities. NOTE: I haven’t seen any of the below players in person, so I am relying heavily on that BA article and other reports I find around the interwebs. Just wanted to ensure full disclosure here.
- RHP Drew Muren, ARZ: 28 years old and 6’6″, Muren toiled for 5 years as an outfielder in the minors, before going to indy ball and then converting to the mound in late 2015. In 2016 he went A, A+ and briefly AAA, striking out 13.4 batters per 9 innings combined. He throws in the high 90’s and has touched 100 with his fastball. Command though, and his secondary repertoire, are “primitive” (using the word J.J. Cooper chose), not surprising for a guy who’s been pitching for all of a year. You can’t teach that kind of velocity, he obviously has the athleticism you want for a conversion (he handled the outfield as a pro despite being 6’6″), and he might profile as a Coop Will Fix Him special.
- RHP Zack Weiss, CIN: The White Sox do like players named Zack/Zach. More importantly though, Weiss was at the end of 2015 a ranked prospect in the Reds organization (around 20th, depending on who’s list you look at). He reached AA in 2015 and dominated there statistically, he has a plus fastball and two different offspeed pitches that you can find plus reports on. Alas, he struggled with a lingering elbow injury during 2016, though reports are that he’s healthy again now. He’s a risk, but seems like it might be worth a $50k buy-in if you are filling out a bullpen on a team who doesn’t need a shut-down back end right away.
- OF Jake Cave, NYY: Cave was selected as the 2nd pick in last year’s Rule 5 draft, and now he has a year of AA & AAA time under his belt with some success. It’s a little surprising the Reds elected not to protect him. The current options for the White Sox in CF aren’t great (Charlie Tilson if healthy would be the starter today), their backup OF would likely be Jason Coats, and then there is Rymer Liriano. Cave is an above average defender at all three outfield slots, has hit pretty well all the way up the ladder, and provides speed. He was the 14th ranked prospect in the Yankees organization to open the year.
We will of course cover the Rule 5, tweeting out any White Sox activity, and posting a recap of any Sox-related selections in either direction.
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