Out of Options: White Sox Roster Prediction and Preview

In past years, the last days of March were the days the White Sox would sift through their options to fill out the end of the roster with players who can help the team win games with specific roles. Coming into 2017, the roster cuts are all about opportunity, opportunity cost and control. With the team in their first year of the quote-unquote-rebuild, the team’s focus is making assets out of unproven, younger players. The White Sox have a hoard of that type of player.

After reassigning Matt Purke and Cory Luebke to minor league camp Tuesday, the White Sox are down to 34 players in camp according to Scott Merkin of MLB.com. So the club has to cut 9 players before the April 3rd home opener.

We’ll look at remaining players in camp and their individual situations but first, I’ll start with my projection for the roster the club will head to Chicago with this Monday. Obviously the club has a handful of decisions they still have to make and the last few spots could shake out in a multitude of ways, but here’s my best guess.

Catchers (2):
Geovany Soto, Omar Narvaez
Infielders (6):
Jose Abreu, Tyler Saladino, Yolmer Sanchez, Tim Anderson, Todd Frazier, Matt Davidson
Outfielders (3):
Melky Cabrera, Avi Garcia, Jacob May
Utility (2):
Leury Garcia, Cody Asche

Rotation (5):
LHP Jose Quintana, RHP James Shields, LHP Derek Holland, RHP Miguel Gonzalez, RHP Dylan Covey

Relievers (7):
RHP David Robertson, RHP Nate Jones, LHP Dan Jennings, RHP Jake Petricka, RHP Zach Putnam, RHP Michael Ynoa, RHP Anthony Swarczak

Those who make the cut:

Yolmer Sanchez – The artist formerly known as Carlos seemed to be the direct beneficiary when Brett Lawrie was released earlier this spring. When considering that Sanchez is out of options, his roster spot only became more secure. Sanchez is a sure-handed, switch-hitting second baseman who has received varying opportunities with the White Sox throughout the last three years. He’ll get looks at 2B but expects to play second fiddle to Tyler Saladino at the position. Sanchez has had a great spring (.895 OPS in 54 ABs) and has played third base and shortstop when sharing the field with Saladino and Leury Garcia at points this spring. He figures to get a few starts at 2B a week and otherwise be the backup infielder and a late inning pinch runner.

Brian Bilek, FutureSox

Matt Davidson fixes his batting gloves in a Spring Training at bat in March of 2017. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

Matt Davidson – Another bat who is out of options, it became clear over the offseason that the White Sox are ready to give the 26-year-old an extended look with the big league club. A former top 100 prospect, Davidson has struggled since coming over to the White Sox in exchange for Addison Reed. His first two seasons in Charlotte were Mendoza line hugging offensives campaigns that came with the thump of two 20 HR seasons.

In 2016, Davidson had his best year in Charlotte cutting down his strikeouts and earned an opportunity with the Sox in June only to break his foot in his first appearance. Davidson will get looks at DH and likely 1B/3B with Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier probably getting starts at DH. If all goes well, Davidson could inherit 3B from Frazier, a position where he has made big strides defensively, assuming the veteran Frazier gets traded to a contender at some point in 2017.

Avi Garcia during pregame batting practice. (Brian Bilek, FutureSox).

Avi Garcia during pregame batting practice. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox).

Avi Garcia – Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the rebuild, Garcia looks to be the starting RF to start the year. Amazingly enough, the outfielder is still only 25-years-old and had lost nearly a whole year of development in 2014 when he fractured his shoulder. While he has struggled to provide consistent contributions offensively or defensively to this point, Garcia is set to have another chance to prove his fans in the front office right. Take it with a grain of salt, but Garcia came to camp with less weight and looks lean. While prospect luster has dulled, he is as physically imposing as he’s ever been. However, all he needs is results at this point.

Jacob May – Late Monday night, Comcast’s Dan Hayes reported the White Sox traded Peter Bourjos to Tampa Bay for cash. Pairing the Bourjos trade with the injury of recently-acquired Charlie Tilson and May will leave camp with a chance to prove himself at the big league level. The freshly-turned 25-year-old, May could find himself batting leadoff alongside his good friend and fellow 2013 draftee Tim Anderson.

Jacob May between innings of a Spring Training game. (Brian Bilek, 2017)

Jacob May between innings of a Spring Training game. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

In 2015, May was well on his way to an impressive campaign before a collision with Anderson left him concussed and shelved him for several weeks. Despite missing time and struggling with the lingering effects of the concussion, the White Sox pushed May to Charlotte in 2016 where he was sidelined with an oblique injury than only allowed him to play in 83 games. However, his spring has shown more of the same great defense in centerfield and a plate presence amounting to a .886 in OPS in his team leading 59 at bats. It wouldn’t be fair to expect that offensive play to continue, but a full season of health could bring May a long way.

May is a scantly-sized, switch-hitting centerfielder who can run like a gazelle in centerfield. His arm wouldn’t be good enough to cover right field but his range and instincts make him a plus defender in centerfield regardless. Offensively, he leaves some to be desired as far as power and on-base skills go. Scouts praise May’s makeup and instincts and some have said his mental game improve his chances of hanging in the big leagues.

Cody Asche watches the pitcher while serving as the team's DH (Brian Bilek, FutureSox).

Cody Asche watches the pitcher while serving as the team’s DH (Brian Bilek, FutureSox).

Cody Asche – As an invitee who signed with the White Sox on a minor league deal, Asche seemed to be a guy likely to be left off the roster as a result of his new teammates’ lack of options. However, the lack of left-handed bats and Asche’s punch-filled spring have put the White Sox in position where they would be hard-pressed to leave camp without him. The left-handed bat has a 1.204 OPS, 4 homers, 5 doubles and 10 walks in 50 plate appearances. If he does in fact crack the roster, he should split time with Davidson at DH.

Asche, 26, had spent his entire career with the Phillies and was floored when the team released him when they had a need for a left-handed bench bat. Primarily a third-baseman, Asche’s lack of defensive prowess probably leaves him out of consideration at the position with Frazier, Davdison and others better suited there. He could get looks in left field and perhaps right field but with a lack of defensive utility, Asche’s utility on the roster would be a result of his left-handed bat.

Leury Garcia catches his signs after reaching on a single. (Brian Bilek, FutureSox)

Leury Garcia catches his signs after reaching on a single. (Brian Bilek, FutureSox)

Leury Garcia – Coming into his fifth season with the big league club, Garcia represents another player who has greatly improved chances due to the fact that he is out of options. Garcia brings big time speed and adequate defense all around the field but has never been able to hit in any sort of fashion in the major leagues. Garcia sports a career slash line of .188/.225/.237 so it will not be difficult for the 26-year-old to make improvements at the plate. That being said, 2016 was Garcia’s most impressive campaign as a professional in Charlotte’s bandbox ballpark where he hit .313 and clubbed a career-high 6 home runs in just 84 games. With fans on the coaching staff, manager Ricky Renteria has a Swiss army knife of sorts to deploy in spurts in centerfield and at second base among other positions.

Dylan Covey – As a player who is not out of options, Covey still has his own control constraint as the White Sox sole Rule 5 draftee from the Winter Meetings in December. The White Sox purchased Covey from the Oakland A’s for $50,000 this past December and are required to keep him on the major league roster, barring injury, for the entirety of the 2017 season if they wish to retain Covey’s services. While they always have the option of outright trading for the young righthander, any transaction removing Covey from the MLB club’s roster would result in the A’s having the right to re-purchase Covey for $25,000.

Covey had struggled all spring and looked to be without a spot with the White Sox having a full rotation and options in the bullpen who profile better for that role. Then Carlos Rodon went down with a bicep injury. While General Manager Rick Hahn listed Tyler Danish and David Holmberg as other options for the fifth spot in the rotation, it seems very obvious that Covey will get the nod all things considered. Following up an otherwise awful spring, Covey threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Indians before gassing out and exiting in the fourth. This came on a day where the wind was blowing out of the yard with force.

Covey has never put together a full season that would catch the eyes of the statisticians and has struggled with injuries and diabetes throughout his career. Despite a fastball that gets up to 95 MPH, Covey plays as more of a finessing, ground-ball-oriented pitcher than a guy who will attack you with his stuff. He does back up a heavy fastball with a decent curveball. Starting with his selection as a Rule 5 draftee and then following up with Rodon’s injury, Covey has had a perfect turn of events to get an opportunity in Chicago. With the uncertainty surrounding Rodon’s injury, it’s unclear exactly what type of opportunity that Covey has inherited here. At the least, the 25-year-old will have a chance to try and keep hitters off balance as he tries to stretch out his arm in the early going of the 2017 season.

Michael Ynoa – Ynoa was the oft-forgotten piece in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Once the most expensive amateur international signing ever, Ynoa has been on the radar of the White Sox far before they were able to acquire him. The team has been very complementary of the reliever’s use of his array of pitches in shorter outings. After getting his first opportunity last year, Ynoa made the best of it striking out a batter an inning while posting a 3.00 ERA in a quiet 30 innings as the 2016 season dwindled. The reliever hasn’t had the best Spring Training by any means, but that’s not atypical for craftier pitchers in the bad pitching environment that is the Cactus League. He is by no means a lock for the roster, but as someone who is out of options and coming off a strong campaign, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see the righty break to Chicago with the big league club. If the White Sox opt to go another direction, Ynoa would likely be claimed by another club.

Anthony Swarzak – When the White Sox brought Swarzak aboard, he was a pretty typical non-roster invitee as a 31-year-old pitcher with a good deal of innings under his belt. However, since joining the club, he has made himself perhaps the most interesting non-roster invitee of the year. CSN’s Dan Hayes reports that Swarzak has been throwing as hard as he ever has – topping out at 97 MPH and averaging 95.75 MPH this spring. In this scenario, Swarzak and Ynoa would be grabbing the 24th and 25th roster spots so he’s not particularly safe but it seems a windfall of events has made a clear rational for his inclusion on the roster.

Swarzak, a former top pitching prospect of the Twins, has amassed nearly 500 innings over seven seasons in the last eight years. He flamed out as a starter, held a swing-man role for the Twins for years and has recently posted quietly impressive peripherals in short samples with the Indians and Yankees. This is a guy who has always thrown strikes and limited his free passes, but this is also a guy who has never thrown as hard as he is now. Assuming Covey takes the 5th spot, Swarzak offers an interesting play as a potential swing man who seems primed to have sharper stuff than we’ve seen from him in the past. Whether it’s an inning an outing, or a few innings an outing, there is a role for Swarzak on the White Sox if they feel so inclined to add him to the 40 man roster.

Odd men out:

Zack Burdi delivers home in a Spring Training game. (Brian Bilek, FutureSox)

Zack Burdi delivers home in a Spring Training game. (Brian Bilek, FutureSox)

Zack Burdi – Burdi, while still in camp, is a long shot to make the club. It’s a fair argument to say Burdi is one of the seven best relievers in the organization right now, but the inclusion of Burdi on the Opening Day roster would have service time ramifications that the White Sox would like to and will avoid. Burdi had been one of the best and most used pitchers in camp all spring but hit a rough patch this past weekend. He will head to Charlotte as the closer and could be up as early as the end of April. The White Sox do have the flexibility to take their time on Burdi and his development, but if he and his burgeoning stuff pick up where he left off last September, there may be no reason to.

Rymer Liriano – Once a prospect featured on top 100 prospect lists, Liriano has faced a few setbacks that put him in the position to be claimed on waivers by the White Sox. In order to make room for former White Sox Alexei Ramirez last January, the Padres designated Liriano for assignment and ended up trading Liriano to the Brewers who seemed to have an opportunity for the rightfielder.

Liriano watches a game from the dugout. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

Liriano watches a game from the dugout. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

Upon joining the Brewers in Spring Training last year, Liriano took a fastball to the face that resulted in multiple fractures. The injury caused him to miss the entire 2016 season.

As far as making the roster, Liriano’s prospects are very low. The White Sox have given Liriano plenty of opportunity this spring but the 25-year-old has struggled immensely to make contact. I suppose it’s possible the club would favor him over Cody Asche with a long term outlook, but Lirano’s development would not benefit from sitting on the bench. The White Sox would love to have him in Charlotte working everyday with their coaching staff, but it’s a tossup whether they could sneak him through waivers.

Nicky Delmonico – Delmonico’s presence at the plate has been one of the more encouraging storylines of the spring. Delmonico had been a mainstay in the Orioles top prospect rankings before they traded him to Milwaukee in 2013. The left-handed bat never found comfort in the Brewers organization and he left the organization abruptly within the year he spent with them. It wasn’t until last year that Delmonico really found his place with the White Sox. He started the year in Birmingham where he absolutely torched the Southern League to the tune of a 1.073 OPS in 159 plate appearances. Delmonico didn’t have the same success in Charlotte but routinely catches the eyes of surveying scouts.

Nick Delmonico before a Spring Training homer. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

Nick Delmonico before a Spring Training homer. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

The rub on Delmonico is a lack of position. He has played third base throughout his career but doesn’t seem to stay there in the future. Delmonico’s value is crucially dependent on his bat. If his beautiful left-handed swing produces at the plate moving forward Delmonico should get a stab at what figures to be a revolving door of White Sox designated hitters. Rick Hahn has praised Delmonico for his leadership and a strong makeup could go a long way as he tries to carve a niche for himself. Look for Charlotte to use him in a few different ways, hoping to find a future role for a bat that seems to have potential to play at the highest level.

Hayes gearing up for a fastball in a 2017 Spring Training Game.

Hayes gearing up for a fastball in a 2017 Spring Training Game.

Danny Hayes – Similar to Delmonico in some ways and different in others, Hayes is another left-handed bat who will likely be sent to Charlotte. He’s also another guy who has shown well at the plate in the spring as he leads the team in RBI and has posted a .381 OBP. A senior sign out of Oregon State, no one was surprised when Hayes hit in the lower levels. However, Hayes has kept getting on base as he made his way up to Charlotte in 2016. The toughest thing for the 26-year-old is that he plays first base so the offensive bar is much higher than it would be for others and Jose Abreu holds that position moving forward. If he torches the International League, he should get a chance as one of several options at DH this upcoming year.

Kevan Smith warming up Jose Quintana. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

Kevan Smith warming up Jose Quintana. (Brian Bilek/FutureSox)

Kevan Smith – Presumably taking the role as the third catcher, it seems Smith will start in AAA with Charlotte where he would split time with Alfredo Gonzalez and/or Roberto Pena. Smith, who got a late start to catching as a college quarterback at Pitt, has mostly been known for his offensive production with Chicago’s affiliates. In 2016, Smith struggled at the plate more than he ever has as a pro. Certainly some of that struggling was due to a back injury – an injury that scratched him from his Major League debut before it happened – but regardless, 2017 is a big year for Smith. With Geovany Soto likely getting added to the roster and being one of the Sox two catchers, Smith could play his way into a role with Soto having no long term role in Chicago.

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