Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings are underway in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the hot stove is scorching as teams have been announcing trades and signings. The festival of roster building ends on Thursday December, 13th as decision makers turn in their key cards and begin their treks home.
But front office personnel stick around to partake in that morning’s Rule 5 Draft prior to exiting. The draft takes place at 11am Central Time this year which prompts executives to get an early start while being on desert time. Unlike last year when the White Sox were in full-on rebuilding mode, the team might be looking to make a different splash this time around.
The Rule 4 First Year Player Draft in June is of course 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 (about 38 players at each of AAA and AA levels) 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 mild surprise when right-handed starter Spencer Adams wasn’t added to the 40-man roster at deadline time in order to ensure his protection from the Rule 5 Draft. Adams has been a fixture on top 30 prospect lists for the White Sox ever since he was drafted out of a Georgia high school in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. The lanky righty ranked as the #20 prospect in the system on our Midseason rankings and was #26 in the system according to the most recent update at MLBpipeline.com. The 6’3″ hurler burst onto the scene in 2014 with a 59/4 K/BB rate in his debut after being selected with the 44th pick. The 22-year-old was seen as an athletic, projectable innings eater with a loose repeatable delivery.
Spencer still repeats the delivery but struggles mightily against left-handed batters and doesn’t miss enough bats. In 68.2 innings in Birmingham this past season, he posted a 4.59 ERA with a 4.59 FIP but only averaged 6.9 K/9 with 2.6 BB/9. Adams was then promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and had some trouble to close out the year. With the Knights, he threw 90.1 innings and posted a 3.19 ERA. His 5.14 FIP was alarming though and his dip in strikeout rate (4.2 K/9) and increased walk rate (3.8 BB/9) could be reasons why he was left unprotected at this juncture. Adams has a typical 4-pitch mix with the fastball usually 92-94, generally heavy action and an array of off-speed pitches that lack a stand-out entrant. The lanky 22-year-old projects as a back end starter in the big leagues but he will need to miss more bats to be effective and probably needs more time to “cook” in the minors. A team could select him and throw him in a starting rotation if they believe that better times are coming for the young righty.
The 6’7″, 230 pound Thompson was on display for all 30 clubs pitching in the Arizona Fall League recently and he didn’t disappoint. His stuff was heavy and hard as it’s been since the White Sox moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2018. Zach Thompson was a former 5th round pick out of the University of Texas at Arlington and he spent three years as a starting pitcher in the system which is a typical practice used by the pitching development staff even if arms are projected as likely relievers later. The 25-year-old has always thrown hard but struggled with command as a starter and put up less than ideal walk rates consistently. He started to thrive in a bullpen role pitching for the High-A Winston-Salem Dash in 2018. Zach threw 35.1 innings with an ERA of 1.78 and a 2.71 FIP, averaged 9.2 K/9 with a career low walk rate of 2.8 BB/9. After earning an in-season promotion to Double-A Birmingham, the righty threw 40 innings of 1.30 ERA baseball. He averaged 9 K/9 but his walk rate ticked up to 4.1. Thompson could be an option for a team in the Rule-5 Draft because he could be hidden in low-leverage roles in a big league bullpen. There are many relievers with more upside available however and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Zach starting the year back in the White Sox organization.
25-year-old infielder Danny Mendick has long been a favorite of former Fangraphs‘ writer and current Toronto Blue Jays employee Carson Cistulli. As a featured member of the publication’s “Fringe Five” Mendick’s statistics were lauded and he was called “atypical of a 22nd round senior sign” by the then-writer. It will be interesting to find out whether or not he’s a Rule-5 option for Carson’s new employer. Mendick is a good defender at 2nd base and shortstop and possesses skills to control the strike zone. In 529 plate appearances in Birmingham, Danny hit .247/.346/.395 with 14 homers. He had a walk rate of close to 11% with a 111 wRC+ and a .148 ISO. He has pretty good power potential for a middle infielder and he slugged .468 with a wRC+ of 138 in the Carolina League (Advanced A) in 2017. It’s not likely that Mendick is plundered via the Rule-5 but anything is possible. If he remains in the organization, he should occupy one of the infield positions for the Knights in Charlotte next season, and if he has a Major League future it is likely in a utility role.
There are a handful of other players eligible who have some non-zero chance of being future big leaguers, but who are very unlikely to be selected in the Rule 5 as they are simply too far away development-wise without high enough ceilings to take that kind of big-dig risk. Here are a few of those names, not necessarily in order:
- RHP Danny Dopico – reliever has just one game at AA and lacks much command, but flashes filthy stuff when he’s on.
- RHP Luis Martinez – Tall righty who has appeared on some T30 White Sox lists with projection and potential, but he’s far from MLB-ready.
- LHP Jordan Guerrero – Eligible last year and went unselected and his 2018 didn’t exactly show a leap, but he’s a lefty with a plus change-up and AAA experience.
- INF Eddy Alvarez – Eddy showed some value on both sides of the ball in AAA in 2018 and could be a utility option for another team, though he is 28 now and has a limited ceiling.
- 3B Ti’Quan Forbes – Oozes athleticism and made big strides in 2018, but still quite raw and hasn’t been above A-ball.
- SS/2B Amado Nunez – This would be an extremely deep dive as Nunez hasn’t played above rookie ball, but he did explode in 2018 in the Pioneer League and has some fun tools to dream on.
Players The White Sox Might Pick
The Pale Hose 40-man roster currently sits at 38 players (that includes recently acquired Ivan Nova), 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 3rd in each round (or effectively higher depending on what teams ahead of them do). I’ve put together a list of players that may be of interest to the Sox on Thursday morning.
If the White Sox make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, it will likely be of the pitching variety. Out of the 38 spots currently filled on the 40-man roster, 21 are occupied by pitchers with a realistic shot at the opening day roster. The old adage that, “you can never have enough pitching” is particularly true in this case. The club also only has 3 of their 5 starting rotation spots filled to date. The White Sox could also look to add another reliever with high-octane stuff to their mix. The Rule 5 is usually loaded with back-end starter types and fire-balling relievers who lack command and this year is no different. There’s a chance that the White Sox could choose to gamble on a high-upside outfielder rather than going the pitching route but they seem pretty set in the middle infield. Similarly to last year, the front office could choose to decide to trade their pick which sits at #3 or they could trade for additional picks as well.
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:
- Tyler Jay LHP Minnesota Twins: It wasn’t a big secret at the time but the White Sox wanted to draft Tyler Jay back in 2015. At the time, as the closer at the University of Illinois, he was a highly regraded draft prospect and ended up going #6 overall to the Minnesota Twins. Jay possesses a four-pitch mix that looked like it could play in the starting rotation. The 24-year-old has moved back to his rightful home in the bullpen and posted a 4.30 FIP in AA last year. He has battled injuries and his slight build has proven to be an issue in longer stints. The southpaw still hits 94-96 mph with his fastball. His inconsistent slider flashes plus at times and he also throws a curveball and changeup. Jay had some success in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League and the Sox love plucking players from there historically. Tyler still has the upside to end up in the back-end of a big league bullpen and could be ready to do so fairly soon.
- Art Warren RHP Seattle Mariners: Art Warren has the “White Sox Troika” of throwing really hard, repeatability issues and AFL success. The 25-year-old is listed as the #19 overall prospect in the Seattle system according to mlbpipeline.com and he moved to relief in 2017 after being used as a starter in prior stints. In 15 innings in Double-A, the 6’3″ right-hander averaged 12.6 K/9 but produced staggering walk rates. The big righty has a 70-grade fastball to go along with a 55-grade slider and his stuff has generally played up in a relief role. He did spend some time on the disabled list while battling shoulder soreness last season. Warren throws an inconsistent curveball as well but his 98 mph heater with late life and hard-breaking slider are his primary offerings. He probably needs another half season to refine his command in Triple-A but he could be stashed in a big league bullpen for the 2019 season.
- Riley Ferrell RHP Houston Astros: Ferrell averaged 12.6 K/9 with a 1.90 ERA in Double-A for the Houston affiliate in 2018 before struggling some in 28 innings at Triple-A. Riley still struck out 10.9/9 IP but walked over 5 per nine. Listed as the #17 prospect in the Astros system according to pipeline, the 25-year-old was given an over-slot bonus of $1 million in the 3rd round back in 2015. The 6’2″, 200 pound right-hander has closer stuff with a 65-grade fastball and 60 slider that shows two-plane break but he’s very inconsistent. His 95-98 mph fastball shows late life but the righty struggles to command and control the zone. Ferrell should start the year knocking on the doorstep to the majors and should definitely be considered by clubs in the Rule 5 Draft.
- Josh Graham RHP Atlanta Braves: Graham is another 65 fastball reliever that also flashes an above-average slider. The right-hander was a 4th round pick out of the University of Oregon back in 2015 and was a converted catcher. With the history of catching, he throws heaters with a short-arm action that is a bit deceptive. Graham’s fastball reaches 98 mph but he struggles with command. He posted 41 strikeouts in 39.2 innings in Double-A but that came with an ERA of over 5. Josh throws really hard and possesses the Arizona Fall League pedigree that the White Sox crave.
- Breiling Eusebio LHP Colorado Rockies: The #19 overall prospect in the Colorado system according to mlbpipeline. The publication noted that he was “showing signs of developing a plus fastball and slider”. The 22-year-old was signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2013. Eusebio shows a fastball and curveball that are both above average and also throws a changeup. He has poor command but possesses a compact delivery that he repeats well. The southpaw underwent Tommy John Surgery and missed most of the 2018 season. He’s a candidate for the Rule-5 for a team that wants to manipulate the rules and stash him on the disabled list for much of the season. He profiles as a potential mid-rotation starter down the road.
- Tyler Alexander LHP Detroit Tigers: Alexander was a 2nd round pick out of TCU in 2015 and the lefty moved quickly through the Detroit system. The 24-year-old has great command of average stuff and he keeps the ball down in the zone when he’s going well. His fastball sits 88-93 and he relies on his changeup (something the Sox have focused on of late) as his best secondary offering. He’s cerebral on the mound and profiles as a back end starter. He’s listed as the #24 prospect in the Detroit system on the list at pipeline.
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 as well as a catcher and two infielders.
- Forrest Wall CF Toronto Blue Jays: Wall was the 35th overall pick in 2014 out of a Florida High School and was sent out as a second baseman in the Colorado system. The 23-year-old makes consistent contact and hits line drives to all fields. He has a below average arm and his plus speed is his carrying tool. He was acquired by the Blue Jays in a July trade this past season and hit .271/.354/.380 with a 108 wRC+ in 147 plate appearances. Wall averaged a 125 wRC+ in his time at High-A as well. He’s a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower and probably needs some time in Triple-A. The White Sox employed a starting centerfielder that posted a 68 wRC+ in the majors last year so while Wall may not be ready, he could definitely compete for a job.
- Richie Martin SS Oakland Athletics: Martin might be the #1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft. The 23-year-old former first rounder from the University of Florida battled injuries early in his professional career but he has since remained healthy. In 509 plate appearances at AA last year, the right-handed hitter slashed .300/.368/.439 with a 121 wRC+ and .361 wOBA and 6 homers. Richie was considered to be the top defensive shortstop in the 2015 draft class and he’s currently in the top 15 of the Athletics’ system for most publications. Martin is athletic, with great range and instincts and also possesses above-average speed. He also started to make harder contact in 2018. A shortstop isn’t a big need for the White Sox but Martin is likely to be selected by someone on Thursday.
- Kean Wong 2B Tampa Bay Rays: Wong is the brother of St. Louis infielder Kolten Wong. The 23-year-old was a 4th round pick of the Rays back in 2013 and has played primarily second base. The left-handed hitter can also play third base and outfield but his below average throwing arm hurts his value. He is big league ready and can hit however. Last season at Triple-A Durham, Wong hit .282/.345/.406 with a 112 wRC+ and 9 homers in 500 plate appearances. Kean did have a 20% strikeout rate as well. The Sox don’t need someone to play second but he could be a useful piece if they believe in the bat and think he can play in center on a consistent basis.
- Dom Nunez C Colorado Rockies: The backstop is ranked as the #27 prospect in the Colorado system. Nunez was an over-slot 6th rounder back in 2013 out of high school. The left-handed hitter struggled to a clip of 4-44 in the Arizona Fall League and makes too much soft contact. He has the raw power to hit 15 homers in a season though. He moved to catcher after being drafted as a middle infielder and the transition on the defensive side has gone well. He shows great quickness, soft hands, leadership skills and has been noted as a good receiver. In 2018 in Double-A, he posted an 87 wRC+ with 9 homers. The Sox need another catcher and will probably choose to add a veteran but Nunez is good enough defensively for the majors and could be one potential option.
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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