2019 Rule 5 Draft Preview: Who the White Sox Could Add, Lose

Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings are underway in San Diego, California and the hot stove is scorching as teams have been announcing trades and signings. The festival of roster building ends on Thursday, December 12th as decision makers turn in their key cards and begin their treks home.

But front office personnel generally 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 Pacific Time. Unlike last year when the White Sox were in full-on rebuilding mode, the Sox are trying to win now and into the future. It will be curious to see if that alters their approach to the Rule 5 Draft.

The Rule 4, also known as the 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 four or five-plus 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 and catcher Yermin Mercedes in 2018.

Narvaez was a solid contributor for the White Sox and netted them reliever Alex Colome in a trade last off-season. Mercedes was added to the White Sox’s 40-man roster recently and Baseball America’s JJ Cooper published the details of that “feel good” story.  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

The White Sox don’t really have any obvious candidates who could be perceived as at risk to be selected in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Right-handed reliever Matt Foster and catcher Yermin Mercedes may have been poached during this process, but the organization protected them somewhat surprisingly.

There are two 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 two players to focus on are:

Alec Hansen is still ranked among the top 30 White Sox prospects for multiple publications, but some of his prospect luster has definitely worn off. Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts back in 2017. His fastball sat in the mid 90’s with a 12-6 curveball and a hard slider. Repeating his delivery and matching the early success has been an issue since, however. The 6’7″ 235-pounder posted a 2.93 ERA during that stellar campaign, although the former 2nd round pick out of Oklahoma has deployed deteriorating stuff and command since.

To begin 2019, Hansen had some initial success moving to the bullpen with the Winston-Salem Dash in the Carolina League. The 25-year-old posted a 2.13 ERA with a 1.72 FIP while averaging close to 15 K/9 and looked like he could be regaining some of his old form.

Then he crashed and burned in the Southern League. Hansen posted a 5.62 FIP in nearly 40 innings with the Barons. He still averaged over 10 K/9 but walked over eight hitters per nine as well.

A rebuilding club that was high on Alec Hansen in the past could take a chance and invite him to spring training with the major league club. It seems unlikely that the large right hander’s command issues would allow him to remain on a 40-man roster for any team at this point, but stranger things have happened in past Rule 5 Drafts.

The other pitcher who could have an outside shot at getting selected in Thursday’s draft is righty Zach Thompson. The 6’7″ 230 pound Thompson was on display for all 30 clubs in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft and wasn’t selected.

The 2014 5th round pick still incorporates heavy and hard stuff that’s ticked up since his move to the bullpen in 2018. Thompson is also benefitting from improved command out of the pen after posting a 2.9 BB/9 last year, which is nearly a full point better than his career average. Overall, he posted a 5.50 ERA in 70.1 innings in the heavily inflated offensive environment of the International League.

The peripherals on Thompson weren’t as negative as the increasing earned run average, though. The 26-year-old averaged a clean 10 K/9 and posted a respectable 4.03 xFIP in Triple-A. He managed a 1.30 ERA across 40 innings for the Barons of Double-A back in 2018, as well.

Thompson could be an option for a club in the Rule 5 Draft once again. If a team believes in his arm, he could be hidden in low leverage roles in a big league bullpen. Similar to last year, however, there are many relief options available with more upside than Thompson possesses.

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.

Players The White Sox Might Pick

The Pale Hose 40-man roster currently sits at 38 players (that includes recently acquired Tayron Guerrero and Nomar Mazara). With the club shifting away from rebuilding mode, the Rule 5 Draft presents an opportunity to pick up some talent on the cheap, even if it’s just to compete for a spot in spring training. 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 on the pitching front. Out of 38 spots currently filled on the 40-man roster, 22 are occupied by pitchers. A club has never had too much pitching before and obvious roster space is available.

The White Sox have holes in their starting rotation, but a bullpen piece would be more likely to add than a starter. The Rule 5 Draft is usually filled with back-end starting pitchers and fireballers who lack command out of the bullpen. There’s a small chance that the organization could gamble on a position player as well but it seems like a long shot currently.

The White Sox selected right handed pitcher Dylan Covey from the Oakland Athletics in 2016 and he’s still on the roster. They’ve traded their Rule 5 selection to the Texas Rangers the last two years and trading the pick for cash could always be possible again this year.

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:

  • Lake Bachar RHP San Diego Padres: 24-year-old that was a 5th round pick of the Padres in 2016. The former football player posted a 3.98 ERA over 126.2 innings for San Diego’s AA affiliate in Amarillo last season. He’s been starting but his low 90’s fastball and above average slider should improve in the bullpen in shortened stints.
  • Joe Barlow RHP Texas Rangers: 24-year-old 11th rounder from the 2016 draft class. He was excellent with over 15 K/9 in Double-A in 2019, but struggled with an ERA over 8.00 in Triple-A. Barlow averaged 11 K/9 but walked almost as many. Great stuff that profiles in the back end of a bullpen is present if his control can just be harnessed.
  • Thomas Burrows LHP Atlanta Braves: 25-year-old southpaw who posted a 4.46 FIP in Triple-A last year. Burrows possesses an average fastball but his slider is his best pitch. He dominates lefties but could be hurt by the new “3 batter minimum” rule that will be implemented in 2020. This is the type of guy who generally gets plucked in the Rule 5 Draft.
  • Oscar De La Cruz RHP Chicago Cubs: 24-year-old righty signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2012. His once high ceiling is significantly lowered now after injuries and his stuff backing up some. He moved to the bullpen in July and still shows a plus fastball/curveball combination. He struck out 49 batters in 37 1/3 in relief.
  • Jordan Guerrero RHP San Diego Padres: 23-year-old was a 6th round pick in the 2015 draft. Guerrero is huge (6’5″-296 pounds) and held right handed hitters to a .188 average last year. He possesses a fastball in the 97-100 mph range with a hard slider. In 52.2 innings in Advanced A last year, Guerrero posted a 2.05 ERA.
  • Yohan Ramirez RHP Houston Astros: Another 24-year-old righty. His fastball sits 94-97 mph and hits 99 occasionally. He made it to AA Corpus Christi this past season. He also throws a low-80’s curveball that flashes above average. Ramirez was death on righties but struggled with command (7.9 BB/9) and struck out plenty (13.5 K/9).
  • Cody Sedlock RHP Baltimore Orioles: 24-year-old was a 1st round pick out of the University of Illinois in 2016. He has an injury history including Thoracic Outlet Syndrome back in 2018. He mixes four pitches and doesn’t have the stuff he possessed in college. Sedlock posted a 3.71 ERA in 34 innings in Double-A in 2019.
  • Sterling Sharp RHP Washington Nationals: 24-year-old stands 6’3″ and 170 pounds. He posted a 2.59 FIP in Double-A. He has been used as a starter and missed almost three months with an oblique strain this past season. Sharp was on display for the other 29 clubs in the Arizona Fall League and is the most athletic pitcher in the National’s system.
  • Jordan Sheffield RHP Los Angeles Dodgers: 24-year-old former Commodore was the 36th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Sheffield posted a 3.58 ERA in Double-A over 37.2 innings. Jordan averaged 11.47 K/9 and 7.65 BB/9 last year. His stuff is superb and he sits around 98 mph with his fastball. He’s very inconsistent though and his struggles with command are pronounced.
  • Dauris Valdez RHP San Diego Padres: 24-year-old is a massive human (6’8″ 221 pounds). In 55.1 innings pitched in AA, Valdez posted a 4.23 ERA while averaging 11.06 K/9 and 4.55 BB/9. He throws 98-101 mph and his improved slider is 84-87 mph.

I don’t believe that the White Sox will select a position player in the Rule 5 Draft but there are a few interesting possibilities to keep an eye on in this year’s pool of available players. 

  • Buddy Reed OF San Diego Padres: 24-year-old center fielder who was the 48th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Buddy struggled at the plate for Double-A Amarillo. He hit .228/.310/.388 with a 94 wRC+. The 6’4″ 210 pounder is a premium athlete who can really run. Reed possesses plus defense and a plus arm in the outfield with a 70-grade run tool. He strikes out far too often but could get selected on Thursday due to the new 26-man rule. Reed profiles as a 4th outfielder with the ability to be a premiere base runner almost immediately.
  • Jose Rojas 2B/3B Los Angeles Angels: 26-year-old infielder that can really hit. At Triple-A Salt Lake in 2019, Rojas hit .292/.350/.502. Jose posted a 120 wRC+ with a .383 wOBA in addition to smacking 31 homers. The 6’0″ 200 pounder hits left handed but is a poor defender at multiple infield spots. His approach has been lauded and he provides “high-quality at-bats” at the dish. Rojas should go early on Thursday morning and play a decent role on a rebuilding club.
  • Eli White SS/OF Texas Rangers: White was an 11th round pick of the Athletics out of Clemson in 2016. The 25-year-old right handed hitter was traded to the Texas Rangers as part of the return package for Jurickson Profar last year. White posted a .388 OBP with a 132 wRC+ in Double-A with the Athletics organization. After joining the Rangers, he struggled in the inflated offensive environment in Triple-A. He hit just .253/.337/.418 with an 84 wRC+ but did punish 14 homers. The 6’2″ 175 pounder profiles as a major league utility man if he can improve his offensive output once again.

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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