Assessing the 2018 White Sox 40-man roster bubble

Lots of pitchers could be protected from the Rule 5 draft if the White Sox are in the mood for an overhaul

When assessing which White Sox prospects might get called up in September, 40-man roster status is a good place to start. If a player is on the 40-man, he’s obviously got the inside track.

In the next lane over are guys who are not yet on the 40-man, but are eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season. If they’re going to require a spot in November, the thinking goes, they may as well get a spot in September and give them the benefit of some reps, even if they’re likely to start the following season in the minors. Their first cup of coffee might turn out as ugly as Jace Fry‘s debut, but no options are burned in the filming of that episode.

Players who are a year or more away from Rule 5 eligibility can get the short shrift if the franchise doesn’t have immediate plans for them, and would rather use a spot on somebody for whom urgent attention is required.

Here’s a hypothetical example with two real relievers who spent the season between Birmingham and Charlotte.

ERA G IP H R ER HR BB K
Player A 1.81 37 44.2 36 10 9 1 16 55
Player B 2.42 35 48.1 32 15 13 3 24 48

Both players are having fine seasons, but all things being equal, Player A is more deserving. Yet it’s entirely possible that Player B could get the call instead. Let’s reveal our mystery men.

Player A: Ian Hamilton, who was selected out of Washington State in the 11th round of the 2016 draft.

Player B: Ryan Burr, who was drafted out of Arizona State in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.

Players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft if they were 19 or older when signed and have spent four seasons in the minors (if they’re younger than 19, it’s five seasons). If the Sox don’t want to risk losing Burr, they’ll have to add him to the 40-man roster by the mid-November deadline. Hamilton is still a year away from requiring some protection.

Summing it up, even though Hamilton may make a greater mark on the books when all is said and done, Burr could win this particular duel. Funny how history repeats.

Collecting the White Sox prospects worthy of consideration, we’re basically looking at college players selected in the 2015 draft, or high school players and international prospects signed in 2014. Here’s how it looks, assuming my counting is correct.

How many spots?

The White Sox currently have 38 players on their 40-man roster. That doesn’t include the suspended Welington Castillo right now, but it’s likely a net wash assuming he takes the third catcher spot away from Dustin Garneau.

The Sox also have a couple of impending free agents — James Shields and Hector Santiago — whose likely departures will free up a couple more roster spots after the season (or earlier, as Derek Holland will tell you). Danny Farquhar will be eligible for arbitration, but there aren’t a lot of situations like his. I could see him having to start his comeback on a minor-league contract, or I could see the White Sox wanting to see what he looks like in spring training.

If they need more than those spots, the 40-man roster still has a fair amount of fat. At first glance, players who could be outrighted without real risk:

Danish and Skole could hit free agency if outrighted, as Skole was a minor-league free agent last year, and Danish has been outrighted before. You can maybe even go deeper and rope in Charlie Tilson, but this should be enough for now. It’s a comparatively light year for a 40-man roster crunch, with the real wave coming in the following season.

Who can come aboard? Let’s start with the guys who need to.

The no-brainers

Kopech is a top-20 prospect and Cease is a top-50 prospect, so they’re automatic. The same can be said for Zavala, even if his first go-around in Charlotte suggests Triple-A is testing him.

The good news for the immediate future is that Kopech is the only one who warrants consideration for September (or August, or late July…). Cease is already well past his career high in innings, and the Sox have three rostered catchers for September.

Starting pitchers

While it seems like Adams has been around forever, he’s three years younger than the 25-year-old Stephens, so there’s that to consider. However, Stephens has far better peripherals and was considered a future reliever from the moment he was drafted, so he seems like somebody more worthy of protection than Adams, who has seen his walk rate spike in Charlotte as the lack of power on his pitches becomes evident. Jordan Guerrero is among the holdovers, but the Sox bypassed him when he had a better case last year.

Relief prospects

Medeiros is still starting, but he looks like a reliever with his current profile, and he’d certainly be selected as one. Considering he was the big return for the White Sox’ only tradeable player, it’d be a shock if the Sox didn’t have designs on protecting him.

The White Sox acquired Frare from the Yankees for less (international money they couldn’t spend), but he threw the ball well at Double-A Trenton, and he’s off to a fine start in Triple-A Charlotte, with 10 strikeouts to eight baserunners over 7⅔ innings. He’s a lefty who has held lefties to a .395 OPS this year thanks to some mid-90s sizzle, so you might see him in September.

Burr has a better case than his overall line, as it’s sandbagged by a tough May. He’s a fastball-slider guy who has allowed just two runs total (one earned) over his last 23 outings, the last five of which have been for Charlotte. He’s holding hitters to a .154/.241/.163 line between the levels. The 10 percent walk rate is the only blemish, but that’s come down as well over the last couple weeks.

If I’m understanding the rules right, Ruiz can become a minor-league free agent after the season. He’s been playing professionally since 2012, and he was on both the Padres’ and White Sox’ 40-man rosters after the Sox claimed him last season. He survived an outrighting to remain in the organization, but since this wraps up his seventh pro season, it looks like he can pursue other opportunities if the Sox don’t protect him. Either way, he warrants consideration, with 50 strikeouts to 13 walks over 38 innings over 28 appearances with the Barons after overpowering the Carolina League earlier in the year. Since impending minor-league free agents need to be protected earlier than typical four/five-year prospects, September could be a useful evaluation period, kinda like the Sox went about it with Rymer Liriano last year.

Position players

Unlike last year, the Sox don’t have any high-upside position players in the low minors that need protecting from a team like the 2017 Padres. Forbes has developed something of a hit tool this season in Winston-Salem, but nothing else about his game jumps out yet. Yrizarri got usurped by Laz Rivera as Winston-Salem’s shortstop, but he might have a future as a pitcher. Perez is the best of the Kannapolis catchers, which isn’t saying much.

Mendick might be the closest as a high-minors middle infielder with an array of skills. He’s hitting .249/.335/.405 with 13 homers, 47 walks and 79 strikeouts over 116 games. He also has 17 stolen bases, albeit in 27 attempts. It’s also worth noting that he’s hit 11 of his 13 homers away from Regions Field. The Sox didn’t protect Jake Peter last year, which caused some consternation, and Peter had a sounder offensive profile. The Sox could use his presence on the depth chart, but he might have a hard time overtaking Jose Rondon as the emergency option.

When the dust settles…

The Sox could have eight or so spots to play with after adding Kopech, Cease and Zavala, so they could theoretically also accommodate Stephens, Medeiros, Frare, Burr and Ruiz. There might be some redundancy, as both Medeiros and Frare would give the 40-man six left-handed relievers, but somebody like Luis Avilan can be traded for the second straight offseason.

One reason the Sox might not want to go overboard: The 2016 draft class has at least seven guys who look worthy of consideration over the course of 2019, and that doesn’t count Dane Dunning and Blake Rutherford. Another reason: There might not be much of a point on waiting on somebody like Hamilton. He and Burr have coexisted peacefully at two levels this year, so I don’t think why they couldn’t make a third work.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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PauliePaulie

This year’s 40 man crunch not nearly as pressing as I’d thought. Hopefully Rick uses next year’s seemingly more crowded list for Intl. Bonus $. Need to get back into that market in a big way.

NorthSideSouthSider

Thanks for the article Jim, I’ve been looking for this to be laid out somewhere. There is plenty of bad on the current 40-man that it doesn’t seem like they will lose anyone significant this winter. 

Otter

I would expect the Sox to add anyone on the bubble and, if need be, flip them next spring/summer for younger prospect(s) to ‘easy’ the 2019 crunch. While I doubt anyone would pick up Adams, losing him for nothing would be less than ideal and you could probably easily flip him next June/July for someone in A ball.

mikeyb

Well, at least this shows that Hahn won’t be able to use the potential of a 40-man roster crunch as an explanation for why Eloy didn’t come up this year.

Thanks for putting this together Jim. It’s one of the most interesting aspects of a rebuild to me during the offseason, and it takes a decent amount of work to pull together. Last year I tried to knock it out and it took much longer than expected (and I still missed a couple).

metasox

Jimenez is on the 40 man roster

mikeyb

Lol we’ll then this is even dumber.

Josh Nelson

metasox

Perhaps more relevant to considerations of the 25-man than the 40-man this offseason, but will be interesting to see what happens with Yolmer and Avi in their arb situations. For example, if the Sox don’t see Avi in their long term plans, does he end up a non-tender if no trade materializes before the deadline

35Shields

Yolmer will definitely be tendered. He’s only in his second arb year and under control through 2021.

Avi, on the other hand, is an interesting question. You have to imagine that his arb salary would be roughly $7m. Combine the price tag with only a single year of control remaining, injury troubles and a poor 2018 performance that’s making 2017 look more and more like a fluke and you can definitely see a potential non-tender.

35Shields

You’re probably right. I guess I’m just saying that the probability of someone like Yolmer being non-tendered is ~0.1% and the probability of Avi being non-tendered is maybe something like 20%.

I don’t think I’d say that non-tendering Avi is likely, but I also don’t think it would be improbable. Although, I’m not sure if it’s really worth debating probable non-tender decisions from the FO that non-tendered Flowers.

karkovice squad

When you put it like that, they’re obviously signing Machado.

gibby32

I agree. I might think differently if another one of their minor-league outfielders would be ready next year. Even then, Avi might be signed and traded. But the fact that Basabe, Rutherford, Gonzalez, Adolfo, Robert and others are not contributors until 2020 at the earliest puts Avi on the 2019 team. Great post, by the way, Jim. Many of us have had a sense of this issue without specifics. It’s good to get a better handle on it.

35Shields

You’re probably right, but I can’t imagine that Avi would trade for much at the deadline. Think of how little a half year of JD Martinez got back for Detroit. Then consider that no team would value Avi anywhere near that.

jose robcada

i think at this point the hope is that we tender him next year since none of the prospects will need his spot (eloy lf) and give him qualifying offer hoping he turns it down so we can possibly get a draft pick for it… if he accepts 1 more year of avi after 2019 isnt the end of the world as we wait for adolfo to take his spot sometime during that year

metasox

Would be perfectly reasonable to tender Yolmer for another season. Especially if he has a trade market, the Sox could see how the offseason roster shapes up and go from there. But I don’t know what his market value is. And if the Sox have someone else lined up to play 3B and if they want to carry 13 pitchers again, there won’t be many spots. I don’t think it is inconceivable the Sox conclude they don’t have room. Revisiting the notion of using him in the OF would help his versatility.

I could envision Avi sticking around just to make the Sox look more palatable next season. Even with the likelihood he moves on after.

PauliePaulie

I think they should look very hard at non-tndering Avi. But I see zero chance they do it.
Right Handed Daniel Palka is gonna get $10mil. Crazy.

35Shields

He’s probably going to end the season with hitting worse than .260 with less than 20 HRs and 50 RBIs and a WAR below 0.7

I can’t imagine that that season with the injuries added in gets him a $3m raise.

Trooper Galactus

Arbitration takes a player’s entire body of work into consideration, not just the preceding season, and also considers the comparative peanuts players earn in pre-arb.

karkovice squad

Career to date matters more in the first arb year. After that, the most recent season gets more consideration. His injuries will matter quite a bit.

Lurker Laura

Useful, thank you. Both you and James Fegan brought different takes, but same result: this year’s crunch isn’t as bad as I feared.

I won’t think about next year’s, because that will probably make my head hurt. And I just opted out of the service time argument on the other thread, so I’m avoiding headache-inducing things for the rest of the day.

sgp2204

Let’s just go ahead and get rid of everyone in the bullpen not named Fry. That’ll clear up some space for these relief prospects ASAP. Plus, they probably can’t be any worse than what we’re throwing out there currently. 

lil jimmy

Need to leave a spot open for when we sign Machado.

Trooper Galactus

Has Jones had right elbow surgery since he signed that contract? I didn’t think he had, but if his option is only $555,000 then he seems like a no-brainer to keep. But if his option is $4.65 million, I wonder if they’ll just give him the $1.25 million buyout and cut bait with him just to clear a spot on the 40-man and save a bit of money. I kind of assumed they would chance keeping him around for the potential of a good mid-season trade, but I hadn’t considered the roster crunch as a potential factor.