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The White Sox couldn’t risk losing Jake Burger after all.
The Sox had three prospects to consider protecting from the Rule 5 draft, and they added all three to the 40-man roster. Tyler Johnson and Gavin Sheets were the easier calls, because Johnson is only a couple good weeks of real competition away from getting a look in the White Sox bullpen, while Sheets was last seen holding his own at Double-A.
Burger, on the other hand, hasn’t played a pro game in three seasons thanks to two Achilles ruptures and related injuries, with the pandemic relegating him to collegiate summer ball over the past summer just to get some semblance of reps. Ideally, the White Sox would wait until he showed something in the minors to start what is essentially a three-year clock, but a highly aggressive tanking team could try stashing him on a 26-man roster for 90 days in 2021, then figure out how he might make up for lost time with the option years afterward.
The Sox may as well be that team, skipping past the awkward not-ready-for-majors-but-here-anyway stage. Depending on how the league regards 2020, Burger might be eligible for a fourth option if he doesn’t have five full seasons under his belt by the end of his third option year. Also, he turns 25 in April, so if he’s not on the cusp of sticking after his age-27 season, that’ll be an entirely different conversation altogether.
The White Sox had room for all three without maxing out their roster, so they took advantage of the extra space by claiming right-handed pitcher Emilio Vargas off waivers from the Diamondbacks.
Arizona had been the only organization Vargas knew, as he first pitched for its Dominican Summer League affiliate as a 16-year-old. Now 24, Vargas topped out at Double-A, posting a decent 3.86 ERA over 23 starts in the Southern League, albeit with lackluster peripherals (100 strikeouts, 16 homers over 121 innings).
Whenever a pitcher crosses paths with a White Sox affiliate, I wonder if there’s any performance against Birmingham that might’ve made impression on a talent evaluator. Sure enough, he threw his finest Double-A start against the Barons in August of 2018, striking out 10 while allowing just three hits over eight shutout innings.
2020 was a wash for Vargas, who was left out of the Diamondbacks’ player pool. A Baseball America story from 2018 describes his arsenal headlined by a high-spin fastball that plays faster than its 92-93 mph at the top of the zone. (The same story includes a Jeff Bajenaru sighting for us real fans.)
He also throws a slider and a changeup, the latter described thusly:
The Sox aren’t short on fringe right-handed starters in the high minors, as Vargas will join a cluster that includes Jimmy Lambert, Jonathan Stiever, and Dane Dunning if the Sox acquire enough depth to make him force his way into the picture. Perhaps the Sox see a Matt Foster profile in here, and more of those guys are welcome.
(Photo of Gavin Sheets by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)