Jordan Stephens makes White Sox’ 40-man roster cut(Laura Wolff / Charlotte Knights)

Jordan Stephens makes White Sox’ 40-man roster cut

Process of protecting players from Rule 5 draft much more straightforward than last season

Last year, the San Diego Padres put a scare into the ordinarily predictable practice of protecting prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Their raid of A-ball players — and their unprecedented willingness to sink 25-man roster spots on them, production be damned — put some teams on the defensive.

The White Sox were one of them. Micker Adolfo and Luis Basabe wouldn’t have been protected in previous years, as neither looked to be in the conversation for September call-ups, much less Opening Day. Yet when it came time to keep prospects from being pirated, both got the call ahead of more traditional candidates like Jordan Guerrero and Jake Peter.

The Padres’ experiment didn’t bear fruit, and since they had their own 40-man crush to contend with, this year figured to be more normal. Consider that a relief, because while Adolfo and Basabe both improved their stock over this past season, it’d be nicer if they still had three full options remaining.

The White Sox had already played it pretty straightforward by making the bulk of their 40-man roster protections in late August and early September, leaving them only a handful of players to consider. Dylan Cease and Seby Zavala were gimmes, and Kodi Medeiros looked just as likely given how the Sox acquired him. The question was whether the line would be drawn in front of or behind Jordan Stephens, since the circumstances surrounding him could be interpreted either way.

On Tuesday, the Sox welcomed Stephens and the other three aboard. Waiting on standby are guys like Spencer Adams, Danny Mendick and Zach Thompson, all of whom have some selling points, but none of whom appear to have a clear path to MLB adequacy at the start of 2019, which is where the decision hinges. Adams comes the closest by virtue of his Triple-A experience, but the 38 walks to 42 strikeouts over 90 innings comprise peripherals that haven’t worked for 40 years.

Thompson had a nice Arizona Fall League, but with Stephens aboard, there are nine other right-handed relievers on the 40-man roster. They have a couple of rotation spots to plug and could use an outfielder who stands a chance at usurping Adam Engel, so it makes sense to leave a couple of 40-man spots open. They entered the day with 35 players and ended at 38 after Ian Clarkin was claimed by the Cubs.

* * *  * * *  * * *

Nobody loves the Rule 5 draft more than Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, who followed up his thorough 40-man preview with an initial list of the biggest initial omissions, as well as a summary of all the first-round picks left unprotected.

Reading that last article shows the White Sox could’ve done worse. The Marlins didn’t add Tyler Kolek — the pitcher selected a pick ahead of Carlos Rodon in 2014. Also, several of the pitchers drafted in the same first round as Carson Fulmer went unprotected, further marring what’s been a bruised and battered bunch.

4. Dillon Tate (protected by Orioles, his third organization)
6. Tyler Jay (unprotected by the Twins)
8. Fulmer
14. Kolby Allard
16. James Kaprielian (traded, protected in spite of injuries)
17. Brady Aiken (walked 101 batters in A-ball)
18. Phil Bickford (unprotected by Giants)
21. Ashe Russell (stepped away from baseball)
24. Walker Buehler
27. Mike Nikorak (had setbacks after Tommy John surgery)
28. Mike Soroka
29. Jon Harris (unprotected by Blue Jays)

And it doesn’t get any better in the supplemental round, either.

It’s easy to pile on Fulmer given that he was selected between Andrew Benintendi and Ian Happ, but his Vanderbilt teammate Buehler is the only collegiate pitcher who can be called a success. The other two survivors — Allard and Soroka — were both high school pitchers, and Soroka’s season ended in August after a shoulder strain.

Most teams that went with pitching in the first round of 2015 have moved on, or are in the process of writing it off. If Fulmer can shift into a successful relief career, the White Sox will be comparatively lucky. Here’s hoping Driveline helps him as much as it did Buehler.

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As for how those two open roster spots might be used, Nelson Cruz has stepped forward as the most persistent White Sox rumor of the young offseason.

Cruz could make sense for the White Sox at some point in the offseason, but not as the first item of business.

As for players rated more highly on everybody’s list, Mike Petriello of MLB.com investigated Bryce Harper’s plummeting defensive numbers and came away hopeful.

On those ‘easy’ plays, it seems Harper still has the skill to get to many of those balls. For whatever reason, the execution just wasn’t there in 2018. That was bad news for his defensive metrics. It might be good news if you’re a team hoping he’ll improve in the years to come. It doesn’t mean he’ll be great. It doesn’t mean he won’t be a first baseman at some point in the future. It does mean that he’s still just 26 and enormously talented. Teams aren’t just going to assume he can’t play defense anymore.

Scott Boras defended his client by pointing to Mike Moustakas’ defensive resurgence in 2018, saying guys who get some separation from leg injuries tend to rebound. Moustakas is also a Boras client, but Jeff Sullivan found a tendency to recover some ground as well, although he noted that on average, two-thirds of the decline persists.

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roke1960
Member

Another extremely slow start to the free agent process. It doesn’t sound like any one of the top free agents is very close to making a decision. It’s shaping up to be another long, slow winter.

Josh Nelson
Editor

I wouldn’t worry until Winter Meetings. If there isn’t a flurry of activity during those three days, then it could be a slow roll to Spring Training.

roke1960
Member

I thought that there were some signings by this time last year, but I just looked at up, and there were none of consequence. I was sure the Sox signed Castillo in mid-November, but it wasn’t til December 1. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Winter Meetings for any real action.

moncada5ever
Member

I’m thinking Zach Thompson is going to be picked in the Rule 5 draft. I don’t think it will be too hard for a bad team to keep him on the 25 man the whole season.

Eagle Bones
Member

There’s got to be like 20 other interesting pen arms like him out there, right? Still feels like it’s a toss up as to whether or not he gets picked.

Right Size Wrong Shape
Member
Right Size Wrong Shape

I thought the idea behind him playing in the AFL was to either a) determine that he’s not that good, b) determine that he’s good enough to add to the 40 man or c) determine that he’s good enough to add to the 40 man and in the process raise his profile enough to trade him.