Bernardo Flores

White Sox move seven prospects to 40-man roster, protecting them from Rule 5 draft

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USA TODAY

White Sox move seven prospects to 40-man roster, protecting them from Rule 5 draft

The White Sox made some important decisions Wednesday, protecting seven players from selection in next month’s Rule 5 draft by moving them to the 40-man roster.

Dane Dunning, Blake Rutherford, Jimmy Lambert, Zack Burdi, Bernardo Flores, Yermin Mercedes and Matt Foster were moved to the 40-man roster, making them unable to be plucked away by other teams in the Rule 5 draft Dec. 12 during the Winter Meetings.

That’s obviously good news for the White Sox, who will hang onto those prized prospects regardless of what happens next month. But the team opted to leave plenty of other players open to selection, including Alec Hansen, Zach Thompson, Spencer Adams and Kyle Kubat.

The 40-man roster is now full at the maximum 40 players, meaning any offseason additions made from here on out will require a player being removed from the 40-man roster.

Dunning is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and despite undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier this season still has a bright future as a potential member of the White Sox rotation. In fact, he was moving along so positively in 2018 that general manager Rick Hahn said if not for the injury Dunning could have been part of the team’s Opening Day rotation in 2019. He last pitched in 2018, turning in a stellar 2.71 ERA and striking out 100 batters in 15 starts between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.

Rutherford remains ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the organization but finds himself one of many outfield prospects who had disappointing 2019 campaigns. He saw significant statistical dips playing at Birmingham from the numbers he put up in 2018 at Winston-Salem. In 2019, he slashed .265/.319/.365 in 118 games. He failed to do much of anything in the Arizona Fall League, either, slashing .179/.281/.385 in 21 games.

Lambert is ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the organization and, like Dunning, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year. If not for the injury, he might have factored into the big league starting staff by the end of the 2019 campaign. He followed up a strong 2018 season (3.67 ERA in 18 starts between Winston-Salem and Birmingham) with a 4.55 ERA in 11 starts at Birmingham in 2019.

Burdi is still ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the organization despite an injury-plagued last couple of seasons. A knee injury ended his 2019 season early, this after missing almost the entirety of the 2018 season (just a few appearances in Rookie ball) while recovering from Tommy John surgery. A first-round pick in 2016, Burdi struggled before the knee injury, with a 6.75 ERA in 22.2 innings between Birmingham and Class A Kannapolis.

Flores is ranked as the No. 28 prospect in the organization. He had a mighty promising 2018 season at Winston-Salem and Birmingham, with a 2.65 ERA in 25 starts. Those numbers jumped up in 2019, with Flores finishing with a 3.33 ERA in 15 starts at Birmingham.

Mercedes was one of the bright spots of the White Sox farm system in 2019, slashing .317/.388/.581 with 23 homers splitting time between Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Many fans hoped he would have gotten a September call-up. He didn’t, but Hahn mentioned him as a potential part of the catching mix when the team heads to spring training in February.

Foster had a solid 2019 season, finishing with a 3.20 ERA in 43 relief appearances at Birmingham and Charlotte.

As for those who are exposed to selection in the Rule 5 draft, Hansen was once one of the highest ranked pitching prospects in the organization, thanks to a phenomenal 2017 campaign, when he had a 2.80 ERA and 191 strikeouts pitching at three different levels. But a 2018 forearm injury derailed everything. That year, he didn’t even make his first appearance until mid June and finished with a 6.31 ERA and an outrageous 59 walks compared to just 55 strikeouts. In 2019, he didn’t fare much better, with a 4.64 ERA and 44 more walks (compared with 66 strikeouts). He’s still ranked as the organization’s No. 27 prospect.

Thompson was excellent in 2018, with a 1.55 ERA in 43 relief appearances at Winston-Salem and Birmingham. A year later, he was pummeled to the tune of a 5.23 ERA in 45 relief appearances, most coming at Charlotte.

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White Sox send Nick Madrigal and four other prospects to minor league camp

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USA TODAY

White Sox send Nick Madrigal and four other prospects to minor league camp

The cuts have started out in Glendale.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that a quintet of prospects have been reassigned from big league camp to minor league camp. Headlining the bunch is second baseman Nick Madrigal, the No. 5 prospect in the White Sox system. Last year's first-round draft pick had 13 at-bats in eight Cactus League games, picking up four hits and walking twice.

Joining Madrigal on the trip to minor league camp is outfielder Blake Rutherford (No. 9 White Sox prospect), outfielder Luis Gonzalez (No. 10), pitcher Bernardo Flores and pitcher Jordan Guerrero. Rutherford also appeared in eight Cactus League games, picking up four hits in 15 at-bats. Gonzalez played in nine games, with four hits and a pair of runs scored in 15 at-bats.

Flores made three pitching appearances and surprisingly got a decision in all three, with one win and two losses. He struck out five batters and gave up a pair of home runs in 6.1 innings. Guerrero also made three appearances, giving up seven runs in four innings of work.

None of these early cuts are surprising, with all five players expected to begin the 2019 season in the minor leagues. Madrigal is the most noteworthy of the group, especially when it comes to his estimated arrival date in the majors. The White Sox called him "the best all-around player in college baseball" when they made him the No. 4 pick in last summer's draft, and he played at three different levels in his short time as a pro last season. So perhaps he could move quickly, though it would not be at all surprising to see him spend the entirety of the 2019 season in the minors.

Rutherford is highly ranked but still has yet to play above Class A. After spending the entire 2018 season at Class A Winston-Salem, he could be one of many players who reteam with manager Omar Vizquel at Double-A Birmingham in 2019. Luis Gonzalez could be one of those guys, as well.

Flores made 13 starts at Birmingham last year and could start there again in 2019 or head to Triple-A Charlotte. Guerrero will likely head back to Charlotte after making a dozen starts there last year. He could potentially serve as starting-pitching depth should the White Sox need it in season.

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Two pitchers' excellent adventure from high school rivals to highly ranked White Sox prospects

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USA TODAY

Two pitchers' excellent adventure from high school rivals to highly ranked White Sox prospects

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As two of the top pitching prospects in the White Sox farm system, Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores already have quite a history. So much so, that if you go back to 2013, it’s a surprise they're even talking.

On March 28 of that year, Lambert’s San Dimas Saints squared off against Flores’ Baldwin Park Braves. What began with the two rival high schools meeting in a pivotal game in the Valle Vista League ended with Flores yelling, “I feel like Bobby Thomson!” and their coaches almost coming to blows.

“We definitely didn’t like him. I’ll tell you that much,” Lambert said about Flores.

More on that in a moment.

Even though they grew up miles from each other, Lambert and Flores now can’t get away from each other. They were both drafted by the White Sox in 2016 (Lambert in the fifth round, Flores in the seventh), they’re both currently ranked as two of the White Sox top 30 prospects list by MLB Pipeline (Lambert is 21st, Flores is 25th), and their lockers are side by side in the White Sox spring training clubhouse.

If there's a Frick and Frack in the organization, it's Lambert and Flores, even though they've had zero say in the matter. Is it luck? Coincidence? Fate? Who knows? Something just keeps bringing the two of them together.

Their baseball lives started to converge with that high school showdown in 2013. It was a big two-game series. Want to guess the pitching matchup for the first game? Lambert against Flores.

“I ended up losing. Jimmy ended up getting the win,” Flores recalled. Then he turned to Lambert and said with a big smile, “We came back the next game and won that one.”

Did they ever.

Flores was the DH that day. He came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning of a 2-2 game with two men on base.

“At the time, I was just like, ‘Please just hit the ball somewhere,” Flores recalled. “Luckily, I just got the right pitch at the right spot and I didn’t hold back. I let it all go. I got it in the air, that was the first thing. That ball kept going and going. I’m like, 'That ball has a chance.'”

The left-handed Flores turned on a fastball and crushed it. The San Dimas right fielder, who was playing shallow, raced back towards the fence, but there was nothing he could do. The ball landed in somebody’s backyard. Game over.

For Flores, it was the first and only home run he ever hit in high school, and he made the best of it, leaping high in the air like a jackrabbit three times as he rounded the bases before getting mobbed by his Baldwin Park teammates at home plate.

“He celebrated going around the bases,” Lambert said about Flores’ home-run trot. “Our team didn’t like it, but he deserved it.”

The San Dimas players didn’t like it. Their coaches hated it. A couple of them had to be separated right there on the field. They were ready to rumble with the coaches from Baldwin Park.

“That’s definitely true. Our coaches, they did not get along,” Lambert said. “After the game, you shake hands. I don’t think the handshake went very well. A couple of the coaches were holding back a couple of their coaches. It was good. Just fun competition.”

Or something like that.

After the game, Flores was quoted in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune saying, “I feel like Bobby Thomson,” making reference to Thomson’s famous game-winning home run that sent the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series. Props to Flores for knowing his baseball history.

From that game forward, the lives of Lambert and Flores kept intersecting. They both played baseball at California colleges: Lambert at Fresno State, Flores at USC. After the White Sox drafted them in 2016, they roomed together while training in Arizona. In 2017, they started the season as teammates at Class A Kannapolis. After Lambert got promoted to Class A Winston-Salem, Flores got promoted one week later. Then in 2018, Flores moved up to Double-A Birmingham. One week after that, Lambert got the call to join him.

It should come as no surprise that in 2018, Lambert came into his own and so did Flores.

Lambert was good at Winston-Salem but really flourished after getting promoted to Birmingham, going 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA with 30 strikeouts and six walks in five starts. Flores combined at both levels to go 8-9 with a 2.65 ERA.

“The guy can definitely pitch,” the righty Lambert said about the lefty Flores. “He works hard, he’s focused, a confident pitcher. Obviously, he’s got the stuff. There’s definitely a lot to like.”

What does Flores think about Lambert?

“To me, Jimmy is one of the smartest guys I know, smartest guy on the mound,” Flores said. “He’s a bulldog out there. He gets me fired up each time he starts because he doesn’t like to lose. I love that mentality of Jimmy. He never quits, he never backs down from anybody. He just goes after it and gets it.”

Just like Flores did that one day in high school.

From rivals to teammates, Flores and Lambert have grown to become close friends. Soon they hope to be knocking on the door to the big leagues.

If one of them gets promoted to Chicago, I think we know what will be coming next: the other, right behind him.

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