Blake Rutherford

White Sox latest spring cuts send better known prospects to minor league squads

White Sox latest spring cuts send better known prospects to minor league squads

The White Sox made their second, and to this point, most meaningful round of spring cuts Wednesday morning, sending many of their better known prospects to minor league affiliates.

The team sent catcher Seby Zavala to Triple-A Charlotte. Pitchers Zack Burdi and Bernardo Flores, along with outfielders Micker Adolfo, Luis Basabe and Blake Rutherford, went to Double-A Birmingham. And pitchers Tayron Guerrero, Bryan Mitchell, Caleb Frare, Kodi Medeiros and Matt Tomshaw were sent to minor league camp.

Of that list, perhaps the most notable when it comes to the 2020 big league team is Burdi, the 2016 first-rounder who after ascending all the way to Triple-A Charlotte in 2017 had Tommy John surgery and faced other injuries during his recovery. He returned to the mound last season, pitching 17 times at Birmingham with poor results, a 6.41 ERA.

Burdi fared well in his brief spring stint, striking out four batters and giving up just a pair of base runners in four one-inning outings. Considering how many bullpen pitchers a team goes through in a season, it's hardly out of the question that if he does well in the minor leagues he could make an appearance at the major league level this season. But for now, he's heading back to Birmingham.

So, too, are the three outfielders, who all played at Birmingham last season. Adolfo is coming off his own injury-shortened campaign, playing just 23 games at the Double-A level. Basabe played 69 games there in 2019, and Rutherford was there the entire season, logging 118 games with the Barons. None could be said to be coming off excellent campaigns, so getting them to that point before bringing them up to Triple-A goes along with the patient approach the White Sox have taken with their prospects during the rebuilding process.

Zavala heading to Charlotte is no surprise. We're still awaiting the fate of two other catchers, though: Zack Collins, who expressed little optimism that he will end up making the big league roster, and Yermin Mercedes, who's hit four homers this spring and has expressed plenty of confidence that he will be the White Sox 26th man.

Flores might not be long for Birmingham after he made 15 starts there last season and recorded a 3.33 ERA. Guerrero, picked up on waivers from the Miami Marlins this offseason, is a flamethrower who figured to at least be in the mix for a spot in the big league bullpen. As mentioned with Burdi, it wouldn't be a shock to see him as one of the pitchers used at the big league level in some capacity this season. Same goes for Tomshaw, who had a 2.90 ERA pitching with both Birmingham and Charlotte last season.

The White Sox stand at 49 players in big league camp after these moves. They need to get down to 26 by Opening Day.

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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 prospects in Arizona Fall League fail to stand out

White Sox prospects in Arizona Fall League fail to stand out

Not all of the prospects the White Sox sent to the Arizona Fall League were there for the same reasons.

Some of them had injury-shortened seasons and the AFL served as a way to make up for lost time on the field. Some of them were there to see high-end minor league competition and see how they fared.

The league wrapped up the regular season on Friday and Glendale, the team the White Sox prospects were on, did not make the championship game. Overall, the results weren’t great. Frankly, none of the seven White Sox representatives distinguished themselves in Arizona.

The best performer of the bunch was reliever Tyler Johnson. Johnson, the No. 19 White Sox prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was out until mid-June with a lat strain this past season. He got an extra 8 2/3 innings in Arizona and will get more with USA Baseball's Olympic qualifying team in November. Johnson had a 3.12 ERA, but strangely struck out just three while walking seven.

Starting pitcher Bernardo Flores, another top 30 prospects at No. 28, also headed to Arizona after missing time in 2019. He made six starts in the AFL, totaling 20 1/3 innings. He struck out 19 and walked just five, but gave up a whopping 32 hits for a 7.97 ERA.

Under-the-radar relievers Bennett Sousa and Vince Arobio didn’t do much to put themselves on the map. Sousa had a 5.59 ERA, but did strike out 12 and walk only one in 9 2/3 innings. Arobio had more walks (8) than strikeouts (7) in 10 2/3 innings.

The hitting side was more interesting with Gavin Sheets (No. 13 ranked prospect) and Blake Rutherford (No. 9) looking to build on their seasons in Double-A. Both players had really slow starts in the regular season before building a bit more success towards the end of the year.

Rutherford played in the league’s all-star game, but hit .179/.281/.385. On the positive side, he finally showed some power with nine extra base hits (four doubles, three triples and two home runs) in 21 games. The three triples were second in the league.

Sheets’ AFL season mirrored his regular season. He got off to a very slow start, but hit .281/.385/.344 in his last 10 games. Overall, the 23-year-old first baseman hit .250/.321/.319 in 20 games. If Sheets had a good AFL run, he could have boosted his trade stock or started to build a case for him to get a 2020 call-up to the White Sox. Instead, he will have to make his case in Triple-A next year.

Micker Adolfo rounds out the group and his overall performance was less important than the fact that he got to play against high level competition and return to playing the field. Adolfo had Tommy John surgery and was limited to 36 games in 2019, all at DH. Adolfo was known for having a big arm before the injury. As right field continues to be a position of need for the White Sox, Adolfo could be a long-term solution there, just not any time soon.

Adolfo hit four home runs in 61 plate appearances, but also struck out 27 times. The power is still there. Maybe the rest of his game will come back with more at-bats.