Dane Dunning

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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If the White Sox end up with a Nationals-esque rotation, thank the Nationals

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USA TODAY

If the White Sox end up with a Nationals-esque rotation, thank the Nationals

Every time Chris Sale blows into town with his Boston Red Sox, the same discussion topic pops up: Who won the trade?

Each Crosstown series, the same question gets asked in reference to Jose Quintana and the Cubs.

Adam Eaton doesn’t play in the American League or on the other side of town, so the “who won the trade” talking point doesn’t get applied to his deal nearly as often. But the Washington Nationals are on the South Side this week. So cue the sports-talk radio dream scenario.

The answer to the question, of course, isn’t one that demands much debate. The nature of a veteran-for-prospects swap is such that the true determination of who got the better end of the deal is unable to be made until many years after the original transaction. It sure looks like the Red Sox “won” the Sale trade considering the large piece of jewelry adorning the former South Side ace’s finger. But Yoan Moncada has played just 266 games in a White Sox uniform. Michael Kopech has played just four. Luis Basabe just got activated from the injured list — at Double-A Birmingham.

To suggest any trade evaluator save their judgment isn’t just a recommendation. It’s a requirement.

But there’s Eaton, out in right field for the Nationals this week at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Acquiring him hasn’t been the final championship piece Washington’s front office might have hoped when it gave up a seeming king’s ransom in three highly regarded pitching prospects: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Eaton played in just 23 games during the 2017 season, which ended with the Nationals eliminated by the Cubs in the NLDS. He played in 95 games during Washington’s disappointing 2018 season, when they missed the playoffs in Bryce Harper’s final season with the team.

Does it make it a loss for the Nationals? Not yet. This season's finish remains unwritten, and they could pick up the remaining two team options on his contract, keep him around for another couple seasons and try for more postseason glory.

And whatever the Nationals’ fortunes are during their years with Eaton really have no bearing on whether the White Sox get a win out of the deal, either. Their contention window has yet to open, so how much Giolito, Lopez and Dunning do to help fuel championship-caliber teams on the South Side has yet to be determined.

But the White Sox are unquestionably happy with the return a year and a half after the fact. They can look across the field this week at a Nationals rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg, and thanks in part to the Eaton trade, envision having a staff that could strike similar fear into the hearts of opponents.

“We have the makings with some of the guys who are here with us now. We have some kids who are working and coming back with Kopech and when we get back (Carlos) Rodon and you've got (Dylan) Cease down there and we've got Dunning, who's recovering. We have some young arms that are going to be filtering this way,” manager Rick Renteria said ahead of Tuesday’s game. “You tip your cap to those kids (the Nationals) got over there because they're pretty good. So hopefully we have that type of staff developing as we continue to move forward and they'll be as effective as those guys have been.”

That’s obviously a high bar to clear. Scherzer is a three-time Cy Young winner. Corbin got the richest deal of any pitcher last winter after his second All-Star season. Strasburg has had massive expectations ever since he was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and has done a decent job of delivering with three All-Star appearances and a pair of top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting.

But it’s not terribly difficult to at least wish for such a rotation to develop on the South Side. Kopech, Cease and Dunning all remain highly rated pitching prospects. Giolito has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. And while consistency has been hard to nail down for both Rodon and Lopez, they’ve shown flashes of promise in the past.

The White Sox would perhaps be wise to account for at least some of those myriad unknowns with some outside help this winter. But a 2020 rotation of Giolito, Kopech, Cease, Dunning and Lopez — with Rodon expected back sometime in the second half of the campaign — not only sounds promising, it sounds like the best White Sox rotation in years.

Giolito’s dominance through the first two and a half months of this season is the obvious driver of the good feelings. Even with such high hopes, Kopech, Dunning and Rodon are all still in recovery mode after Tommy John surgery, Lopez has one of the highest ERAs among the game’s qualified starting pitchers, and Cease remains a pitcher who hasn’t yet thrown a major league pitch. But Giolito has been incredible in 2019, a legitimate Cy Young candidate to this point.

You want to evaluate how the White Sox are faring in the aftermath of the Eaton trade? Giolito’s the obvious starting point.

“Now there are a lot of dividends being paid through his performances,” Renteria said of Giolito. “We really like our chances every time he's out on the mound. That's possible when you have talent. I think the kids we have coming up and some of the guys we have here are looking to get to that point, and I think they will at some point.”

Debating the winners of various deals might be the dream scenario for the sports-talk industry. But the dream scenario for the White Sox is hitting on the players they got in exchange for Eaton. Giolito’s doing his part this season.

If the return package in that Eaton trade — not to mention the ones in the Sale and Quintana trades — can help form a rotation that helps the White Sox compete for and win championships, consider the trade won.

Not that it’s a competition, of course.

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Dane Dunning undergoes Tommy John surgery as another White Sox prospect goes on the shelf

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Dane Dunning undergoes Tommy John surgery as another White Sox prospect goes on the shelf

Another highly rated White Sox prospect will spend much of the next year in recovery mode.

Dane Dunning underwent Tommy John surgery Monday, the team told reporters in Arizona, pairing him with Michael Kopech as pitching prospects in recovery mode.

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Dunning was shut down last June because of a forearm issue, the White Sox hoping to avoid Tommy John at that time. He wasn't invited to big league camp this spring, with general manager Rick Hahn explaining that decision away as a way to ease Dunning into the 2019 campaign. But Dunning again experienced forearm discomfort during camp, and Hahn said last week that all options were on the table, including the Tommy John surgery that came Monday.

Dunning will presumably go through the standard recovery process following the surgery, which lasts many months. Kopech, the organization's top-rated pitching prospect, underwent the procedure not long after making his major league debut in late August, and he will not pitch in 2019.

The surgery is a tough turn of events for Dunning, who was putting together a terrific 2018 campaign when he was shut down last summer. He had a 2.71 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 86.1 innings between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. Hahn spoke glowingly of Dunning, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 80 prospect in the game, as someone who could've competed for a spot in the major league rotation this spring, if not for the injury.

Dunning becomes just the latest White Sox prospect to have a significant injury in the last couple seasons. Third baseman Jake Burger, the team's first-round pick in the 2017 draft, suffered a pair of Achilles tears last year and missed the entire season. Kopech will not pitch again until 2020 while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Springtime injuries delayed the 2018 debuts of both pitcher Alec Hansen and outfielder Luis Robert until the summer. Outfielder Micker Adolfo is on the mend from Tommy John surgery, as well. Outfielder Luis Basabe suffered a broken bone in his hand this spring.

Individually, these injuries do little to dim the bright futures of the players. Even with time off to recover, their ceilings remain high. But both individually and collectively, they do figure to affect the timeline of the White Sox ongoing rebuilding project, thanks to missed developmental time. Enough players experiencing those delays on their path to the majors can add up to the team's planned contention window perhaps opening later than initially hoped.

 

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