The Rule-5 roster crunch is upon us with an 8 p.m. deadline on Monday, Nov. 20. Teams around the league must finalize their 40-man rosters to protect players from the Rule 5 draft in December. Several teams are under pressure to prioritize their talent and make tough decisions about who to protect and the White Sox are not immune from this trouble.
The current roster has four spots available to protect prospects from exposure to the Rule 5 draft. Eloy Jimenez will indubitably grab one of them while the rest of the roster is a toss-up. Other players at risk of exposure are Micker Adolfo, Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, Casey Gillaspie and Jake Peter, among several others. After a prodigious dredge of the league’s talent last season, the White Sox stand to risk losing some of their recently acquired prospects unless Rick Hahn finds a way to outsmart the league once again.
There are a few ways to attack this problem. Taking a look at who should be protected can be daunting, so let’s toggle to who can be cut from the roster with little impact.
Jacob May was added to the roster to protect against the Rule 5 draft last year, but after a dreadful debut he was demoted to Triple-A and had a fair season. Charlie Tilson also occupies a spot on the 40-man roster but with a litany of injuries on his resume, his future with the White Sox is unclear. He played a few games this fall without incident but it’s safe to say teams won’t be kicking his tires after the stretch of injuries he’s had. Dylan Covey and Chris Beck might stick around longer considering the White Sox need pitching depth to survive the season.
Jace Fry was a late-season desperation promotion and although he got his feet wet in the big leagues, he could probably use one more year of experience in the minors. Aaron Bummer is another candidate for demotion to find space on the roster. With May, Tilson and Fry dropped from the 40-man roster three more spots open up for new talent at risk in the Rule 5 draft.
Micker Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017 and several teams could have their eye on the Dominican outfielder considering his high ceiling. However, he is far from ready for big-league action and teams could pass over him for this reason alone. Ian Clarkin was part of the trade that sent a slew of players to the Yankees last season and he has battled nagging injuries his entire career. Like Adolfo, Clarkin has yet to see action above A-ball, rendering him a safe bet to avoid selection in the Rule 5 draft.
Tito Polo is a different story. Polo was another prospect culled from the Yankees and had a strong season at Double-A. He added a stout performance in the Arizona Fall League and showed equal promise early last season for Team Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. Polo is at high risk of being plucked from the Rule 5 draft considering his production at higher minor-league levels.
Jake Peter is in the same waters as Polo and has the recent endorsement of White Sox brass as a surprising prospect on the rise. Peter has forced the issue for the past few years playing well at Double-A and Triple-A. He batted a combined .279 with 13 home runs in 2017 and played a panoply of positions, something the White Sox will need the next few seasons.
Casey Gillaspie is another prospect bagged from the Rays organization. It makes slight sense to trade a player like Dan Jennings for Gillaspie and then lose the profit from that deal in the Rule 5 draft.
With Gillaspie, Jimenez and Peter added to the 40-man roster and Tilson, May and Fry dropped, the White Sox still have four slots to play with. Perhaps Adolfo and Clarkin are worth adding to ensure their presence, but if everything stays the same and no one is dropped from the 40-man roster Adolfo and Clarkin will likely be risked and Jordan Guerrero will take the final roster spot.
Guerrero posted a very good season at Double-A in a rotation bereft of lefties and is the highest ranked left-hander among MLB Pipeline’s organizational top-30 prospects. He logged a 4.18 earned run average and 7-12 record but his stuff projects well and he could provide depth in the bullpen soon.
The final outcome is far from certain. Many experts expect a wave of trades as Monday wears on as teams try to insulate their most coveted prospects and net a return for the ones they cannot protect and expect to lose. Expect Hahn to be active in plenty of these discussions.