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Rule 5 targets: pitchers

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Several intriguing mound options are available if the White Sox are interested in adding someone via the Rule 5 draft

MLB: Seattle Mariners-Media Day
Snatchable — and Stashable: Art Warren is among the best prospects available in this year’s Rule 5 draft.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

How the Rule 5 draft works

When is the Rule 5 draft held? December 13, 2018

Who can make a Rule 5 draft selection? Any club with fewer than 40 players on their 40-man roster.

Who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft? Any player who signed with his current club at age 18 or younger, has played professionally for at least five years, and is not on a 40-man roster. Also, any player who signed at 19 or older, has played professionally for at least four years, and is not on a 40-man roster.

What is the selection order of the Rule 5 draft? Draft picks are made in reverse order of the 2018 standings.

Is there a cost assigned to a Rule 5 draft pick? If a club selects a Rule 5 player, it must send $100,000 to the club in exchange for the player.

Is a Rule 5 player placed on a roster? Yes, the selected player must be assigned directly to both the drafting club’s 40-man roster and 25-man, active major league roster.

What if a Rule 5 player gets demoted to the minors in 2019? A Rule 5 draft pick must be placed on outright waivers in order to be removed from the 25-man roster. If the player clears waivers, he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000.

What if no one wants the Rule 5 player — not even his original team? Then, yep, the poor fella can be demoted to the minors.

Can a Rule 5 draft pick be traded after the draft, or during the 2019 season? Yes, but any team that acquires the player is still subject to the same Rule 5 draft restrictions outlined above.

Is there any way to throw off the shackles of Rule 5 draft restrictions? Yes, the two teams involved can work out a traditional trade — with the drafting team sending a player, cash or future considerations in exchange for the Rule 5 player — that will remove Rule 5 draft restrictions.

Pitchers for the White Sox to consider in this year’s Rule 5 draft

There are a few intriguing options who actually could contribute to a major league roster on Opening Day; however, most of the available Rule 5 players are projects — guys who have plenty of talent (in some cases, unproven) who simply aren’t major league-ready yet. Those are the guys you try to hide on the roster — perhaps as 12th arm slated for mop-up duty.

Chances are, the White Sox will select just one player, because their bullpen, catching and outfield depth are mostly in the upper levels of the system.

Players ages are as of April 1, 2019

Junior Fernandez (22): Fernandez missed some time in 2018 due to arm tenderness, but his fastball still reaches 99 mph. He also features an above-average changeup, and a slider that’s improving but still needs work. For the St. Louis Cardinals A+ and AA squads in 2018, he posted a 3.52 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and .257 OBA in 30 23 combined innings as he allowed 28 hits, 18 walks and 24 strikeouts. Obviously, control and command were both issues, but this 14th-ranked Cardinal prospect could learn from White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper next year, then return to the minors in 2020 for added development.

Art Warren (26): Warren is the 19th-rated Seattle Mariners prospect and features a four-pitch repertoire. Because he spent much of 2018 on the DL due to a sore right shoulder, he could easily work as a White Sox Rule 5 pick because he could be stashed on the DL for a significant period of time (an injured Rule 5 pick will only have to be on the active roster for 90 days next season). Warren’s fastball runs 94-98 mph with late life, which is complemented by a hard-breaking slider and a good (if inconsistent) changeup. In AA ball last season in 15 23 innings, Warren posted a 1.72 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, and .185 OBA, allowing 10 hits and 14 walks while striking out 22.

Riley Ferrell (25): Ferrell is the 17th-rated Houston Astros prospect, and for good reason: His fastball reaches 98 mph, and his mid-80s slider has two-plane break and can be unhittable at times. Like most pitchers on the list here, Ferrell has outstanding stuff but doesn’t have the command or control to succeed yet. This season in AA and AAA, Ferrell provided a 4.53 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and .244 OBA over 51 23 innings as he surrendered 48 hits and 34 walks while fanning 67.

Raynel Espinal (27): Espinal is the oldest of these Rule 5 options, but that’s because he’s had difficulty breaking into an extremely good but crowded New York Yankees bullpen. Of all the pitchers listed here, he’s got the best command and produced the best results. In AAA ball in 2018, Espinal compiled a 3.09 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and .222 OBA in 67 innings, as he relinquished 55 hits and 26 walks and fanned 95. His fastball isn’t as high-octane as others on the list, as it runs low-to-mid 90s, but his above-average slider complements it well.

J.P. Feyereisen (26): Like Espinal, Feyereisen has been the victim of an extremely good and deep Yankees bullpen. However, while Feyereisen’s fastball is more overpowering, he lacks Espinal’s control and command. In 2018, he posted a 3.45 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and .253 OBA in 60 AAA innings, while allowing 56 hits and 25 walks but fanning 59. His secondary pitch is an above-average slider when it’s on; however, when it’s not, his fastball becomes far more hittable because the slider is Feyereisen’s only effective off-speed pitch.

Trevor Clifton (23): Clifton is the only starting pitcher of this bunch, but he profiles better as a reliever due to his slightly below-average control and command. Ranked 17th in the Chicago Cubs organization, in 2018 he posted a 3.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and .232 OBA in a combined 126 innings, as he surrendered 106 hits and 52 walks while fanning 101. His fastball peaks at 97 mph, but generally runs 91-94 as a starter; he also features a cutter, curve, and changeup that all grade 50 according to MLB Pipeline.

Breiling Eusebio (22): Eusebio is the only southpaw on my list, as most other southpaws in the Rule 5 are considered soft-tossers. As the 19th-rated Colorado Rockies prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Eusebio’s fastball tops at 96 mph, but typically runs 92-94; he complements it with an above-average power curve and an inconsistent changeup. He only pitched 9 13 innings in 2018 due to Tommy John surgery. In 2017, he was a starting pitcher, but now profiles as a reliever after TJS. In 2017, Eusebio posted a 3.61 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 57 13 innings in A ball, as he relinquished 54 hits and 20 walks while striking out 53. Like with Warren, Eusebio’s injury may be an advantage, because the Sox could stash him on the DL for a good chunk of the year, inserting a more major league-ready arm in his place.

Trevor Megill (25): The White Sox like their plus-size pitchers, and Megill fits the bill at 6´8´´, 235 pounds. He features a sinking fastball that runs in the low 90s, while also featuring a solid 11-to-5 curveball and respectable changeup. In 37 23 innings for the San Diego Padres A+ and AA squads in 2018, he combined to post a 3.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and .226 OBA and allowed 31 hits and eight walks while fanning 42.

Josh Graham (25): Graham’s prospect status has faded a bit after a disappointing 2018 with Atlanta’s A+ and AA squads. In a combined 63 innings, he posted a 5.71 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and .254 OBA by surrendering 61 hits and 41 walks and striking out 74. Obviously, control was a huge issue for this hurler, whose 97 mph fastball is complemented with an average slider and a slightly below-average changeup. The potential is there, as evidenced by a solid 2017 campaign; the ultimate question is whether Graham will be able to throw strikes consistently with his secondary offerings.


Summary

Considering all positions available, I see the Sox going after a reliever in this year’s Rule 5 draft. While it’s possible more than one player can be selected, it’s not likely the White Sox would be willing to hamper their flexibility to that degree. Among the relievers, I like Fernandez best, because of his age.

Most of the pitchers here, with the possible exceptions of Espinal and Megill, are harder throwers with either control or injury issues. Of course, the White Sox could look at a different position since they already have several high-end relievers with shots to pitch for the Sox in 2019.

We’ll see in a week!


Tune in tomorrow for the top Rule 5 targets on offense.