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Rule 5 draft: Who makes the 40-man?

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Four spots are open on the White Sox roster ... with four players most in jeopardy of getting drafted away

There could be a surprise spot taken on the White Sox 40-man on Friday: fan favorite Will Kincanon.
Tiffany Wintz/South Side Sox

Friday marks the deadline for teams to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft (held on December 10) by placing them on the 40-man roster.

While Year of the Hamster boldly predicted no White Sox would be taken this year, the White Sox might proceed with more caution and advance some of the most jeopardized prospects to the 40-man roster. Meanwhile, our James Fox has his typically exhaustive take on the Rule 5 ins and outs over at FutureSox, with a full prediction on the team’s course of action.

Chicago’s roster sits at 36 at the moment, giving them four open spots to protect players, or just three if GM Rick Hahn wants to make a Rule 5 draft pick himself next month. (If the White Sox non-tender either or both of Carlos Rodón and Nomar Mazara, plausible moves both, that knocks the 40-man down to 34.)

The White Sox have a ton of Rule 5-eligible players, but given the steep restrictions placed on a chosen player — having to spend the entire 2021 season on the MLB roster — very few Sox prospects are at risk.

Safely staying with Chicago

Vince Arobio (RHRP)
Joel Booker (OF)
Ryan Burr (RHRP)
Anderson Comas (OF)
Craig Dedelow (OF)
Ti’Quan Forbes (3B)
Alec Hansen (RHP)
Lincoln Henzman (RHSP)
Kade McClure (RHSP)
Kodi Medeiros (LHRP)
Luis Mieses (OF)
Nate Nolan (C)
Felix Paulino (RHP)
Zach Remillard (IF)
Laz Rivera (SS)
Mitch Roman (2B)
Evan Skoug (C)
Lenyn Sosa (SS)
Corey Zangari (1B)

There was a time that Burr would have slid to the list below, but after Tommy John surgery and being DFA’d last year without a claim, Burr will not be picked. There once would have been a case for Sosa or Rivera protection, but both infielders have languished. If Hansen had shown even a modicum of promise with his hybrid 2019 role, starter-to-reliever, perhaps a basement-dwelling team takes a shot. But all of the above are safe.

Possibly protected on the 40-man

Jake Burger (3B)
Tyler Johnson (RHRP)
Will Kincanon (RHRP)
Gavin Sheets (1B)

Neither Burger nor Sheets will need protection (although as Fox points out at FS, if the White Sox have intel that says one of their guys are targeted, even as a bluff you have to take it seriously). Both position players have wildly different backgrounds but retain blue-chip cred — but neither are on the precipice.

Sheets was poised for a power breakout in Charlotte in 2020, but had his upward mobility crushed by the pandemic cancellation of the MiLB season and the continued ascendance for Andrew Vaughn. Vaughn, in fact, was on the cusp of a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 2020, while you’d be forgiven if you thought Sheets had somehow been waived out of the system; we heard that little about him last summer.

Burger started 2020 in the CarShield semipro league in Missouri, impressed with both his play and attitude, and earned a ticket to Schaumburg and fall instructionals. He seems every bit back on the radar for the White Sox, but is by no means ready to fill a bench spot on a major league team.

Both pitchers are in more danger of getting snagged, as both Johnson and Kincanon are upwardly-mobile in the system and have skills — i.e. a power arm — that are translatable into the majors, even prematurely. Case in point, Codi Heuer and Matt Foster. While Heuer and Foster found success that is rare even for fast-risers in the system, these things happen. And though Heuer gained a lot of steam as 2019 went on, the top pedigree and rep among the Foster-Heuer-Johnson-Kincanon quartet is Johnson; he almost decidedly needs 40-man protection. Kincanon is fast-rising, and while the listed three arms, plus Zack Burdi, Bennett Sousa, Garrett Crochet and others may still lead him on the depth chart, his is not an arm to let slip away. Kincanon getting drafted is a stretch, but perhaps leaving him exposed is not a risk the White Sox want to take.

The good news is that at the moment, the White Sox could protect all four key players, so the club won’t be forced to cross its fingers that a key future piece will be stolen away during the Rule 5 draft.