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Burger, Johnson, Sheets advance to the White Sox 40-man

Kincanon left exposed; South Siders also snag Arizona reliever Emilio Vargas

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks-Media Day
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Emilio Vargas poses for a portrait during media day at Salt River Fields in 2020.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday the White Sox opted for a cautious route with regard to December’s Rule 5 draft, moving Gavin Sheets, Jake Burger and Tyler Johnson to the 40-man roster and out of the Rule 5 player pool.

The club also claimed Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Emilio Vargas off of waivers, completely filling the 40-man roster.

Friday began with a 40-man roster at 36, with a looming deadline this evening to protect vulnerable guys from the Rule 5 draft. Despite a large number of eligible players, realistically the White Sox had to worry about just four: Sheets, Burger, Johnson and Will Kincanon. Kincanon not being protected is a calculated risk by the White Sox, but a power arm like Kincanon’s, moving effortlessly through the system (a career 2.87 ERA and 1.243 WHIP in 89 games, as high as High-A) is not 100% safe.

Still, it’s a smart risk, and one made essential by the claim of Vargas from Arizona. The 24-year-old righty was a terrific pickup, with great promise. With 99 starts (127 games) as high up as Double-A, Vargas boasts a career 3.48 ERA and 1.211 WHIP, pitching younger than his league level at every stop. Depending on how loaded the Knights rotation ends up (some rehabbing arms, some young players pushed south by free agent acquisitions?), Vargas could start his year in Charlotte and immediately become the brightest starting prospect there who hasn’t already seen some MLB time.

In Vargas’ most reacent season, 2019, he went 5-5 with a 3.84 ERA, 82 strikeouts and a .232 opponent average in 20 starts between Double-A Jackson and the Arizona Rookie League Diamondbacks. He also made three appearances (one start) with the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, going 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in six innings.

Obviously, when free agents are signed (trades or other releases pending), push will have to come to shove to open up roster space in Chicago. Two easy possibilities are the expected non-tenders of Carlos Rodón and Nomar Mazara — although either could remain with the Sox on a lesser-than-arb-settlement deal.