The Major League Baseball lockout seems to have no end in sight, but the White Sox have managed to keep themselves busy with minor league deals. While the lockout prevents any communication between teams and players in the majors, it is business as usual in the minors.
Here are the recent adds the White Sox have made to the system, with most of these players ticketed for Double-A or Triple-A, with an outside chance to break camp with the big club.
POSITION Relief Pitcher
The player with the best chance of breaking camp with the White Sox is veteran lefty Brandon Finnegan, late of the Cincinnati Reds farm system. Hooking on with the White Sox must be exciting for Finnegan, whose career has not quite panned out as he planned over the last few years.
He was the 17th overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft and joined the Kansas City Royals bullpen in September of that year, before being traded to the Reds in 2015 as part of a deal for Johnny Cueto. He pitched for the Triple-A Louisville Bats before being promoted to the Reds bullpen in September. Unfortunately, Finnegan spent the next three seasons plagued with an endless string of injuries, eventually resulting in his moving back to the minor leagues.
Finnegan continued to battle with injuries and consequent inconsistency in the minors. Since the start of the 2019 season, he has walked 46 batters in his 70 1⁄3 innings. He has a career ERA of 4.11, but that swelled to 5.53 in 2021. Finnegan was released by the Reds in November, and this new deal with the White Sox clearly comes with optimism that he may be able to return at least somewhat to his previous standard of play. He has been a top prospect and former first round pick, both of which help when it comes to finding new opportunities. Here’s hoping we see some improvement in 2022.
POSITION Relief Pitcher
Cam Hill was initially picked in the 17th round of the 2014 MLB draft by Cleveland and made his debut in the majors six years later, on July 26, 2020. He ended his rookie year having pitched 18 1⁄3 innings, striking out 16 batters and ending the season with a 4.91 ERA. Hill had high expectations of breaking camp in the Cleveland bullpen in 2021, but his career took a severe hit when he broke his wrist in a car accident on Nov. 30, 2020. He had to undergo surgery, missing all of spring training, and didn’t return from rehabilitation until June 25, when he slid into the Triple-A pen.
Hill was removed from Cleveland’s 40-man roster on November 5, which made him a free agent. He signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on November 28, and was assigned to Charlotte. If he comes back in strong form in 2022, Hill will be a great asset to Chicago’s relief debt, and will likely see some time back in the majors.
Jagger Rusconi is returning to the White Sox organization for 2022. The 25-year-old second baseman/outfielder has had some bad luck over the last few years, but the White Sox are giving him another shot in the system, most likely with the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
Rusconi was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round (141st overall) of the 2015 MLB draft, but a never-ending list of injuries have meant that his career has been inconsistent at best. The 2019 season saw him slash .199/.245/.278 in 109 games split between the High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, which is still the only season where he played more than 65 games.
The Red Sox released Rusconi on April 21, 2021, and he soon began injury rehab within the White Sox organization. He played the majority of last season between the Winston-Salem Dash and Birmingham Barons, slashing .265/.337/.368 in 43 games. He played well when available, making Rusconi at worst a solid organizational piece going forward. With any luck, he should see time with the Knights this season.
Luis Basabe is officially coming back to the White Sox. Basabe was originally signed as an international amateur free agent in 2012 by the Boston Red Sox, before being traded to the White Sox on Dec. 6, 2016. After three seasons in their minors, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 9, 2020, and he made his MLB debut that same month. The Giants designated Basabe for assignment on Feb. 4, 2021 to free up space on their 40-man roster for Tommy La Stella, and on February 11, he was outrighted to the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.
Basabe signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on November 21, returning for a second stint and shot at the majors. Basabe’s 2021 season was shortened by a wrist injury in spring training, and he hit just .206/.349/.338 over 22 games after his eventual season debut in July. While his prospect glow has dimmed since leaving Chicago, the White Sox also don’t have a ton of outfield depth at the moment — so who knows?
POSITION Starting Pitcher
Emilio Vargas re-signed a minor league deal with the White Sox and been assigned to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights. This is a great opportunity for Vargas, who has so far topped out at Double-A and has not yet had any playing time in the majors.
Vargas initially joined the White Sox in November 2020 after the Arizona Diamondbacks placed him on waivers in an attempt to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. In 21 games including 15 starts with the Double-A Birmingham Barons during the 2021 season, he posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, giving up just 69 hits and 28 walks. Vargas elected to become a free agent on Nov. 7, 2021, before rejoining the club days later. While he is unlikely to see any time in Chicago in the 2022 season, at only 25 years old and boasting strong stats, he has the potential to be a contender in the future.
POSITION Relief Pitcher
Yacksel Ríos was initially selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 12th round of the of the 2011 MLB draft, and after working his way up their system, he made his debut in the majors in 2017. That season, he posted a 4.41 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 16 1⁄3 innings. In 2019, Ríos was claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he was outrighted after the 2020 season and elected free agency.
The 2021 season was chaotic for Ríos — he signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays on January 21, before being traded to the Seattle Mariners on June 4. His contract was immediately selected for the active roster, but after three appearances, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox on June 14. With the Red Sox, Ríos appeared in 20 games and posted a 3.70 ERA. He was designated for assignment by Boston on September 23, before being sent outright to the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox on September 26. At the major league level in the 2021 season, Rios posted a decent 4.28 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 27 1⁄3 innings across the Mariners and Red Sox. He managed a 2.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 19 2⁄3 innings across the Triple-A Durham Bulls and Worcester Red Sox.
Ríos signed a minor league deal with the White Sox farm system on December 6, hopefully settling him for a more stable season. Will he see time in the majors in 2022? It would certainly not be surprising, especially since the Sox will have some middle-relief openings up for grabs in spring training.
Kyle Kubat, who has been in the organization since 2017, returns on a new minor league contract. Kubat struggled in the 2021 season with the Charlotte Knights, finishing with a 5.33 ERA in 24 games that included five starts, though his previous seasons have seen more impressive stats. He features four pitches in his repertoire — fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup — with a 47% ground ball rate.
Kubat was signed by the Kansas City Royals in June 2015 as a non-drafted free agent. After posting impressive stats in their Low-A and High-A teams in 2015 and 2016, he was traded to the White Sox for cash considerations in March 2017. Kubat immediately made a name for himself in the organization when he split his time between three White Sox affiliates — Kannapolis Intimidators, Winston-Salem Dash and Birmingham Barons — in 2017, and posted a combined 1.69 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. He has since worked his way through the ranks to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, and despite his disappointing 2021 season, he holds a career ERA of 3.31.
Kubat’s return in 2022 will hopefully prove that 2021 was simply a one-off bad season. If he is able to navigate the tricky pitching climes of Charlotte, he might even make an appearance in Chicago.
Burt was initially selected in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals. He has spent time playing in the minor leagues for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins, and ended 2021 with a batting average of .286 with a .370 OBP. He has been assigned to the Double-A Birmingham Barons. If Burt can hit the ground as a spark plug player on Birmingham’s aggressive squad on the basepaths, a promotion to Charlotte will be in order.
The White Sox signed outfielder Ben Norman to their minor league system on November 24. The 23-year-old played collegiately for the Iowa Hawkeyes before missing out in the 2021 MLB draft. He ended up playing for the old White Sox affiliate, the Great Falls Voyagers in the Pioneer Baseball League — now an independent league designated as an “MLB Partner League” though not directly affiliated with the MLB. Norman slashed an impressive .356/.675/.418 in 40 games, with 13 home runs and 59 RBIs.
Norman is still very young with limited experience, so this minor league signing is a big opportunity for him to prove himself. He is likely ticketed to the ACL White Sox, with Low-A Kannapolis directly in his sights.