The White Sox have signed right-hander Juan Then to a minor league deal, according to his transactions tracker at MLB.com. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Charlotte for now but could perhaps receive an invite to major league Spring Training.
Then (pronounced “Ten”) will be turning 24 on Wednesday, so it’s a bit of an early birthday present for him. The righty made his major league debut with the Mariners last year, getting into nine games and logging 11 innings, allowing six earned runs. He only struck out five opponents but also only gave out two walks, while 63.4% of the balls in play he allowed were on the ground. He was outrighted by the Mariners in August and was able to elect free agency at season’s end.
Originally an international signing of the Mariners, he was traded to the Yankees in 2017 for Nick Rumbelow but then came back to the M’s via the 2019 Edwin Encarnación trade. Primarily a starter in his earlier years, the Mariners added him to their 40-man roster in November of 2020 to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. He then struggled in 2021 and was mostly injured in 2022. He was heading into his final option season last year, so the Mariners moved him to the bullpen.
In addition to the aforementioned major league work, he tossed 36 1/3 innings in the minors with an ERA of 8.92. That’s obviously an unpleasant number to look at, but it appears worse than it is. His .411 batting average on balls in play and 54.3% strand rate were both on the unfortunate side, which is why his FIP was more than three runs lower than his ERA at 5.87.
That FIP still isn’t terribly exciting, but Then is still quite young and he was considered the Mariners’ #17 prospect as recently as two years ago. FanGraphs still considered him that club’s #28 prospect as of July of 2023. Most of the results were poor last year but he had a ground ball rate higher than 50% at Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. For the White Sox, there’s no harm in bringing him into the organization in a non-roster capacity. Given his age and 27 days of MLB service time, there’s long-term upside if things break right, as he could theoretically be cheaply retained beyond this campaign.
The Sox’ bullpen has seen plenty of turnover in the past year, with Kendall Graveman, Reynaldo López, Aaron Bummer, Keynan Middleton and Joe Kelly all traded since last summer. Liam Hendriks had his 2024 option declined as he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. The club is also planning to stretch out Garrett Crochet as a starter to see how that goes. The Sox have added Tim Hill and John Brebbia via free agency, while Rule 5 pick Shane Drohan is in the mix, but there could be a path for a non-roster player like Then to carve out a role. However, he is now out of options and will face a challenge in holding a roster spot even if he gets one.