The current regime of the Chicago White Sox, for all intents and purposes, began in 2000 when Kenny Williams took over as general manager. Williams replaced Ron Schueler and wound up as the third-longest tenured GM in team history, behind only Roland Hemond and Harry Grabiner.
While Williams handed over the GM reins to Rick Hahn after the 2012 season, he still serves as the team’s executive vice president, and while there have been some operational changes during Hahn’s tenure, Williams’ influence is still there, and it would be a safe assessment to say the current incarnation of White Sox management has been around since Williams took over.
All of this is a way of getting to how we assess the MLB Draft, as well as the White Sox history of drafting and developing the players they select. While the White Sox have had three different scouting directors since Williams took over (Nick Hostetler replaced Doug Laumann, who replaced Duane Shaffer), the pattern in player preference during the 16 drafts that have taken place during that period of time has mostly stayed the same: college players. But how drastic has that been? Let’s look at some of the numbers:
- Since 2000, the White Sox have made 760 selections in the MLB Draft. Of those 760, 12.2 percent (62) wound up signing with the team that year and reached the majors. (Note: players the White Sox drafted multiple times, such as Jake Petricka or Marcus Semien, are obviously only counted once).
- From 2000 to 2014 (so excluding Carson Fulmer a year ago), the White Sox made 20 selections in the first round, including supplemental first round picks. 11 of those 20 have reached the majors, ranging from Chris Sale and his career 28.6 bWAR to Joe Borchard and his minus-1.5 career bWAR. That number is likely to increase to 12 if and when Tim Anderson ascends to the majors, and recent first-rounders still with the organization include Courtney Hawkins, Keon Barnum and Keenyn Walker, although divine intervention would likely be at play if any of those three found themselves making the leap at this point. First round flame-outs during that time span include Jared Mitchell, Kyle McCulloch, Tyler Lumsden, Kris Honel and Wyatt Allen.
- It has widely been assumed that the White Sox target college pitchers in the first round, given recent year picks Carlos Rodon and Fulmer. However, during the 16-year stretch, while the trend has certainly been toward college players, pitchers haven’t always been the choice, as out of 21 draft picks, nine have been college pitchers and eight have been college hitters. Only four of those 21 picks have been high school players (position players Hawkins and Barnum, and pitchers Honel and Gio Gonzalez). Gonzalez, of course, is the lone success story of those four high schoolers, and he never suited up for the White Sox. In fact, they traded him twice, sending him to Philadelphia in 2005 when they acquired Jim Thome, reacquiring him in 2006 for Freddy Garcia, and then sending him away again in 2008 in a deal for Nick Swisher.
- The difference in thinking likely boils down to the success of those respective players. Two of the nine college pitchers the White Sox have drafted are Sale and Rodon. Sale’s 28.6 career bWAR actually ranks fifth all-time among White Sox first round draft picks behind Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Harold Baines and Alex Fernandez (and he’s only .3 away from passing Fernandez for fourth). Sale actually makes up 51 percent of the bWAR accumulated by White Sox first rounders since 2000, and if you take off Gonzalez, who never suited up with the Sox at the major league level, and that number jumps up to an astounding 80 percent. Rodon, for what it’s worth, has already accumulated 1.6 career bWAR, which is tied with Josh Phegley and behind only Gordon Beckham for second highest among White Sox first-rounders since 2000. And he’s only thrown around a season’s worth of innings at the big league level.
- Draft position can have an impact on the direction the White Sox go with the pick, as well. It should be noted that the team’s three most noteworthy college pitcher selections (Fulmer, Rodon, Sale) represent three of the team’s four highest selections, with Rodon going third overall, Fulmer going eighth (Beckham also went eighth), and Sale going 13th (tied with Hawkins). One could hypothesize that the higher the Sox draft, the less risk the Sox want to take, as all three of those pitchers represented high-floor options, and Beckham was considered the same from a position player standpoint. However, in recent years the White Sox have at least said publicly that their selections were simply best player available, and in the case of the last two years, as well as with Beckham, the rankings mostly justified that mindset.
- A team’s success drafting players doesn’t limit itself to the first round, of course, and the White Sox have found a few gems. I wrote last year at our old home about how the White Sox draft history compares to other AL Central teams, and non-first round picks who became major league contributors include Nate Jones (fifth round), Daniel Hudson (fifth round), Michael Morse (third round), Chris Young (16th round), Brandon McCarthy (17th round), Hector Santiago (30th round) and Semien (sixth round). The 2010 draft has actually been one of the more successful in recent years, with the Sale selection followed by Petricka in the second round, Addison Reed in the third round, and Tyler Saladino in the seventh round.
The 2016 MLB Draft begins in less than two weeks, and while history doesn’t necessarily provide us with a formula for what the White Sox might do in the future, looking at what they’ve done in recent years can at least indicate what direction they might lean. It should also be mentioned that this will be Hostetler’s first year as scouting director, as he took over for Laumann in August of last year (Laumann is still with the organization as a senior advisor to scouting operations). As mentioned above, the White Sox have mostly shied away from prep players during the last 16 years, which makes them being linked to prep outfielder Blake Rutherford all the more unusual. Whether they go with him, a college arm such Dakota Hudson, a college bat like Zack Collins, or elsewhere, in two weeks they’ll have ample opportunity to transform the top of their farm system.
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