“Prospects will break your heart” is a phrase you’ve likely read on a good number of occasions on this site and others. “Pitching prospects will break your heart” is even more apt, as any scout or evaluator can likely rattle off a good dozen or so examples of pitching prospects who failed to live up to expectations off the top of their head, if prompted.
This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the last year as the White Sox have restocked their farm system with a number of promising young arms. It’s fun to think of a future where the rotation is some combination of Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, and Carson Fulmer.
That’s eight names, five of whom were acquired via trade in the last 12 months. Even with the acquisitions of exciting bats Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert, pitching is clearly the strength of the organization, as has been the case for the last ~15 years.
You don’t need me to tell you how unlikely it is that all eight of those aforementioned young pitchers live up to their potential. The idea of all of them even carving out prolonged careers as relievers isn’t even that great. But what the White Sox are doing in acquiring a plethora of promising arms is increasing the odds that some of them will live up to their expectations. If six or five or even three of those pitchers become worthwhile rotation pieces, that’s already the makings of a solid rotation. If Fulmer or Cease or Lopez wind up as bullpen arms, that’s something you can live with if Rodon and Kopech are anchoring your rotation. If Dunning busts, you can survive because Hansen turned into a viable No. 3 or 4. Maybe the next contention cycle sees the White Sox use one of those arms in a trade for that missing piece in center field or at third base.
The White Sox have developed a reputation for getting the most out of the pitchers, but they’re of course not infallible. For every Jose Quintana there’s an Erik Johnson. For every Matt Thornton there’s a Mike MacDougal. But the odds of developing enough pitching to carry the next contender increases exponentially when you have six or seven or eight talented young arms. And in an era where, as noted on a recent episode of Effectively Wild, teams are using more pitchers per season than ever, you can never have too much pitching. Building a team around young pitching is a risky proposition, and with the Cubs and Astros winning the World Series while doing basically the inverse of this — drafting a boatload of young hitters and figuring out their pitching later — it seems a unique position.
Even with Moncada, Jimenez, and a few others in the fold, the White Sox seem to know their developmental strength and that’s developing pitchers. They’re not going to hit on every one, but they’re setting themselves up to have the best odds possible of building a contending rotation.
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