CHICAGO -- The Major League Baseball first-year player draft can be a fickle process and perhaps no team understands that better than the Chicago White Sox.
While recent selections such as Chris Sale (first round, 2010) and Carlos Rodon (first round, 2014) are paying dividends, the White Sox have had limited success over the past decade when it comes to position players.
In fact, no White Sox regular in the field this season was drafted by the club. The White Sox did sign international free agents Carlos Sanchez, Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu, but when it comes to draft day, the White Sox have been far less than successful than others at finding position players with raw talent that sticks in the major leagues.
Gordon Beckham is the only position player on the White Sox current roster who was drafted by the club. He was a 2008 first-round pick who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels last year, then re-signed over the offseason.
With Beckham getting more playing time of late over Conor Gillaspie, the White Sox are starting to buck the trend of having no homegrown talent among the regulars.
But that is not an issue for any other team in the American League Central, all of whom have at least two homegrown position players who are regulars.
In fact, the Minnesota Twins have a whopping six homegrown players who are regulars, counting Torii Hunter, who was a first-round selection by the club in 1993, left for seven seasons and returned as a free agent this past winter.
“The goal of most teams is to scout, draft, develop and maintain your own players; that’s the best formula for winning championships,” said Jim Bowden, former general manager and current ESPN senior analyst and insider. “Just look at the Giants who have won three of the last five World Series, or the Royals that played them last October.
“Failure to develop your own players makes it really difficult to win because it limits your trade weapons, it's too costly and rarely can you win by only signing free agents. The camaraderie and closeness that players have when they grow up together in a system also helps in winning.”
Besides the Giants and Royals, other examples of successful team runs using homegrown talent are the Twins in the 2000s, the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s and 1980s.
The White Sox have been putting more resources into the draft in recent years now that the collective bargaining agreement has been changed, with top-tier talent no longer able to negotiate through-the-roof signing bonuses.
“The newer system allows for more of a level playing field,” executive vice president Kenny Williams said. “Less games can be played, certainly by the higher-revenue teams, and it gives you an opportunity to actually look at the draft and actually take the best player when he comes up on the board without worrying about some of the other peripheral things.”
The White Sox are confident in the draft process more than ever and have been committing max resources to acquiring raw talent.
“Really this is about us spending in excess of $10 million in amateur talent here over the next few weeks or months before the signing period ends,” general manager Rick Hahn said before last year’s draft, when the White Sox grabbed Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick.
“We’re going to follow that up by spending in excess of $4-$4.5 million bases on our bonus allotment. We’re really now entering a six-to-eight-week period where conceivably we are adding $15 million of amateur talent to the organization, which will be a huge shot in the arm for the system while also moving the organization toward where we want it to be.”
Looking back at that 2014 draft, it was extremely pitching heavy. After Rodon was picked in the first round, the White Sox selected pitchers with four of their first five picks. In the fourth round, they took catcher Brett Austin, Rodon’s teammate at North Carolina State.
In the sixth round, they selected University of San Diego outfielder Louie Lechich, then took shortstops in the seventh and eighth rounds in Jake Peter and John Ziznewski. But Lechich and Ziznewski both were signed well under their slotted values.
So where do the White Sox stand with position player prospects? According to ESPN.com’s Keith Law, the White Sox had six position players among their top 10 prospects when the current season started.
The list opened with Rodon, followed by shortstop Tim Anderson. A pair of right-handers were next in Spencer Adams and Francellis Montas, followed by second baseman Micah Johnson, third baseman Matt Davidson and third baseman Trey Michalczewski. After right-hander Tyler Danish at No. 8, the list closed out with outfielders Micker Aldolfo and Courtney Hawkins.
Only four of those position players, though -- Anderson, Johnson, Michalczewski and Hawkins -- were White Sox draft picks.
It is interesting to note that the Oakland Athletics have more White Sox-grown position players available to them in shortstop Marcus Semien and catcher Josh Phegley. But both the White Sox and A’s have spent the majority of their time in last place of late.
It is clear that the White Sox’s system is better than it has been in recent years and their recent willingness to spend on raw talent is having an impact. If guys such as Anderson, Davidson, Hawkins and even Trayce Thompson can arrive and produce, the White Sox could be in a better position to return to sustained success.
Had third baseman Josh Fields panned out as a first-round pick from the 2004 draft, the White Sox would have one fewer area of concern on the current roster. If outfielder Jared Mitchell panned out as a first-round pick from the 2009 draft, the White Sox wouldn’t have had to spend $42 million on Melky Cabrera.
The lack of homegrown position player talent might not be fully to blame for the White Sox only reaching the playoffs once in the 10 seasons since they won a World Series, but it hasn’t helped. When the White Sox won it all in 2005, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand were regulars.
A number of position players appear on their way to Chicago now, and next week’s draft could do wonders for adding more to the system.