Thursday brought around the monthly blogger conference call set up by White Spx Public Relations Coordinator, Marty Maloney. For July the subject was Director of Amateur Scouting, Doug Laumann, who was brought on to discuss the recent draft, but also addressed questions relating to the team's overall scouting approach.
Thanks to the fact that the White Sox have an excellent and well-researched blogging community, I was able to lazily sit back and listen as all my primary questions were asked. And as such, it's only right that I direct you to Jim Margalus' write-up on South Side Sox, Dan Santaromita's on Future Sox, Cheryl Norman's at South Side Hit Girl. They're good. Read them. Seriously.
I'm fantastically short on time, so let's go heavy on summary and light on transcription.
Keenyn Walker and the trend of raw athletes
Walker, taken in the Supplemental round with the 47th overall pick, seemed to be a continuation of the trend initiated by Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson--talented, elite athletes without a lot refinement, and hence, a lot of contact issues at the plate.
Laumann explained that it was a natural tradeoff of having a lower draft slot. Thompson was a 2nd round pick, Mitchell was very late in the 1st round, and Walker came during a year where they lacked a 1st round pick entirely. For the White Sox to get a guy with high-upside they would have to take a chance with someone more raw and less experienced, or they could take a polished player with a lower ceiling. "If it's somebody that's a polished player, as well as having those types of tools, they're not going to get that far down in the draft to you."
The big takeaway quote was "As scouts, the only thing we can look at is tools, and it's hard for us to predict that consistency", indicating just how hard it is to project the progress of players this raw.
Signability as a factor
As you'd expect and hope, Laumann asserted that the general principle in the organization is to take the best player available, but exceptions are made when the player their targeting demands compensation significantly over their slot. As Santaromita at Future Sox noted, the Sox went over slot for signing Walker and 30th round pick LHP Brandon Parrent. Laumann gave the example of "If we feel a player is valued at X number of dollars, and he wants X plus $2 million, then I'm probably not going to go ahead and take him."
One strategy Laumann hinted at was drafting 'back-up players' of similar tools in later rounds for selections they were doubtful about the chances of signing.
Laumann trumpeted the White Sox ability to sign their first 7 rounds of picks, and 8 out of the top 10, which of course portended doom for the other two (their 8th and 10th round selections). ""It doesn't feel like we're going to make a whole lot of progress with them."
Pitching and Catching
Laumann cited that the emphasis in the draft will always be on pitching, and that "If I took 10 pitchers with my first 10 picks every year, I think Mr. Reinsdorf and Mr. Williams would be tickled to death." An old scouting principle that Laumann attests to is that it probably takes 10 pitching prospects for every one that makes the major leagues.
He acknowledged that while catching probably gets overdrafted because it's an unique skill, the need to fill out the rosters of six affiliates with viable prospects at the position makes doing such a necessity.
While a strong emphasis is placed on power arms by both Kenny Williams and Don Cooper, it's up to Laumann to avoid what he dubbed as "circus arms", or players revving up for gaudy radar gun readings. The need is for players who can maintain their velocity while staying under control in game situations. The scouting department does a great deal of work with their player development team to determine which players have flaws that they feel are correctable. Laumann cited Dan Hudson--who struggled in college--as an example of this approach in application.
Because of that approach, the White Sox tend to find themselves in situations where they look to re-acquire pitching talent that has flamed out elsewhere with the hope that they can be fixed again. Dexter Carter is a recent example of this, but Laumann also cited Gary Majewski. There was speculation for a time that Aaron Poreda could even be re-acquired.
For sad and well-worn reasons, the White Sox have been quite out of the loop on pulling in elite Latin American talent. While Laumann insisted he's been visiting the Dominican Republic with increasing frequency and the construction of Sox training facilities in the region are positive steps, he acknowledged that they've yet to "make a splash" in a real way, but "I would expect sometime here, at least by the end of the calendar year, that we'll probably sign a few guys in Latin America." The scouting team the organization is deploying in the region is very young and raw, and undergoing training.
The picture that Laumann painted of scouting activites in the region was one of very little regulation, making it hard to operate in competition of well-funded and well-entrenched teams who could convince prospects to not try out for other teams by promising them lucrative bonuses.
As such, he's very much in favor of an international draft as a method of "evening the playing field" in the region, but mentioned that any discussion of it at the moment is in the very early stages.
Notes I wasn't sure how to categorize
-Laumann cited a preference for college players as a result of rising bonuses for higher-round picks. For the amount of money being thrown around, owners like to have more certainty and proven players
-Apparently Laumann refuses to recommend an early round pick that he hasn't seen personally. "Ultimately, it's my job on the line."
-Drafting 3 Cal players early on was a coincidence, but horrible weather across the country may have helped.