A Changing of the Guard

It’s no secret the White Sox had a rough stretch of first round draft picks in the early part of this decade. Recently, Gordon Beckham and Chris Sale have gone a long way to turn that around, but the flops are still fresh in the minds of a lot of Sox fans. This spring Kyle McCulloch was traded to the Reds for cash considerations. McCulloch was the last to leave the organization among a group of disappointing first round picks from 1999-2006 (or 2007 depending on your view of Aaron Poreda). With them gone, let’s close the book on the era of the “safe” first round pick.

McCulloch fell out of prospect rankings quickly. The 29th pick in 2006, he didn’t have much success in the minors and fell in line with a group of first rounders taken by the Sox that couldn’t cut it in the Majors. Jason Stumm (15th in 1999) and Kris Honel (16th in 2001) also didn’t even make the bigs. Honel had a strong start to his pro career, but injury issues derailed his career.

Joe Borchard (12th in 2000), Royce Ring (18th in 2002), Brian Anderson (15th in 2003), Josh Fields (18th in 2004) and Lance Broadway (15th in 2005) got to the Majors, but flopped there. Borchard and Ring bounced around as part time players for a few seasons, but couldn’t stick. Anderson showed quality defense, but couldn’t hit and is now trying to pitch. Fields is on his third team in as many years after the Royals traded him to Colorado, where he’ll start the season in AAA. Broadway is past last chances. After some minimal time with the Sox and Mets, he’s now bouncing around AAA. Poreda (25th in 2007) could be headed in the same direction after really struggling with the Padres after the Jake Peavy trade.

So what does this all mean? It means we can put that depressing era behind us. Beckham (8th in 2008) and Sale (13th in 2010) have already outproduced the combined output of the first round picks from ’99-’07. Jared Mitchell (23rd in 2009) at least has shown potential if he can recover from last year’s horrific spring training injury, but you won’t find many that disliked the pick when it was made. The Sox don’t have a first round pick in this June’s draft (their first pick is 47) so we won’t know if they would have continued the current trend of taking toolsy players instead of “safe” picks.

In other news John Shelby was traded to the Rays for future considerations and C.J. Retherford was released. Shelby was as high as seventh in our midseason 2009 rankings. After a pair of ugly AA campaigns, Shelby fell off the radar.

Retherford was fifth in our ’09 postseason rankings, which admittedly was too bullish. He seemed to outperform his talent, but had a miserable 2010. The former Arizona State Sun Devil couldn’t hack it in AAA and surprisingly struggled in AA as well after a demotion.

This isn’t another negative post about White Sox futility in drafts and development. This is more about how recent personnel changes and draft philosophies have impacted the system. There have been encouraging signs of improvement in recent drafts and players contributing on the Major League roster this year. The Sox will likely never have a strong minor league system under Ken Williams because of his willingness to trade prospects for proven talent and the likelihood that the Sox will typically be in contention for the division title. The point is that things are improving and the right people seem to be in place to maintain a decent system that can produce talent for trade and the occasional boost to the Southsiders

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