Last August, it was announced the White Sox promoted Nick Hostetler to be their new Scouting Director. A few days later, I had the pleasure of talking with Nick about his career as well as the 2015 draft. It was revealed that Nick had run the draft for the White Sox from the fourth round on last year. This year, Hostetler got to head up the entire process and had the luxury of an extra 1st round draft pick that led to new White Sox prospect and flamethrower Zack Burdi. Nick was kind enough to speak with me this weekend and he provided us with a good review of the White Sox draft process this past June.
Brian Bilek: When we spoke last year following your promotion, the reception to your interview led people to think a couple ways about you. They said you like high school kids and you want more contact-oriented hitters and I think the latter really resonated with Sox fans. Since you grabbed three disciplined, college bats in Collins, Call and Fisher in the first four rounds, do you think that was kind of the mark on your first full draft? Or a goal of yours?
Nick Hostetler: When Rick and I discussed the direction of the amateur scouting department as well as the organization back in August, it was one of the highlights and it was probably the main highlight of our discussion in that we needed to add more of those guys that get on base, control the strike zone and understand the ability to get on base is that golden, and scoring runs is hard to do. The more guys we have like that the better.
We set out with that goal and I think at the end of the day, after the draft was all over, we definitely accomplished that.
Brian: The guy who may be best in that respect was your first pick in Zack Collins, and you guys have repeatedly said you feel he is the best bat in the draft. Seeing the way Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto really flew to the majors, do you think it’s going to continue to be a trend that the polished college bats are going to move quicker than they have in past years?
Nick: I think it’s tough to pigeonhole some of these guys. It’s easy to make comparisons, you see Alex Bregman doing the same thing now. Then I think, Dansby Swanson is hitting .250 in AA. It’s kind of each their own. I do think the situation with Conforto and Schwarber was a little bit easier because they didn’t really have a demanding position on defense. Zack has a bigger demand with catcher. The involvement with him as far as developing is going to take a bit more time because of the fact that he is a catcher.
Once he gets his feet under him and his legs under him – I mean he still has to go to the All Star Game in San Diego to receive the Johnny Bench Award – but once he gets out to Winston and gets going in the regular flow of a professional baseball player he’ll be better. I think the bat is a tick ahead of the defense for the short-term future but I think in the long-term run there’s really no need for us to push him. I do think given the fact that we all think he’s going to be a solid-average catcher in the big leagues and that his catching so far, has been very good, that we are willing to take a little more time with him.
Brian: When we spoke before, we talked about how excited you were to have the second first round pick and you got a local kid in Zack Burdi. With Burdi, the local media has been very vocal to the idea that can pitch out of the bullpen this year. Do you think it is fair to expect Burdi to hone his command so quickly and pitch opposite MLB hitters in these next few months?
Nick: No, I don’t think it’s fair to Zack to think that there’s anyone who could go from college baseball and then in a month or two and pitch against the best hitters in the world. That’s hard to even fathom. The development phase isn’t just physical it’s also mental and when you step up and you’re facing professional hitters for the first time it’s really tough. I mean we threw him right into the fire with Winston and now in Birmingham. Even then he’s facing some guys who have played in the big leagues.
It’s a process with him understanding that he has to do some things a little bit different. He can’t always just rear back and throw 103 or 104 to get a guy out. He’s going to have mix his pitches and his pitch selection is going to be important. But I do think he has the ability and raw tools to be there, but in regards to the command, pitching one inning in the big leagues or even in the minor leagues, you don’t exactly have to have good command. You just have to have good enough stuff to make the hitter swing. They’re going to be amped up to swing. If he had the good command on top of his three pitches I can promise you that Dan McConnell at Louisville wouldn’t be using him to throw the 9th inning every few days, he would have been their Friday starter.
So if we decided to make him a starter later, next year, it’ll take even more time. Right now, if you ask the guy to throw one inning, it’s pretty much rear back and throw it. They’re not trying to hit a gnat in the ass that’s for sure.
Brian: Moving down the draft, Alex Call was a guy that seems like the Sox were higher on than the industry and some in the know even figured he would be an under-slot pick. He’s started in Great Falls and has had just a great start thus far. What did you guys see in him that other teams may have missed?
Nick: I will disagree on the idea that we had him higher than the industry. I think I had four or five different texts saying that guys behind us were lined up to take him. One of the big things that’s hard for the fans to understand is the publications get their information from the scouts and we’re going to lie to them. We’re not going to give them the truth. Why would we want to give up our secret?
Alex is a guy, from day 1 at Ball State, who has done nothing but hit. He got on base, hit and this year the power developed. When you put the whole package together on top of the fact that he’s a plus runner with a plus arm, plus defense and he’s got off the charts make up. Trust me when I say when we were talking numbers with his agent and the final bonus, there was a lot of teams after us that were ready to snap him up and the texts that I got just kind of confirmed that.
We were overly excited to get Alex and he’s the type of guy that we want to add to our system and continue to get to help us in Chicago in the near future.
Brian: Well that’s great to hear and staying on the subject of the publications and the way they evaluate players, you got a couple guys who had 2nd and 3rd grades by a lot of outlets and the Sox picked them later than that. Starting with Jameson Fisher, what kind of impact did his missed season from the torn labrum have on him as a prospect and do you think it played a part in the Sox having the opportunity to draft him the fourth round?
Nick: I think with the labrum the big thing was that it moved Jameson’s position. He caught prior to it and I don’t think any of us are comfortable putting him behind the plate with the torn labrum for four or five seasons making every single throw back to the pitcher. That’s going to wear him down even more. At Southeast Louisiana they stuck him at 1st base but we saw his athleticism and just how he changed the game with his athletic ability combined with his ability to swing the bat and the fact that he could throw a little bit, we thought the outfield was the perfect fit for him. He’d never played the outfield before. He’s went out there and done a great job in Great Falls.
I think with Jameson, to get the leading hitter in all of college baseball is huge. I know he was a guy who our statistical analysis was very, very high on. When you mix in a smaller school in a smaller conference, kind of similar to Alex Call, that also kind of drops some of these kids. They don’t always have the loud jump-out tools, they’re just really good baseball players and when you’re at a small school and still a really good baseball player sometimes you fall a round or two.
Brian: Luis Curbelo is the other guy who may have fallen a round or a few even but you guys certainly compensated him in a way that shows his talent level is above where he was selected. Curbelo grew up in Puerto Rico and it had me wondering how do these kids coming out of Puerto Rico complicate the draft process for a scouting department?
Nick: With as mainstream as Perfect Game, the East Coast Showcase and Area Code games have really become we get a lot more looks at these guys. It’s gotten a lot better over the course of the last five or six years. Just with the access of these players. I was over there in Puerto Rico three times this year. With Luis, he enrolled in high school over in Cocoa and we had already seen him in Puerto Rico over the last three years. Plus, he was in the showcase circuit, he played at the East Coast showcase; he played in the All American game in San Diego last year so he’s been exposed a lot. It was just a lot easier for us to evaluate him against Florida High School players because he was facing better pitching and it’s more consistent than the games in Puerto Rico but it has gotten a little bit easier to be able to get looks at some of the Puerto Rican kids.
Brian: There seemed to be an emphasis on catchers. You guys picked a handful and there’s obviously there’s a shortage industry wide. Away from getting Collins early, you also drafted Michael Hickman in the 13th, and he’s a guy you picked last year as well. What did you accomplish last year in your conversations that enabled you to sign him this year?
Nick: We got pretty far along with Michael last year and it actually went right down to deadline but we couldn’t extend anymore due to the fact of the bonus limitations that we had. When Michael decided to go to Chipola we were happy. We knew that prior to the draft. Worst case scenario, where we took him, it would give us a little bit of time to get to know him personally and then obviously have another shot if we liked him this year and we did. We followed him well and Jeff Johnson, the coach at Chipola is a really good friend of mine, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with Jeff and we discussed the physical, mental and emotional maturity of Michael and we felt like he was far more ready this year than last year to come out and play. I think, knowing the kid, knowing the situation, and talking with his agent, when the opportunity arose in the 13th round it was definitely a good fit for everybody. Now I do feel like Michael was far better off going through that one year at Chipola than he would have been coming out last year.
Brian: Ian Hamilton was another guy you picked outside of the top ten rounds but he seems like a talent that could have been taken earlier than where he went. I am sure you saw his outstanding performance in the Cape Cod League last year and after seeing that, do you think he profiles as a reliever who could move quickly through the system for the Sox?
Nick: Yeah, he does. I actually saw him up here in the Cape Cod and there was no doubt he was one of the best arms, if not the best arm, in the league last year. I got a chance to see him close a game at Wareham and it was 96-98 and it was power with angle and sink. He had a solid slider. Some kids, they just can’t start and Ian had some shoulder and some elbow issues dating back to high school and I think that’s part of the reason for him.
We actually had some player development meetings last week in Chicago and I don’t see us moving Ian out of the relief role. Obviously it’s way easier to move quickly as a reliever because you really only need two pitches if you’re throwing an inning at a time. There’s no need for three or four but with Ian, we’re going to need to see him throw his change up a little bit more but the fastball-slider combo…to get that in the 11th round, it was definitely a huge value for us.
Brian: Kind of like what you’re describing with Hamilton, was there a player that you were particularly shocked to have the chance to pick them when you picked them?
Nick: There were a few. I think Alex Call falls in that category. Jameson Fisher to an extent. We kind of knew that Curbelo was going to fall because of the initial price tag he threw out was so high we knew he was probably going to fall. Those guys for sure.
I definitely think a guy like Jake Elliot in the 15th round was another. Even Mitch Roman, the shortstop we took from Wright State, who played on the same team as Sean Murphy, Oakland’s third round pick, we expected him to go a little bit higher than that. You can even slide down a little bit further with a couple other guys. Michael Hickman is even one of them. As much as he performed early with the bat, he was really a good value there. Really that’s what we’re trying to do.
We get out of those first couple rounds we want to look for the best value possible and I was really happy with our guys this year. I felt like we did a good job of that.
Brian: Last year, you had told us, you had taken over the draft after Doug Laumann had the first pick with Carson Fulmer and you had him there to guide you along to the end of the draft, but what did you learn this year leading up the process by yourself?
Nick: The main thing is relying on your people. One of the things that I had to realize quickly was that I wasn’t able to do everything. I am used to being involved in just about everything and trusting my people otherwise. I got an extremely great group of supervisors and area scouts and also mentors with Rick (Hahn) and Kenny (Williams) and Buddy (Bell) and Jeremy (Haber). To have those guys and rely on them and use those guys as resources was a great help. Really it all trickled down through Doug (Laumann) and Larry Monroe and Ed Pebley and all of my supervisors there bringing their support, trust, wisdom and guidance through the years to make sure that I know they’ve all got my back. That’s the big thing here. I got a group of about 30 great teammates that were all pulling from the same rope this year and our goal this year was the same as it’s going to be next year and the year after that. And that goal is: if we all stick together, have great teammates and be in this for the one reason and that’s to help the White Sox, we’re going to have successful drafts.
***Special thanks to Nick for taking the time to speak with us. If you want to continue to follow Nick’s work as well as the progress of his draftees you can follow us on Twitter @FutureSox or subscribe to our email list below.
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