The Ghost of Systems Past, or, Never Love Anything

Hello, and welcome to your weekly dose of White Sox pessimism!

If you’re alive, you’ve heard about the two big trades that went down in the last week: Jose Quintana to the Cubs for Eloy Jimenez, Matt Rose, Bryant Flete, and Dylan Cease; and David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier to the Yankees in exchange for Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Tito Polo, and Ian Clarkin. That second trade, in turn, led to the call-up of baseball’s #1 prospect, Yoan Moncada. There’s been a lot of movement recently in the house of White Sox. You can read the FutureSox write-ups of all prospects received here and here.

If you are a slave to Twitter as many of us are, you may have seen this tweet:

With the addition of Rutherford, the updated list is no longer so, but it’s a clear and somewhat shocking picture of the total overhaul the system has undergone. The Sox went from a bottom-feeder farm system to what may be the best in baseball over the course of eight or nine months. It’s indisputably in the best shape it’s ever been; before I start doing my thing and whining about the past, I want to clarify that if even half of these guys pan out the way they’re supposed to, the Sox are in good shape. Like the Cubs before 2016, they’re overloading; it’s better to have too much of what you need than not enough. It’s also worth pointing out that there have been significant personnel changes over the last few years in player development, most notably the addition of opposite-of-future-Sox Chris Getz as Director of Player Development.

That said! The track record of the White Sox when it comes to drafting and developing players, position players especially, is not so stellar. Draft first: only in recent years have the Sox steered more convincingly away from the philosophy of drafting big, athletic college kids who were probably outfielders and who would inevitably fail to hit. Josh Phegley, Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker, Keon Barnum, Courtney Hawkins: all first round picks, all, with the exception of Phegley, who’s hitting .198 for the Oakland A’s, either out of affiliated ball or on their way out.

Jared Mitchell

Jared Mitchell

Here’s one of those fun obvious-in-hindsight exercises: who did the Sox not draft in order to draft the above? Well, in 2009, Jared Mitchell was taken two slots above Mike Trout. Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs were two and four slots below Phegley in the same round. In 2011, supplementary round pick Walker was 47th overall, with no real players of consequence beneath him. Hawkins was picked two places ahead of Lucas Giolito in 2012, funnily enough, and five ahead of Corey Seager. Barnum, a late-first-round supplemental pick like Walker, also had nobody of consequence beneath him.

Of course it’s easy to finger-point from the future when things have fallen into place and reality has already presented itself, and plenty of first-round draft picks fail. There’s no such thing as a sure-thing prospect, and usually many teams are fooled in their rankings, not just one. But these were busts of surprising magnitude, and the Sox failed to compensate by developing other players or bringing in outside talent.

Speaking of developing other players, it’s another area in which the Sox have stumbled for the past decade at least. Ten years ago, Ryan Sweeney, Josh Fields, and Aaron Cunningham were top Sox prospects. None of them were more than mediocre at best, and none are still in baseball. The list expands with time: Tyler Flowers under-performed on the Sox. Jordan Danks never worked out. Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo, Trayce Thompson. All top-ranked Sox prospects, albeit in those dark bottom-tier farm system days, and none of them produced at the level of a major-league regular (though Thompson’s book has not yet closed). In fact, to get to the last truly homegrown Sox position player to provide value for the team (Jose Abreu and Alexei Ramirez never spent a day in the minors, remember), you have to go back to the 1998 draft selection of Aaron Rowand. It’s far too early to rule out Tim Anderson as the next guy to do so, and Moncada isn’t far behind and then it’s the floodgates, but that’s the history.

So, there’s a checkered past here. But the level of talent currently in the system is unprecedented, miles above the days when Ryan Sweeney was #1. Hopefully between the players themselves and the new approaches to development and the draft, the Sox can flip their track-record reputation and call us all idiots while we laugh into our celebratory World Series champagne flutes, as is tradition. The dream is real and alive; tempered with well-earned skepticism, but closer to tangible than it’s been in years.

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Filed under: The Silo

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  • Julie:

    Nice story but I disagree with the use of the phrase that John Danks "didn't work out..."

    The guy got hurt and had his career ended but he still had four seasons of double digit wins for the Sox, three seasons with an ERA of 3.7 or less and pitched and won one of the biggest games in franchise history in 2008, the "Blackout Game."

  • fb_avatar

    She wrote Jordan Danks, not John.

  • Thanks, Tom! Mark, Jordan indeed. I always thought John got a rough deal, especially W-L record. He was great his first few years with the team and the injury was such a shame. He's still only 32, I mean, dude could feasibly still be pitching for us if not for the injury.

    He'll always have a special place in my heart for that game. He, Thome, Griffey, and A.J. were the stuff of legend that night.

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