For a rebuild to be successful, teams must take a three-pronged approach to acquiring talent. With the trade market quiet until closer to the deadline and the ship on free agency having sailed, it’s time to examine the third avenue for producing quality players – the MLB draft. The majority of people are skeptical of the viability of this route for valid reasons. On a macro level, finding and developing elite talent is a crapshoot with a long developmental period. Closer to home, the White Sox track record in the draft has been an absolute disaster for roughly 25 years.
Prior to that, the White Sox experienced a remarkable run, selecting guys that would be the core of the team that many say would have won the 1994 World Series had it not been for the strike(more on that later). Starting in 1987, the White Sox selected, Cy Young award winner Jack McDowell (5), six-time Gold Glover and two-time All-Star, Robin Ventura (10), Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas (7), and starting pitcher Alex Fernandez (4). Baseball reference lists, two time Cy Young Award Winner Tim Lincecum as the player most statistically similar to Fernandez. Throw in, 1990 36th rounder Jason Bere, and you have the foundation of a World Series contender.
You don’t have to go back 25 years to find an example of a team building a championship-caliber club on the strength of its draft record. If Cubs and Astros have provided the blueprint for a successful rebuild, then the White Sox are going to need to mine some gold out of their upcoming draft picks. The 2016 and 2017 World Series champions located All-Star level talent that was the basis for both teams title runs.
From 2011 through 2015, the Cubs first-round picks included: Javier Baez (9), Albert Almora (6), Kris Bryant (2), Kyle Schwarber (4), and Ian Happ (9). Going back a few years, 2008 first round draft pick Andrew Cashner (19), was used in the deal for Anthony Rizzo to complete an impressive haul.
While not as successful as the Cubs, the Houston Astros took advantage of drafting high in the first round picking up notables such as George Springer (11), Carlos Correa (1), and Alex Bregman (2) all of whom played roles on the 2017 World Series winner.
The White Sox are currently in their window of opportunity at the top of the draft. Starting with 2018 first rounder Nick Madrigal, the pressure is on Nick Hostetler, Chris Getz, and Rick Hahn to take advantage of the treasure trove of talent that can be mined from having multiple top 10 picks. Otherwise, it’ll have been pointless to make the fans endure consecutive 90-100 loss seasons. They own the third pick in this year’s draft which is a prime spot to pick up a player that could be a future Manny Machado (3, 2010). Keep your eye on FutureSox, as we’ll profile several players who are on the team’s radar.
A quick look at the 2019 MLB roster and PECOTA projections indicate it’s a good bet they’ll be picking in the top 10 again next year. With three straight shots at grabbing an elite ballplayer, the White Sox need to bring an all-star caliber player or two to the Southside. If not, the entire rebuild could hang in the balance. Given the track record of the last 25 years, most fans are doubtful that the scouting department can recapture the magic that GM Larry Himes delivered in the late 80s, but anything is possible.
Coming back around to the 1994 squad, the White Sox led Cleveland by only one game at the time of the strike that would eventually cancel the World Series. That Cleveland team included Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, being the first year of the Wild Card playoff format staying in front of them and surviving a potential playoff matchup would have been a formidable task. It’s impossible to project who would have come out on top, but it would have been an exciting Fall in the Great Lakes region. Lately, there has been talk of a possible strike in 2021. Let’s hope, history doesn’t repeat itself and rob the fans of another thrilling postseason.