It’s early March and generally not the most appropriate time to be worrying about the upcoming major league baseball draft. The White Sox are in an interesting spot though and high school and college seasons have gotten underway. While it’s premature to note that there is a consensus forming at the top of the draft class, there is in fact a consensus forming at the top of the draft class. Veteran pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are both still available with draft pick compensation attached to their markets. The official bonus amounts for the 2019 draft likely won’t become official until those signings are announced.
With that being said, the White Sox should have the ability to spend around $12 million on their 2019 draft class with about $7 million slotted for the 3rd overall pick. Much can change between now and June 4th but as is often the trend, college hitters are gravitating toward the top of the class. While players like outfielder Kameron Misner of Missouri and infielder Bryson Stott of UNLV could be late entries to the top of the class, there have been two college stalwarts taking much of the focus.
Adley Rutschman of Oregon State and Andrew Vaughn from California are the two premiere hitters in the country and are expected to stay there. It would be a shock to see either player on the board past the top five picks in early June.
Let’s take a closer look at these college standouts below:
Adley Rutschman C Oregon State
Rutschman is #1 on the board at all of the prominent draft publications and has been there since Oregon State’s 2018 College World Series run. The 6’2″ 215 catcher has been given 60 grades in the hit and power department by some scouts and is lauded as a 60-grade defender as well. Adley is a switch-hitter and does damage from both sides of the plate. The 21-year-old has an advanced offensive approach and he makes consistent hard contact. Rutschman is capable of driving the ball to all fields and does so on a regular basis.
On the defensive side, Adley possesses above average hands, agility and a good throwing arm. He also has an extensive history of success while using wood bats on the summer circuit which has been a prerequisite for Sox draft picks of late. The only potential weakness in drafting Rutschman is that he’s a catcher. While having a player of this caliber at a premium position can be a boon for an organization, catchers are often part-time players in the majors. Adley’s bat is good enough to play other positions as well though for any apprehensive thinkers worrying about positional value.
The Beaver’s backstop posted a .478 wOBA in 2018 to go along with an ISO of .220. In 67 games, the switch hitting slugger clubbed 9 homers and drove in 83 runs with a walk rate of 17% and 12% strikeout rate. In 14 games in 2019, Rutschman has already hit 6 home runs. He’s slashing a staggering .409/.600/.841 with a .432 ISO%. He also has walked 21 times to only 8 strikeouts.
Rutschman had 17 hits in last year’s College World Series
Andrew Vaughn 1B California
Last season’s Golden Spikes winner was seen as a controversial topic by many fans and scouts in the lead up to the 2019 campaign. In 2018, Vaughn hit .402/.531/.819 with a .515 wOBA and .417 ISO. The first baseman smashed 23 homers and drove in 63. He sported a 17% walk rate with a minuscule 7% strikeout rate while playing in 54 games. Normally, these numbers would constitute being a sure-fire candidate to be the 1-1. Vaughn however is a first baseman and more importantly a right handed one who might not be 6’0″. Listed at 6’0″ 215 pounds, Andrew is atypical to his peers at the position. And that can cause a stir within the scouting community.
The 20-year-old California star plays above-average defense at first base and has been given 60 grades for his hit and power tools. The Golden Bear standout profiles as a middle of the order impact slugger and will likely be the best college hitter in the 2019 draft class. In 13 games in 2019, Andrew is slashing .432/.603/.932 with 7 homers already. Vaughn has driven in 19 runs and has compiled a 28% walk rate in the early going. There’s a buzz about Andrew Vaughn. His rise is unusual due to his player profile but his bat speaks for itself in this regard.
Vaughn was a mostly unknown commodity out of high school but his advanced approach at the dish earned him PAC-12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2017. He also won the Golden Spikes Award as a sophomore. The right handed hitter walks more than he strikes out and shows a really safe profile while also offering immense upside simultaneously. Vaughn is an under-sized first baseman that hits right handed and he also was just average with Team USA this past summer. Those are the only blemishes he has against him at this stage though and they shouldn’t prevent him from having his name called very early on June 4th.
Some Highlights from Vaughn’s 2018 Season
These players fit the profile of what Nick Hostetler has chosen since taking over the reins in 2016. They are both college hitters with prodigious profiles at the plate and they both walk more than they strike out. Either slugger would be a welcomed addition to the White Sox organization. The White Sox decision-makers have used three-straight first rounders on college bats and they are likely hoping to continue that trend in 2019. As bad as the 2018 season was for the boys at 35th and Shields, 100 losses weren’t quite enough to obtain the chance to acquire their pick of the litter. The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals compiled more losses and will both pick ahead of the White Sox in June. While the college route is the likely preferred outcome, there is another player in the draft class that merits some attention as well. This time that player is of the prep variety.
Bobby Witt Jr. SS Colleyville Heritage HS (Texas)
Baseball America has Witt listed as the #2 prospect in the class of 2019. Bobby is also at #2 according to mlbpipeline.com. The son of former big leaguer Bobby Witt and Oklahoma commit is already having a big season. He’s also been a highly-regarded draft prospect since his Freshman year of high school and it’s extremely unlikely he’ll ever step foot on campus in Norman. Witt plays a premium position at shortstop and he’s expected to stay there for the long haul. The 18-year-old possesses elite hands, quick footwork and the ability to throw accurately from multiple arm slots regularly. The 6’0″ 180 pound SS impacts the game defensively while also packing some punch offensively.
Pipeline gives the Colleyville native a 50-hit grade to go along with 55-grade power. Witt also displays 60 grades on his run, arm, and fielding tools. Witt is a potential five-tool talent at a premium position and his selection could be a gamble worth taking. While he sports an exciting profile, the infielder isn’t portrayed as safely as the top college performers. Witt Jr. employs a really aggressive approach at the plate and there are some questions related to his hit tool. There is some swing and miss in Bobby’s game which can be expected when he tries to hit for the power that he does at times. Witt Jr. will also be 19-years-old in June so while he’s advanced for a prep prospect, his age is advanced as well. There are some questions regarding this prep sensation that aren’t present with the more polished college bats in this class but the reward outweighs the risk in this case.
Bobby Witt from the Perfect Game National Showcase
White Sox Are In A Great Spot
It has been the philosophy of the front office in recent years to draft hitters in the early rounds of the draft when possible. The organization has used their last three first rounders on college bats as well as using their previous two 2nd round selections in that manner as well. The scouting staff could buck this trend in 2019 and recommend a pitcher but it would be a surprising contrast at this juncture. Bryson Stott and Kameron Misner are standout college performers that may gain some helium over the next few months. Neither player can be discounted as a potential selection but they don’t stack up with the aforementioned three in this class. There are also some other high upside prep talents such as Georgia shortstop CJ Abrams and Florida outfielder Riley Greene. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the scouting staff feels endeared to one of these players when all is said and done either.
Much can and will likely change in the weeks leading up to the 2019 Rule 4 draft. The White Sox are in an enviable position however, with three elite level prospects in the draft class. While the decision makers in the White Sox draft room would likely prefer to take the college route again, the benefit of picking third is that the decision will likely be made for them. The Baltimore Orioles may prefer a high school player under the leadership of former Astros’ executive Mike Elias. Elias was the leading voice in drafting Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with Houston back in 2012. The Orioles are also about to embark on a full scale rebuild and may prefer prep talent to better line up with their targeted competitive window. Baltimore could take Witt Jr. or Abrams and leave the college bats on the board.
With the 2nd pick in round one, Kansas City is more likely to take the best college player on the board. In 2018, the Royals selected five college pitchers and pretty much anything should be on the table for them. In an ideal world, the influences that are present in the Baltimore front office convince the decision makers to go with Bobby Witt Jr. with the first choice. In this scenario, the White Sox could select whichever college hitter the Royals don’t take. Three months of speculation will culminate the first week in June and an already strong farm system will grow stronger. The White Sox have put themselves in a great position to land an elite talent. They pick 3rd in a draft with three elite players. Sitting back and taking the one that is ultimately left on the board looks like an extremely favorable outcome at this stage.
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