A Shifting Draft Strategy and Potential 2nd Round Targets

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This will be the fourth draft with Director of Amateur Scouting Nick Hostetler at the helm and reports indicate that the organization is prepared to deviate from what has seemed to be their recent norms. When the White Sox decided to embark on a rebuilding process following the 2016 campaign, they were admitting that their previously preferred method of talent procurement was no longer tenable. With a bottom five farm system and high end major league talent in tow, injecting the system with high upside young players from other organizations was a possibility. Everyone knows what happened next. Players like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez were added to take a dreary system to the upper echelon of the sport.

Extra emphasis was placed on drafting, talent accumulation and player development. Rick Renteria was hired and given a staff full of coaches with player development backgrounds. Chris Getz was poached from the Kansas City Royals to be the Farm Director. The player development infrastructure has gone through change and some of that was the re-allocation of an amateur scouting staff that is currently one of the largest in baseball. That amateur scouting staff has added a plethora of college performers over the past three years. In rounds one through three alone, the White Sox have drafted 10 college players. Zack Collins and Zack Burdi (2016), Jake Burger (2017) and Nick Madrigal (2018) were selected with 1st rounders. Alec Hansen (RHP, 2016), Alex Call (OF, 2016), Gavin Sheets (1B, 2017), Luis Gonzalez (CF, 2017), Steele Walker (CF, 2018) and Konnor Pilkington (LHP, 2018) were the other selections in the top 100.

After taking over as scouting director in late 2015, Hostetler told the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane that his responsibilities wouldn’t change that much. Just like today, he echoed the sentiments that when picking it’s imperative to take the “best player available on the board at the time”. Taking the best player available is the subjectivity that we are used to hearing from decision makers in every sport and there’s really no way of proving how a particular team’s draft board lines up. The head of the White Sox’s scouting operation spent many years working in Atlanta with the Braves under the tutelage of John Schuerholz. The Braves under Schuerholz preferred a reliance on prep prospects and the scouting staff as a whole concentrated on athletes and power pitchers. These ideals are present in the background of Hostetler despite the deviation from his perceived norm as a scout.

“With the White Sox, it has been a little more college (-oriented),” Hostetler said. “I’ll never shy away from any sort of type of player … but I do have a little bit more background with the high school-type players. Those guys always tend to intrigue me a little bit.” The college heavy approach in his first three drafts as a director looks like more of an organizational philosophy to insulate the system with a higher floor than a general swing to preferring older talent. Since 2016, only 4 high school players have been taken by the White Sox in the top 10 rounds. That equates to 4 players out of 31 total selections. Infielder Luis Curbelo was taken out of a Florida high school in round 6 back in 2016. Sam Abbott is a first baseman that was plucked out of Washington in the 8th round back in 2017. In 2018 however, a greater emphasis was placed on prep talent. The top three rounds were college players and college performers were littered throughout the totality of the class but 5 prep talents were added as well.

The organization spent over their pool amount last year and added five prep talents for just over $1.2 million. Infielder Lency Delgado was given a $525K bonus as an over-slot signing out of a Florida high school in round 4. Speedy Georgia outfielder Cabera Weaver signed for slot ($226,200) in round 7 and Puerto Rican Academy players Kelvin Maldonado ($175K) and Gabriel Ortiz ($50K) were taken in rounds 11 and 19 respectively. Michigan prep Bryce Bush fell to the 33rd round and signed with the White Sox for $290K despite the perception of a strong commitment to Mississippi State. Hostetler mentioned recently that the 2018 class showed some of the personality in his scouting department. Draft observers could be in for more in regards to the Chicago White Sox in 2019.

For weeks now, mock drafts have started to link the Sox to Georgia shortstop CJ Abrams. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs pegs the Blessed Trinity High School star as the favorite for the #3 slot and even stated that he put the chances at 75%. In his most recent mock draft, Kiley surmises that “people around baseball believe that the White Sox are deploying a different draft strategy”. McDaniel and prospect writer Eric Longenhagen also suggest that the club will look to add two prep talents with their top selections. It is their belief that the scouting department would like to add a high school pitcher with the 45th pick in the draft but they have them settling for a two-sport star outfielder instead.

The White Sox have a bonus pool of $11,565,500 for their entire draft class. If they use their 5% overage in the same manner as last year, they should have just over $12 million to allocate to their draft class. The slot for the 3rd overall pick is $7.2 million and the club could potentially save some of that money to use later in the draft. Jim Callis of mlbpipeline.com has also mentioned that the White Sox are focusing on the addition of “up-the-middle players”. It will be interesting to watch develop over the next three days to see how much the draft strategy is indeed altered and what type of premium talent gets added to the system. Below are some potential options for the White Sox with their 45th pick if this new strategy is employed.

Matthew Allen RHP Seminole High School (Florida)

Allen is a 6’3″ 210 pound RHP and might be the top prep arm in the 2019 draft class. He’s big, strong and physical and throws his 60-grade fastball at 97 mph. He’s maintained velocity deep into starts and possesses a 60-grade power curveball as well as an above-average changeup. Allen repeats his delivery well and has frontline starter potential. He has a commitment to Florida but will likely receive a large enough bonus to sign with a major league club. He’s the 13th ranked player in the class according to MLBpipeline.com. It’s unlikely that Matthew Allen gets to the White Sox in round two but he was one of the names mentioned by Fangraphs.

Prospect Video by Prospect Pipeline

Quinn Priester RHP Cary-Grove High School (Illinois)

Priester is ranked as the 19th best player in the draft class according to pipeline and it’s unlikely he would fall to the 45th pick. The 6’3″ 200 pounder is the best Illinois pitcher since Mike Foltynewicz and sports a 60-grade fastball, 60-grade curveball and 50-grade changeup. Priester was a state championship winning football player as well for Cary-Grove and excelled on the summer showcase circuit in baseball. He shows easy athleticism and arm action on his 97 mph 4-seamer with riding life. He also throws a heavy 2-seamer and has tight spin on his curveball. Quinn has some projection left and could be the first prep pitcher off the board.

Prospect Video courtesy of Prospect Pipeline

Brennan Malone RHP IMG Academy (Florida)

Malone was exciting but enigmatic on the showcase circuit according to mlbpipeline and is ranked as their #20 overall player in the 2019 class. The North Carolina commit has plus stuff and athleticism but struggles with command and consistency. He has carried 96 mph deep into games and possesses four solid pitches. His premium velocity and plus slider is his calling card. Malone is from North Carolina but moved to Florida to attend IMG Academy for his senior year. He could be a potential option for the White Sox with the 45th pick if they can save enough money to buy out his college commitment.

Video courtesy of ProspectsLive

Daniel Espino RHP Georgia Premiere Academy (Georgia) 

The hard-throwing Panamanian comes in at #23 on the pipeline list and the fellas at Fangraphs’ believe he’s a candidate to be floated to the 45th selection. Espino is 6’2″ and weighs 200 pounds and is the hardest thrower in the prep class. Daniel routinely works in the 95-98 mph range and reaches triple digits regularly. He displays riding action on his 70-grade four-seam fastball and shows heavy sink on his two-seamer. Espino also possesses a 60-grade slider and a 55-grade changeup but has inconsistent control and command and doesn’t have much projection left. He throws very hard and has premium stuff but comes with reliever risk and historical risk of prep righties of this particular profile. The White Sox would likely need something in the $3 million range to haul in Espino.

Espino at age 17 from Baseball America

JJ Goss RHP Cypress Ranch High School (Texas)

Goss projects to throw in the mid nineties with a solid frame showing a heavy fastball and plus slider. The Texas A&M commit is 6’3″ and 185 pounds. Goss repeats his delivery well and shows a quick, whippy arm action in his delivery. His best offering is a 60-grade slider but some evaluators also have 6 grades on the fastball with an average changeup. He could be an option for the White Sox selection in round two. He is the 24th ranked prospect in the class according to pipeline.

Prospect Video from Prospect Pipeline

Hunter Barco LHP The Bolles School (Florida)

The 6’4″ 212 pound southpaw has a commitment to Florida next year and is the 34th ranked prospect in the class according to pipeline. Barco was inconsistent last summer and has been shutdown on the mound of late causing some skepticism from scouts. Hunter battled a shoulder strain last year and his velocity fluctuated at times. He has an ideal pitcher’s body with room to fill out further but throws from a lower arm slot than preferred. His 55-grade fastball gets up to 94 mph with arm side movement and he displays an above average slider and changeup as well. There is some deception in the delivery but he struggles to repeat his mechanics. Barco could be an option at #45 but there is no indication how the White Sox’s evaluators feel about his medical history.

Prospect Pipeline Scouting Video

Blake Walston LHP New Hanover High School (North Carolina)

Walston is a 6’4″ 172 pound southpaw from the state of North Carolina. He’s ranked as the #52 prospect in the draft class. Blake is committed to North Carolina State and wasn’t much of a showcase circuit kid. He was a star quarterback for Hanover High School and led the state in passing yards. He has projectability and can likely add 40 pounds to his frame. He is a good athlete with clean arm action and delivery. His best offering is a 60-grade curveball but he has an above average fastball as well in his four pitch mix. Walston could be an option for the White Sox at #45.

Video courtesy of Perfect Game USA

Even though it’s been speculated that the White Sox may target a prep pitcher in the 2nd round with an overall focus on high school performers, there are some options on the position player side as well. Jim Callis of MLBPipeline has stated multiple times that the organization will place an emphasis on “up-the-middle” performers and below are some options for the 2nd round pick of the non-pitcher variety.

Maurice Hampton OF Memphis University High School (Tennessee) 

In the Fangraphs‘ projection, Hampton is mocked to the White Sox with the 45th pick in the draft. He’s the #29 player in the class according to MLBPipeline. He’s 6’0″ and 185 pounds and won’t turn 18 until September. He bats and throws from the right side and has commitment to LSU to play baseball and football for the Tigers. Hampton is a four-star cornerback and the best prep baseball player in the state of Tennessee. He was named an Under Armour All American in both sports. Maurice needs to refine his baseball skills but has enormous potential that could be met if he commits to baseball full time. Pipeline notes his “impressive bat speed and exit velocities” and pegs him for 25 homers annually if ceiling is reached. He struggled early on in showcase events but continually improved as he went along and is an above average runner who should be able to play all three outfield spots in the future.

Highlights from Under Armour All American

Matthew Lugo SS Carlos Beltran Academy (Puerto Rico) 

Lugo is #38 on the pipeline list and the 18-year-old has a strong commitment to the University of Miami. The 6’1″ 185 Puerto Rican infielder played well on the showcase circuit and performed with wood bats. His approach is advanced and he seemingly prefers to go up the middle with line drives. Lugo runs well and could have above average power but some scouts think that he ends up at second or third base instead of shortstop. Lugo has no ties to the White Sox publicly but they did draft two players from Puerto Rico in last year’s class.

Prospect Pipeline Video

Rece Hinds 3B IMG Academy (Florida)

There were some unsubstantiated rumors of Hinds working out for the White Sox this week and he could be an option with their 2nd round selection. He’s the 42nd ranked player in the class according to pipeline and stands at 6’4″ and 210 pounds. Hinds has huge raw power and it’s generally on display in competition and games but the question has always been whether he’d hit enough to get to it consistently. Some publications have ranked his power as a 70-grade but his hit tool has been ranked as low as 40-grade. There are questions about pitch recognition and whether he can pick up spin. His defensive home is a question mark as well.

Prospect Pipeline Scouting Video

Ethan Hearn C Mobile Christian High School (Alabama)

The 5’11” 200 pound backstop is listed as the #67 player in the class according to pipeline. He’d be only the 3rd Alabama prep catcher drafted in the top three rounds ever. Hearn is a left-handed hitter with big raw power and a pull oriented approach. He has improved his receiving skills and the publication states that he has been clocked with “1.9 second pop times”. He hasn’t been linked to the Sox but is an up the middle player.

Under Armour All-American Game

Jerrion Ealy OF Jackson Prep (Mississippi)

Ealy is the #66 player in the class and has a strong football commitment to Ole Miss. Jerrion is a 5 star running back and was an Under Armour All American in both sports. The righty is a 5’10” 190 pound athlete that has struggled at the plate this year. There is “swing and miss” in his game but he possesses impressive bat speed and great strength. Pipeline noted that he has 20 homer potential and profiles as a centerfielder. He might be a tough sign.

Under Armour Highlights

Yordys Valdes SS McArthur High School (Florida)

A 65-grade arm at shortstop is the best tool for this prep infielder. Yordys is a bit of a pop-up prospect as is ranked 82nd overall according to pipeline. Valdes possesses a plus-plus arm with good hands and a defensive acumen. There are some questions about the bat and he’s a switch hitter that must add strength. Valdes has a commitment to Florida State and was linked to the White Sox by the writers at Fangraphs.

Valdes highlights from Perfect Game

Trejyn Fletcher OF Deering High School (Maine)

Fletcher is more of a 3rd round option most likely and is ranked #87 according to mlbpipeline.com. Fletcher is 6’1″ and 190 pounds has 20-20 potential in centerfield. He will need development time and has some hit questions but is a great athlete. Trejyn shows plus raw power, speed and premium arm strength. He started his high school career with a New York area prep school but moved back to Maine for his final high school seasons. In a recent interview, Hostetler mentioned that he was in Maine scouting a high school player and Fletcher is likely that guy. He could definitely be an option for the Pale Hose.

Highlights courtesy of 2080 Baseball

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