White Sox looking to bolster prospect cache through draft

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White Sox 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Collins. (AP)

SoxFest was a LoveFest this weekend, with sellout crowds adoring the organization’s top prospects and applauding general manager Rick Hahn and manager Rick Renteria’s unannounced entrances for a question-and-answer session. And all those young future Sox genuinely had fun and appeared to really like each other.

Edgy questions for management, in years past a tense but entertaining element of the fan convention, were nonexistent. Love was in the air, and everyone went home believing the Sox can be good again before too long.

The rebuild has momentum, but now, with the talent-acquisition phase about done, there’s one way to keep it going — go out and hit a home run in the draft.

The Sox’ speed-of-sound ascent in the prospect ranks was fueled by deals, thanks to premium trade pieces Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana, who netted seven players who are in the top 100 or were before getting promoted to the majors.

The Sox also shelled out a $26 million bonus to sign international free agent Luis Robert to go along with a hefty $26 million tax on that deal. They boast seven top-100 prospects on MLBPipeline’s list released Saturday night.

But only one — minor-league strikeout king Alec Hansen — was drafted by the Sox. He was taken in the second round in 2016.

The Sox need to keep the prospects coming to keep the rebuild train rolling and will bank on the draft for more help with not much else to trade. With the fourth selection in the 2018 draft, scouting director Nick Hostetler needs a pick that will click.

There’s no reason to write off the Sox’ three first-round picks in the last two years under Hostetler’s watch, but none has climbed the ranks since being selected. Both 2016 first-rounder Zack Collins, a catcher, and 2017 first-rounder Jake Burger, a third baseman, are on missions to prove they can stick at their positions.

Hostetler is confident the arrow is still up on each one.

“The first year, good and bad, you can almost throw out because this is an acclimation year,’’ he said.

“As an organization we’re extremely high on them.’’

Burger, taken 11th overall in 2017, had a .271/.335/.409 slash line with five homers in his pro debut at Class A Kannapolis. He’s ranked 10th among Sox prospects.

“Burger was dead-tired at the end of the year,’’ Hostetler said. “His college team started in January, he played into the super regional, then he went right to the minor leagues, living on his own and hitting with a wood bat, all of that. And he got run down. But he looked terrific at the hitters’ camp [last week].’’

Collins, who was No. 1 on Hostetler’s board when the Sox picked him 10th overall, dropped out of the top-100 rankings after hitting .224 with 129 strikeouts (and 19 home runs) in 113 games between Class A Winston Salem and Class AA Birmingham. He worked on fixing a hitch in his swing this winter.

“Everybody wants to focus on the batting average,” Hostetler said. “But his OBP [.370], walks and power were exactly what we were looking for. And the catching is where we wanted him to be.’’

Closer prospect Zack Burdi, the Sox’ second first-rounder in 2016, is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2018 season.

Hahn knows scouting and drafting — in the first round and beyond — are crucial. In the last two years, the Sox replaced scouting director Doug Laumann with Hostetler, added one extra cross-checker, a relief-pitching cross-checker and two area scouts.

“We’ve also added a ton of video and analytics,’’ Hostetler said. “The money we’ve sunk into amateur scouting has been unheard of around here. It’s fun to have.’’

Fun is winning. For Hostetler and his bulked-up staff, the real fun would be winning the draft.

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Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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