Picks to click? Time for White Sox’ first-rounders to make impact
DENVER — There are those who say if you’re going to rebuild, go big and lose big — drop enough games to secure not just a high pick in the first round of the draft but the first pick. Go big or don’t go at all.
“If you’re on the rebuild, the big club has to be bad,’’ is how one major-league scout put it. “You need the No. 1 pick.’’
The White Sox are in the first year of a determined rebuilding plan, and while their players and manager Rick Renteria go all out trying to win every game, the front office is fully transparent about its intent to build a better future, and the team’s 37-47 record reflects it. The Sox head into this last weekend before the All-Star break with the sixth-worst record in baseball with the potential to drop further should they deal top veterans for prospects before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Getting high picks is all well and good as long as you make the right choices. Look no further than across town where the Cubs have taken Kris Bryant (second in 2013), Kyle Schwarber (fourth in ’14) and Javy Baez (ninth in ’11) in the last six years. On the flip side, the Astros, who have the best record in baseball, drafted Mark Appel first over Bryant in 2013 and failed to sign Brady Aiken in 2014, and look at where they are now.
The Sox, though, have drafted miserably in the first round since a marvelous run from 1987 to ’90 of Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas and Alex Fernandez. The only above-bust exception is six-time All-Star Chris Sale, whom they had to trade for four prospects in December to address their terribly thin farm system. After that, Gordon Beckham was the best of a first-round lot that includes Kris Honel, Royce Ring, Brian Anderson, Josh Fields, Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker and Courtney Hawkins, to name only a few who haven’t panned out.
The results seem to be improving of late with shortstop Tim Anderson (17th overall in 2013) and left-hander Carlos Rodon (third overall in 2014).
Anderson, however, is struggling offensively and has made a major-league-high 19 errors after a good rookie year that earned him a
$25 million extension, and Rodon (19-17, 3.82 ERA in his brief career) has been limited in 2017 to two starts, albeit encouraging ones, because of a sore shoulder.
Right-hander Carson Fulmer (eighth overall in 2015) struggled while in the majors last season and has a 5.31 ERA at Class AAA Charlotte, and catcher Zack Collins (10th overall in 2016), while being selected to the prestigious Futures Game this Sunday, is batting a somewhat worrisome .214 (with 11 homers) at high-Class A Winston-Salem. Potential future closer Zack Burdi (26th overall in 2016), the Sox’ other first-round pick, is 0-4 with a 4.35 ERA and seven saves in nine chances at Charlotte.
The Sox selected third baseman Jake Burger from Missouri State 11th overall last month.
“We’ve added several players in the first round with the potential to play impactful roles on a championship-winning team,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said this week. “That said, these are still very young players across the board. It’s going to take more time and development — at the minor-league and major-league level — to determine which of them are going to hit their ceilings and play such a role.”
The international market also looms large, and the Sox are making a comeback there, most recently with a big score in Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert, who would’ve been a first-rounder in the draft, experts say. The rounds after the first are significant, as well, but clicking big early would be a good starting point for draft success.
“It is certainly important that we hit on our first-round picks as part of this process,’’ Hahn said. “However, we do look at the entirety of the draft class in terms of finding championship-caliber players. Once they are signed and are members of the organization, draft pedigree takes a backseat to evaluating their skills and development.”
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