Late-blooming relievers salvage a lost White Sox draft class

Jason Miller

Hector Santiago and Brian Omogrosso offer a shot of redemption for a lost era of amateur talent evaluation.

If you ever were feeling too good about the world, you could always bring yourself down a little bit by looking at the White Sox's 2006 draft, and its unbearable blankness of major-league results.

Until Hector Santiago's cup of coffee in 2011, the sole player to contribute to a major-league team was 22nd-rounder Kanekoa Texeira. He hadn't done it with the White Sox, though, because they traded him to New York with Nick Swisher.

But Texeira didn't catch his big-league break with the Yankees, either. Instead, he made two teams honor their 25-man roster obligations in 2010 -- the Mariners picked him in the Rule 5 draft, and the Royals claimed him off waivers after two sub-par months with Seattle. He's bounced around organizations since, and his pitiful strikeout rate (4.4 per nine innings) suggests he'll have a hard time making it back, but for a while, he was the Sox's lone major leaguer out of 50 picks.

In the last couple of years, though, the White Sox have dusted themselves off a little bit by one measurement: WAR produced by draft classes (Baseball-Reference.com's WAR, since I'm using its draft database). It's semi-useful as a quick-and-dirty exercise, but it requires a couple of disclaimers:

No. 1: WAR is a pretty blunt instrument, especially considering it doesn't indicate the trajectory of careers. Two teams could have the same WAR now, with one team far better positioned for additional contributions in short order, and the other tapped out.

No. 2: It doesn't differentiate between players who signed and players who didn't. A good example is Paul Goldschmidt, whom the Dodgers selected in the 49th round in 2006. It was a flier pick that didn't take, and Goldschmidt didn't sign with a big-league team until the Diamondbacks picked him in the eighth round in 2009. His major-league career is off to a fine start with 3.4 WAR over his first 193 games, but the Dodgers are credited with it for 2006.

That said, it's still useful for this exercise, because it would benefit a team in need of help like the White Sox, who wouldn't be burdened with tasks like developing a star player, or paying over slot. They didn't have to commit to the talent, they just had to identify it. Yet in this case, the only unsigned player to appear in the majors with another team is Lucas Luetge. The Sox drafted him both in 2005 and 2006, but he signed with the Brewers in 2008. He broke into the majors this past season, contributing 0.0 WAR to the Mariners, so you can basically throw it out.

So even with favorable conditions for this exercise, the White Sox couldn't break through with a truly above-replacement contribution until this season, when Santiago (30th round) pitched 70 innings, and Brian Omogrosso (sixth round) survived his 17 appearances. You can quibble with their impact in reality -- for instance, bWAR has Santiago with 1.7 WAR, but he lost the closer role, and his good start came on the day the Sox were eliminated -- but every team is dealing with the same lack of nuance.

Here's what surprised me, though: It only took those so-so seasons by Santiago and Omogrosso to put the Sox in the middle third of baseball. Sorting the list of total WAR contributions by team, and here's what you get:

And when you filter out the AL Central teams, here's what you get:

  • 15: Royals, 3.7 WAR
  • 18: White Sox, 2.4 WAR
  • 19: Indians, 1.8 WAR
  • 27: Tigers, -0.9 WAR
  • 30: Twins, -2.5 WAR

So this draft isn't the worst -- especially if Santiago can take ownership of a starting role -- by this measurement, at least.

That said, the peril of using WAR ignores the other way a team can use the draft. For instance, the Tigers drafted Andrew Miller with the sixth-overall pick that year, then rushed him to the big leagues on what we would know as the Chris Sale Plan. It hasn't worked out for Miller's career, but it worked out for the Tigers, because even though Miller gave the Tigers a below-replacement-level performance in 2008, his prospect star was still bright enough to be a major player in the Miguel Cabrera trade after the season.

The White Sox, on the other hand, selected Kyle McCulloch with the 29th-overall pick. There's a sizable difference in perceived talent between the sixth and 29th picks, but even at the time of his selection, McCulloch was considered a reach. His decided lack of power stuff suggested a low ceiling, or a poor man's Lance Broadway, and it's worked out that way.

Longtime scouting director Duane Shaffer lost his job shortly after, and the lack of upside at the top of the draft was a driving factor. The change of leadership made a difference the following year, although WAR won't tell the story there.

The 2007 draft might end up being far less impressive than the 2006 draft when it's all done. A mere three players from the White Sox's pool of picks have reached the majors, and nobody else is knocking down the door. Nate Jones is the only one of the three with a set role, unless the recently traded John Ely can take advantage of a gutted Astros roster.

The other player to appear in the majors is Aaron Poreda, and he won't be coming back. That doesn't really matter to the Sox, because they traded him while he was still a promising lefty with a big arm, so he had enough cachet to be the chief piece in the Jake Peavy trade. And hey, while Ely never looked like much, he was good enough to be traded for an appropriately paid Juan Pierre. Nobody in the Sox's 2006 draft could rise to enough prominence to be a real part of a major-league deal.

The 2006 draft represents the nadir of the White Sox farm system, in terms of investment and attention paid, and after a too-gradual turnaround, the Sox might finally be on the verge of breaking out of their extended doldrums. The transition to Rick Hahn hasn't produced exciting developments on the 25-man roster, but you can see the biggest difference underneath it. The relatively super-sized emphasis on amateur talent during the season was part of the guard-changing process, and the minor moves after he took over the title indicate that the Sox aren't going to rush the Carlos Sanchezes and Trayce Thompsons of the system across the finish line.

At the very least, the hope is that the renewed focus on player development will erase the droughts from the last decade. Santiago stands a good chance of providing some semblance of dignity to the era, but 30th-round picks should be the icing on the cake, not the last resort.

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