The best thing about having a media credential for SoxFest 2013 was being able to ask the questions that I (and I presume some segment of our readership) want to know the answers to.
While we certainly appreciate the beat writers, without whom we wouldn't have as much fodder to write our pieces, SoxFest was an interesting peek into the herd mentality of the media, in which they traveled in packs from player to player, presumably in an effort to ensure no one else got quotes they didn't get. But obviously that has the by-product of everyone getting the same quotes and then everyone writing essentially the same article.
So, naturally, when I talked to White Sox GM Rick Hahn, I asked about the topic near and dear to my heart: the minors. While we have heard a lot of talk recently about prospect lists, and how the White Sox draft strategy has changed in recent years to focus more on toolsy, high-ceiling players like Courtney Hawkins, Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker and Trayce Thompson, an area that hasn't gotten much talk is how the White Sox are changing their approach to the other primary pipeline of player acquisition -- the international amateur free agent market -- and how that changed approach impacts draft strategy.
And after the departure of Jerry Krause prior to the 2011 season, once again the White Sox were left without a leader there. It certainly showed, as the White Sox were again second only to the Dodgers in fewest dollars spent during 2011 -- however, they did spend more than twice as much ($778,500) as they did in 2010 ($345,000).
Paddy joins White Sox
Then-GM Kenny Williams hired Marco Paddy as his special assistant in charge of international operations in Decemeber 2011. With Paddy, it looks like the White Sox finally are back in the game in Latin America.
Hahn told me he is "thrilled with where we are" and praised Paddy for "instantaneously provid[ing] experience and credibility".
Assitant GM Buddy Bell was more effusive, politely noting "we didn't dabble [internationally] for a lot of good reasons" before lauding Paddy as "a good worker, a good scout, honest" and predicting "he's going to make us one of the top ten or five [internationally]."
Paddy also instantaneously signaled the shift in White Sox strategy. Part of that $778,500 spent in 2011 is attributable to Paddy, who used $250,000 to ink pitcher Luis Martinez, a Venezuelan right-hander. That signing, mere days after he was hired, was the largest bonus the White Sox have handed out since the Wilder era.
Repairing their image
As Williams' deputy, Hahn lived the Wilder scandal and is all too aware of the effect it had not only on the scouting abilities of the White Sox, but on the perception of the club in Latin America.
"It was a huge negative," Hahn said. "The players signed were worth less -- not worthless, but worth less than we thought. We lost three scouts. The buscones didn't want to bring their talent to us. So we had issues both with evaluating as well as access. Marco's presence addresses both of those."
And the signings back that up. During the most recent July 2 signing period, Paddy flexed his reach in the Dominican Republic when he signed shortstop Johan Cruz and later added right-handed pitcher Victor Done, outfielder Hanlet Otano and third baseman Luis Castillo.
Castillo is already receiving some buzz, with Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus recently writing:
Castillo brings plus hit and power tools to the table. The body is already quite mature for his age, and the defensive profile at 3B isn’t special, but the young Dominican will make his name on the promise of the bat.
Repairing their infrastructure
Paddy won't be making more signings like these without bolstering the scouting reach of the White Sox. Hahn said the club has added five scouts in the past year: two in the Dominican, one in Venezuela, one in Mexico and one covering Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua.
It is important to have experienced scouts in these areas, particularly in the Dominican. You can't just parachute in guys who don't have any history in these places because each country is a bit different.
For example, scouting an amateur player in the Dominican is very different from scouting an amateur player in the U.S. Here, a scout can just go to a high school or college game and watch a player. Since Dominican amateurs don't ever really play in games, the only way to see them is during glorified workouts and batting practice at the facilities of their buscones. And knowing how to project a player from just watching batting practice and drills is a very different skill than watching them in games.
Loosening Jerry's purse strings
"The level of investment is up from the last few years," Hahn said. "In 2012, we spent about $9 million between draft bonuses and international [bonuses]."
While Baseball America hasn't yet tallied up the 2012 international spending, the White Sox spent $6,452,100 on the draft (versus $2,786,300 in 2011). Taking Hahn's $9 million overall figure, that would mean the White Sox dished about $2.5 million on international amateur signings.
The White Sox probably benefit more than other teams with the changes to the CBA, which added caps on spending on both the draft and international amateurs. While many other teams have reduced their spending to comply with the caps, the White Sox will be increasing their spending to meet the caps.
"We've committed to spending every dime we have over there," said White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting Doug Laumann. That would mean $2.9 million for the 2012-2013 signing period that began July 12. And he's happy about that for somewhat selfish reasons.
"I no longer have to worry about being the only supply of players. We don't feel quite the urgency to find polished players [with low-ceilings but high floors]. It changes the way we draft, we might reach more for a player who's raw [with a high-ceiling]."
In one of the seminars at SoxFest, Hahn said he would have thought that "it was not healthy to be in one place for 13 years" but he "didn't want to be GM anywhere else." Hawk jumped in at that point to insert himself into the discussion with a crack about how "general manager is the worst job in baseball - and I'm speaking from experience".
If he'd been allowed, Hahn probably would have added what he told me was the reason he didn't want to be GM anywhere but with the White Sox: "I'm happy with the structure and personnel we have, with Doug Laumann and Marco. The appeal of staying with the White Sox is the personnel."
Like another GM before him, Hahn is placing his faith in his personnel. Hopefully things will turn out much better for him.