Tomorrow the baseball world will set its sights to Nashville, Tennessee for the Winter Meetings. Top free agents have already signed for huge amounts of cash with pitchers David Price shipping up to Boston, and Zack Greinke set to don the new Arizona Diamondbacks uniforms. Plenty of pitchers still have yet to sign and the trifecta of outfielders (Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, and Justin Upton) need homes. I hear you can find a bargain on a sweet condo in the South Loop. Just saying.
While front office staffs will be scampering around the Grand Ole Opry Hotel getting deals done to complete a roster before heading to Spring Training in February, six months from now will be the MLB Draft. Many teams will have internal debates to decide if it makes sense for them to sign a free agent who has a draft pick comp tied with them, or stay away from those players to keep picks. Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals are teams that currently will have three picks to make in the first two rounds. If Jason Heyward does sign elsewhere, the Cardinals could be looking at four picks in the top 50.
For the Chicago White Sox, it seems at the moment they would be content keeping the draft picks, after Jeff Samardzija signed with San Francisco. Currently, that comp pick is number 30 and they might be tempting to give that up if they could sign the likes of Justin Upton.
It's important to note that this will be the last draft before the CBA expires after the 2016 season. Perhaps this will be the last year under its current format and baseball could see changes starting in 2017. In the past week, (Friend of the Podcast) Jim Callis and Jonathon Mayo posted the MLBPipeline Top 50 and Baseball America released the Top 100 High School Prospects. Giving draft junkies an early taste of who to keep tabs on when both college baseball and high school seasons begin.
Shocker, in the first mock draft both Callis and Mayo selected college pitchers for the White Sox at pick 10. Callis projected Vanderbilt's Jordan Sheffield and Mayo selected Cal Quantrill from Stanford. Early word on the street is that this class of prospects figures to be better than the 2015 class and its lead by high school pitcher Jason Groome.
To get some perspective from the 2016 draft class, I sat down with White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting, Nick Hostetler.
I know you can’t specifically speak to about any of the prospects, but what is your overall feeling about this class? Is it better than last year’s?
I do. For the most part, there’s a lot of depth. We are looking at depth all the way down to the fourth or fifth round. I think last year’s draft was top heavy in a sense of a large gap between the top 7-8 guys and guys picked in the 40’s and 50’s. We had eight guys on our board and all of them were selected after we picked Carson Fulmer. As the draft was going and seeing guys taken off our board we were glad not picking nine because I wasn’t sold on anybody. Our next guy on the board went in the 40’s and our 10th guy was drafted in the 50’s.
This year’s draft from what I and the scouts have seen is a lot of depth with college position players and high school players, both pitching and hitting. With this class, there are two or three college pitchers worthy of being a top 10 target. I think this year in College bats there is a lot of power. Third base has a lot of power. Many centerfield types with Buddy Reed, Corey Ray, and Nick Banks.
High School-wise I’ve noticed a huge jump from August at East Coast Pro and Area Codes, to this past October at an event in Jupiter, Florida that Perfect Game hosts. 4 or 5 guys made really big strides from being good players to bigger, faster and stronger. It’s exciting to see because it gives you a bigger pool to choose from.
The CBA is going to expire after this season. Hearing rumblings that there may be changes to the draft structure. What would you like to see changed with the draft?
Big thing for me is the disparity in the pools. You look at the teams with picks one, two, three, and four at the amount of money they have to spend in the draft. It gives them so much flexibility. Then you look at picks eight,nine, and ten, instead of going from $8 million pool for the first pick down to $6 million for the second pick, it's going from $2.5 million for pick nine to $2.3 million for pick 10. It just gives those teams with the top four picks so much flexibility not only with the pool money, but it gives them an opportunity to save money.
If you have pick 1 with a bonus slot of $8 million and you know pick 2 can’t go over $6 million, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that? Tell the player you pick, "Listen, you are only going to get $6.5 or $7 million, which is more than you will get at 2." Then you save a million dollars on the best player in the draft.
For me, I would like to see the numbers get closer together. I just think it gives such an unfair advantage to those top four teams. In the day and age of general managers needed to win now, the notion of teams purposely tanking is far fetched. Knowing the amount of money involved, knowing what the GM’s have to deal with on daily basis, trying to win every year. You need to have some security from the owner to know you can tank some games late to be around to see the final product of what you are trying to do. Because it is a 5-year process and you probably have to tank a couple of seasons to get ahead of the curve.
I don’t see that, but I do understand why fans think that. Because quite frankly, if you can have a bonus pool of $15 million dollars picking 1 or 2, why do you want to win four more games in September, when they don’t matter?
Would you be in favor of a NBA style draft in which the top 10 picks are sorted with a lottery?
I think anything that makes it better for the fans is good and I think that would make it better for the fans. Perhaps that would curb the incentive to not run your best team in the final of the week of the season. This is coming from a guy who was cheering for the Seattle Mariners in Glendale, Arizona against the A’s. Just screaming and yelling in a corner of a Buffalo Wild Wings. Bartender thought I had money on the game and I told him I have way more invested on this game than some bet.
Unless you are a draft junkie, I don’t think most of the general baseball fan population know or care about draft slot. I do think that a lottery would add some intrigue and draw more interest from the fans. I’ve been a draft nerd my whole life. I love the NBA draft and I tune in on lottery night. I think it's cool to see the ping pong balls picked.
Every draft is important, of course. This one feels that there may be more importance after not having a second or third round pick last year, and trying to continue adding to the pipeline. I’m sure in your conversations with Rick Hahn and Buddy Bell, that certain positions are needed to be addressed through the draft, such as catcher and third base. How do those needs impact your thought process and draft strategy?
One of the things we cannot do is try to create something that is not there. While there may be a deficiencies in our system at a certain position, if those types of players to fill that need are not available in the draft, there’s not much we can do. You start getting yourself in trouble if you take guys because of organizational need, especially early.
Obviously, there is a point in the draft much later on that could be a deciding factor. Great example is last year when we picked catchers in the 8th and 12th round.
Drafted Carlos Rodon’s personal catcher in the 4th round in 2014.
Exactly, Brett Austin. There is certainly at times that the need would break a tie. I’m not going to shy away from it - third base is a need. If two guys are pretty similar in talent, and one just so happens to play third base, we probably pick him. But again, I think you get yourself in trouble if you jump guys because of need. You need to have a good balance with the draft for both hitters and pitchers. Quite frankly, if you just pay attention to organizational need, you risk passing on better players.
How excited are you to make your first round pick?
I am excited, but I’m more excited to get the season started. We had meetings with all of the scouts after the instructional league in Arizona. Rick,Kenny, Steverson, and Coop came out. We left there and felt we could tackle all of our problems in three days. Our guys were pumped and honestly, I saw a different energy and fire from them.
We are going to push the envelope. You want to see if your ideas and thoughts work. Come June, I think one, I’m going to be ready for us to pull a name off the board and hopefully I have three names that I’m picking in the first night. Everyone is excited in the organization to possibly have three picks in the Top 50 be part of our system.
- Prospects who have experience playing in Team USA competition will be graded highly by the White Sox, both on the college and high school levels. Team feels that hitters are going up against better pitching, especially when facing Japanese and Cuban teams. That experience has been translating well into the big leagues, such as recent examples, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. For those rosters, here is the college team and high school team.
- Middle infield is thin in this class. Delvin Perez from the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico is the top shortstop. Best bat depth will be found with outfielders (very strong in this year's class) and third base. White Sox are having a renewed focus on finding hitters with developed contact skills vs. raw power early in the draft.
- If Corey Ray is available at 10, he is coming home.
- If he is not (most likely won't be), follow Florida's Buddy Reed and Texas A&M's Nick Banks this upcoming season.