Last year, the White Sox went heavy early on collegiate position players in an attempt to get baseball players, and not just the toolsy athletes that have come to define the White Sox’ draft strategy to an unfair extent.
When polish is prioritized, it’s fair to expect exciting early returns at the lower levels, but that hasn’t been the case in the year since last year’s draft.
Zack Collins: The first-rounder is hitting .219/.378/.443 at Winston-Salem with a 28 percent strikeout rate. His catching is ahead of his scouting reports, but the contact issues are worrisome considering he only struck out 26 percent of the time in 36 High-A games last year. The hope is that it’s partially a byproduct of his patience and questionable low-minors umpiring.
Alex Call: The third-rounder hasn’t played since mid-April due to a strained muscle in his chest.
Jameson Fisher: The fourth-rounder is 8-for-40 in June at Kannapolis, and that’s with a 5-for-5 game in there. He’s at .279/.373/.438 on the season, but he’s 11⁄2 years older than the level and his defensive utility is being pushed to its limit in left field.
Collins and Fisher might be in line for a promotion within the next week or two as the newly drafted players flood the system, but the underlying flaws in their games make it hard to count on them conquering the next level.
I had these stories in mind as the White Sox had a very Moneyball start to their draft on Monday. They selected collegiate players with power and plate discipline, but limited athleticism, with their first two picks. Jake Burger is a big-bodied third baseman who the White Sox say can stick there (they’ve been right about Collins so far). Gavin Sheets is a big-bodied first baseman who has nowhere to go but first base.
“A lot of power, a lot of walks, little strikeouts,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “That’s kind of the whole goal to it.
“We needed power, especially left-handed power. When you look at the pieces (general manager Rick Hahn) brought in through trade and what we did last year in the draft, the middle of the order bats were important for us. We got a third baseman and first baseman and right- and left-handed power with our first two picks. It went exactly as planned.”
... although you never hear a scouting director say, “We were down to Plan F and we panicked. Hopefully Major League Baseball will allow us to trade picks so this doesn’t happen again. That’s assuming the White Sox don’t fire me. Or that I even want to keep doing this.”
Regardless, his word and judgment trump mine. I can only evaluate these players by coalescing available and subscription scouting reports and weighting them by the White Sox’ developmental successes. There’s a reason Grant Brisbee mails in his draft grades every year and comes away more honest than anybody.
Burger was considered a first-round talent, and Sheets a second-round bat, and they’ll come to a farm system that still can use all kinds of position-player talent, even corner power profiles. On the same day the White Sox drafted these two, Luis Robert made his 2017 debut and homered in his second at-bat, which reminds us that he’s adding a shot of up-the-middle athleticism to the system. The Sox might be able to add to that area during the draft’s second day, especially if Burger and Sheets don’t command the entirety of their slot values, which combine to represent 70 percent of their overall bonus pool.
I guess all I’m saying is, as the Sox focus their resources on collegiate bats for the second straight year, it’d be cool to see one of them reliably hammer A-ball pitching, because that’s the advantage they’re supposed to provide to compensate for a lack of athleticism. Knock tools and toolsy athletes if you will, but that kind of projection allows draft-day dreaming to linger longer.