The Chicago White Sox have a checkered history with the MLB draft since it initiated in 1965. While there have been some terrific selections (notably Frank Thomas, Harold Baines and Chris Sale), there have been many more disappointments.
This is the third of an eight-part series which will detail the best White Sox selections in each of the first 40 rounds of the draft. There have been several White Sox picks who went unsigned, but made it big after being drafted in later years by other teams (Jimmy Key comes immediately to mind), but I’m simply looking at players who actually signed with the White Sox. Very few picks of recent vintage will make this list, as they’re still trying to add to their careers. In football and basketball, a clear picture of how successful a draft is can be determined within three years; in baseball, it’s closer to five.
Without further ado, here are the most successful selections in the 26th-30th rounds.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
St. Francis University
Almost by default, Almonte has been the most productive major leaguer signed in the 26th round. Upon being drafted, he posted solid results in the minors through 2002, when he finished well with Triple-A Charlotte. After struggling for Charlotte the following year, he was traded along with Royce Ring and Andrew Salvo to the New York Mets for Roberto Alomar and cash. Almonte pitched in 12 games for the Mets, and struggled mightily with an 11.12 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, and -0.6 bWAR in a short sample size of of 11 1⁄3 innings, relinquishing 21 hits and five walks while fanning seven. He also pitched in the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers systems in 2004-05, but was never able to return to the majors.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Jefferson Davis C.C. (Brewer, Ala.)
Valentine actually pitched in more major league games than had Almonte, but since his bWAR was worse, he earns the runner-up position. After pitching well for Single-A+ Winston-Salem in 2001 with a 1.01 ERA and WHIP, he was claimed by the Montreal Expos in the 2001 Rule 5 draft and immediately sold to the Tigers. The Tigers returned him to the White Sox in April of the following year, and Valentine fared well with Double-A Birmingham with a 1.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He was then traded on Dec, 3, 2002, along with Keith Foulke, Mark Johnson and cash for Billy Koch, Neal Cotts, and Daylan Holt. Valentine was subsequently traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he pitched in parts of three seasons from 2003-05. His MLB numbers weren’t pretty, as he amassed a 6.70 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, and -1.0 bWAR over 42 games (45 1⁄3 innings) surrendering 46 hits and 37 walks while fanning 39 hitters.
Devon Perez (2018) is the White Sox’s only signed 26th rounder currently playing in organized baseball.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Colorado Mesa University
Donnelly actually enjoyed quite an interesting career. The White Sox released Donnelly in April 1993, less than a year after being drafted. From 1993 to 2001, he pitched for multiple organizations including the Reds, Chicago Cubs (twice), Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays. He finally signed as a minor league free agent with the Angels in 2001, and enjoyed an especially good run from 2001-06 with that squad. His last four years were spent with different teams (Red Sox, Cleveland, Florida Marlins and Pirates). Over the course of his nine-year major league career, he compiled a 3.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 7.5 bWAR over 386 games (385 1⁄3 innings) with a 32-10 record and six saves while fanning 369 strikeouts. Not a bad career for someone who toiled in the minors for nine years before catching his first big break.
Piper H.S. (Sunrise, Fla.)
Collaro spent seven years in the White Sox system, culminating in stops with Charlotte in 2007 and 2008. He hit 104 homers in the minors, with his best season for Winston-Salem in 2005 when he had 29 homers, 100 RBIs, and a slash line of .264/.299/.490. In his two years with Charlotte, Collaro slashed a respectable .272/.332/.485 but only over a combined 184 at-bats. Unfortunately, after toiling for independent league teams from 2009-12, Collaro never received the ultimate promotion to the majors.
Infielder Bobby Fenwick (1967) and outfielder Dan Ortmeier (1999) were unsigned as 27th round picks, and enjoyed major league careers after being drafted later by other clubs. Outfielder Ian Dawkins (2018), infielder J.J. Muno (2017), and pitcher Alex Katz (2015) are the White Sox’s only signed 31st rounders who are still playing in organized baseball.
St. Johns River C.C. (Palatka, Fla.)
Success in the 28th round for the White Sox has been nonexistent, although there is hope that Laz Rivera and Logan Sowers may eventually have something to say about it. Brandon Short, however, currently earns the rank as most successful 28th rounder, as he slashed .194/.284/.272 in parts of the 2012-13 seasons with Triple-A Charlotte. While his numbers weren’t exactly Ruthian, they still eclipsed runner-up Wally Rosa’s numbers. For his entire seven-year minor league career, Short slugged 42 homers while slashing .267/.329/.403. he 2011 season was his best, as he hit 31 doubles and 15 homers while slashing .316/.365/.491 for Winston-Salem.
Brito Miami Private School (Miami)
Rosa is the second-most successful 28th rounder to date, due to his reaching Charlotte in 2005 and 2006. Unfortunately, he didn’t fare well there, as he slashed just .156/.164/.172 in 70 total at-bats for the Knights. During his seven-year minor league career, Rosa slashed just .228/.293/.283 with eight career homers.
Pitchers Tim Layana (1982) and Hector Ambriz (2002) both spent time in the majors, but signed in later years when drafted by other clubs. The only signed White Sox 28th rounders currently in organized baseball are Sowers (2018) and Rivera (2017).
Coats was actually selected in the 12th round the previous year by the Baltimore Orioles but didn’t sign. Unfortunately for him, he missed a little time due to injury in his senior season with the Horned Frogs and his stats fell off. That, along with a loss of leverage by playing his senior year, caused Coats to fall to the 29th round. He was a solid offensive contributor throughout the minors, and enjoyed his career year in 2016 with Charlotte when he slashed .330/.394/.519 with 10 homers in just 297 at-bats. This earned him a promotion to Chicago that year, where he slashed .200/.298/.340 with one homer and a bWAR of 0.2. He was claimed via waivers by the Rays in January 2017 and continues to play for their Triple-A team in Durham. Coats is the only signed White Sox 29th rounder who’s made it to the majors to date.
After a nifty senior season with the Hoosiers when he slashed .352/.440/.617 with 13 homers, Earley was drafted surprisingly late in 2010. The best of Earley’s five minor league seasons was 2012 for Winston-Salem, when he slashed .291/.352/.467 with 13 homers and 73 RBIs. After starting the next season fairly well for Birmingham, Earley was promoted to Charlotte, where he slashed just .221/.269/.256 in 86 at-bats. He spent the 2014 season in Birmingham, and was subsequently released. In 435 career games in the minors, Earley slashed .274/.333/.402 with 28 career homers.
Outfielder Jabari Blash (2007) was unsigned by the White Sox but played in the majors after being drafted later (2010) by the Seattle Mariners. In addition to Coats, pitcher Taylor Varnell (2018) is the only other signed White Sox 29th round pick still playing in organized baseball.
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher
Northwest Florida State College
Santiago, currently with the New York Mets organization, has the highest bWAR (8.5) of all White Sox signed prospects from these five rounds. During his eight-year career through 2018, he’s amassed a 46-49 record, 4.05 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 786 career strikeouts over 887 innings. He’s been quite versatile, as he’s started 137 games while relieving in 101. As is the case for many swingmen, Santiago certainly has been well-traveled, as the Mets are his fourth team (while appearing in two separate stints in 2011-13 and 2018 with the White Sox). Santiago’s career high in victories was 10 with the Angels in 2015, while his career high in strikeouts (167) was set the year before. To date, Santiago is the only signed White Sox 30th rounder who’s actually made it to the majors.
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
Zaleski enjoyed quite the long, 11-year minor league playing career, but despite spending parts of six seasons with Triple-A Charlotte, he never earned the ultimate call-up. Most of Zaleski’s success came in the lower levels as a reliever, but he did start 74 of 92 games with the Knights. His career minor league ERA and WHIP were 4.31 and 1.33 respectively, while his Triple-A ERA and WHIP were 4.52 and 1.36. Zaleski’s best work with the White Sox, however, may be in his current role as pitching coach for the Winston-Salem Dash. There, he has done quite the excellent job getting the best of guys like Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning, Dylan Cease, and others.
Pitchers Eric Gagne (1994) and John DeSilva (1988), along with first baseman LaVel Freeman (1981), actually reached the majors as 30th round White Sox picks. However, they were unsigned by the White Sox and drafted in later years by other organizations. In addition to the aforementioned Santiago, the only other signed White Sox 30th round pick still playing in organized baseball is infielder Micah Coffey (2018).