The 2021 draft for the White Sox is quite possibly the most important in the history of the franchise.
With the contention window open and the World Series fires burning, the fuel needed to stoke the embers will need to come from a robust minor league system. With the pipeline of talent-gushing big leaguers since 2018, the well has finally been reduced to a trickle. The consensus opinion is that the White Sox farm system is now likely in the bottom half to one-third in major league baseball.
On a positive note, the 2021 draft crop has the potential to go down as one of the most talented in history. By virtue of simple math, the elimination of 55 rounds between the 2020 and 2021 drafts should mean that only the top 31% of draft eligible players during the last two years have been selected. What does that mean for the Pale Hose? It means that the team was afforded a target rich environment to begin upgrading the farm system. Theoretically this draft should be loaded with talent, and, quite frankly, bargain-buying opportunities.
With these factors in mind, let’s dig into some of the most interesting selections.
In the first round the Sox selected an “older” high school shortstop from Indiana, Colson Montgomery. The New York Mets used a similar tactic in selecting Brett Baty during the 2019 draft. Baty was dinged by some draft experts for being older than other preps in his class. However, the 21-year-old has thrived this season in advanced A-ball at an age younger than par. Sox fans should hope that Montgomery can advance in a similar fashion to Baty, who was recently promoted to Double-A. The sentiment among White Sox brass is that if Montgomery was a freshman in a JUCO program, no one would have a problem with his age. The 19-year, five-month-old Montgomery is very athletic, having played three sports as a prep. As a four-year varsity basketball player, Montgomery averaged 20.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Leading up to the draft, the White Sox were rumored to have been all-in on the 6´4´´ infielder and were ecstatic to find him available with the 22nd pick. As a large-framed shortstop he has the potential to outgrow the position, and may find himself at third base at some point in his career.
Team Indiana coach Scott French spent limited time with Montgomery, but came away a believer. French shares with South Side Sox, “He hit a home run way out to dead center field in a fall wooden bat tournament against very good competition, and I was like, ‘I’m in. This kid can go where he wants to go.’” Additionally, the coach states, “He has present power, and durability. You can see the skills and the projection. For a high school kid, he looks like his body can stand up to the grind of playing nine innings every day. It almost comes easy to him. He’s the kind of player that you wish you could be like.”
French also lauds the youngster for his even keel and inner self-confidence. These traits should serve him well in the development process.
The second round found the White Sox selecting another prep, in third baseman Wes Kath. Kath was the Gatorade Arizona High School Player of the Year this past season and is praised for his projection to become a game-changing hitter. Kath garnered interest from multiple clubs during the draft process, and many felt he was a first-round talent. He offers a strong arm from the left side of the infield, along with a smooth, left-handed hitting stroke and an all-fields approach. Kath frequently elicits Michael Brantley comps from major league scouts. His ability to be very selectively aggressive in the strike zone should form the foundation to make Kath a quality offensive performer.
The third-round pick was Maryland Terrapins right-handed pitcher Sean Burke. White Sox scout JJ Lally shares, “We had first-round grades on Burke. He didn’t finish the year as strong as some of the others, but by and large we felt that he was a first-round talent.”
Burke has a power arm equipped on his 6´6´´ frame. In 97 collegiate innings, he used it to strike out 142 opposing batsmen. In his last year for the Terps, hitters mustered a meager .178 batting average against him. Although Burke experienced occasional command hiccups (4.9 BB/9 IP), he possesses a starting pitcher’s profile with a high-leverage relief role as a fall-back option. In high school, the athletic fireballer was also an extremely talented basketball player.
The fourth round saw the Pale Hose landing on college left-handed starting pitcher Brooks Gosswein from the Bradley Braves. Lally offered that the fourth-year junior has been on the White Sox radar since his high school days in Barrington.
“Athletic lefties are never a bad way to go with your scouting,” Lally says. “We wanted him a year ago, but he had some inconsistencies with his command.” The scout shares that Gosswein is consistently 91-95 mph with his fastball and can challenge hitters with two big-league breaking balls: “He has a clean arm action, a good delivery, and a for-sure starter profile. If his command can continue to improve, he’s going to be a No. 4 starter. His floor is that of a big league reliever.”
Sox fans will be disheartened to know that Gosswein and his family are huge Cubs fans. “We were big Cubs fans, but my family has never been one or the other with teams,” he smiles. When prodded about whether or not the Gossweins will continue to support the North Siders, the southpaw good-naturedly tells South Side Sox, “Absolutely NOT. We’re a Sox family now.”
Gosswein felt that the lost time created by the Covid pandemic was beneficial to his development.
“I really took care of what I needed to during the quarantine,” he says. “I cleaned up some of my mechanics, which helped with my fastball velo. The main thing I accomplished was fixing my curveball, which became my go-to breaking ball.”
Have heard really good things about this kid in recent weeks. LHP Brooks Gosswein out of Bradley is touching 95. More coming. High spin CB with great depth. Fringy CH. Holding velo. Deception in arm action. Round 3-6 type arm.— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) January 9, 2021
The pitcher said that he finished his college season really strong, which moved him up a lot of draft boards. He also noted that he was pleasantly surprised when the Sox called his name during the fourth round. Although the South Siders had been keeping tabs on him for some time, his last workout was with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark. The lefthander felt that he threw the ball really well: “Quite honestly, I really thought the Phillies were going to draft me.” Nonetheless, he is happy to be with the hometown ChiSox, saying, “I’m super excited, and can’t wait to get going here.”
Fifth-round pick Tanner McDougal is an 18-year-old, 6´6´´ 210-pound, right-handed starting pitcher. The Henderson, Nev. native follows a recent trend for the White Sox organization in drafting high-upside prep pitchers.
Former Silverado High School baseball coach Brian Whitaker has known McDougal since he was six years old. Whitaker shared that McDougal’s father is a former minor-leaguer and the young hurler has developed under the tutelage of current Silverado coach Jose Loza, along with ex-big leaguers Josh Towers and David Riske. “Tanner has a feel for the game that is leaps and bounds ahead of the bell curve,” Whitaker says. “The folks on the South Side are gonna love him.” Sox scout Lally says that McDougal has electric stuff: Elite spin on both breaking balls, and a fastball that has ran up to 96 mph.
“He’s everything there is to dream on,” Lally says. “He’s got No. 2 starter upside.”
The Sox targeted Bradley Braves right-handed pitcher Theo Denlinger with their seventh-round pick. When asked what Sox fans can expect from the hurler, Denlinger digs deep with his answer.
“I bring a lot of energy, I’m a goofy guy,” he says. “I’m a blacksmith, I was adopted into the Lakota Sioux Tribe, I’m going to bring fun, I can guarantee that.”
That might seem like a lot to unpack, but the pitcher has some very eclectic interests.
White Sox 7th round pick Theo Denlinger who @scottmerkin profiled yesterday was kind enough to send me a video of his blacksmithing work. Yes, if you didn’t read it yesterday, the high octane pitcher performs double-duty as a blacksmith. Here is is handiwork in action. pic.twitter.com/Sj98cyvGsL— Daniel Victor (@slydanno70) July 16, 2021
The 25-year-old fought through a malady of collegiate injuries, including a dislocated kneecap, torn cartilage and Tommy John surgery. He described the draft as being surreal.
“It was everything I could have hoped for and more,” Denlinger says. “I was kind of in disbelief; not that my name was called and I finally got drafted, just that everything I had been through and persevered had finally paid off.”
Before the draft, Denliger was using his high-90s fastball (which touches triple digits) to dominate hitters in the Northwoods League, where he went 1-0 with six saves. While sporting a 1.06 ERA over 17 innings, the righty surrendered just 13 hits and four walks while striking out 25. Lally describes Denlinger as “One tough SOB” and “an older guy with upside.”
Lally also offered effusive praise for 12th-rounder Johnny Ray.
“We had second and third round grades on him,” Lally says. “He’s going to go to Kannapolis at some point and light up the radar guns. People are going to be like. ‘Where did this guy come from?’”
With their 15th round pick, the Sox dipped back into the high school ranks and snagged outfielder Cam Butler. His signing scout, Adam Virchis, comps him favorably to former White Sox fan favorite Aaron Rowand and shares, “I played with Aaron, and saw the work ethic, and that’s what this kid is. He’ll run through a brick wall for you. He’ll play super-hard.”
This is the White Sox 15th round pick. Quite possibly looking at this signing as brilliant in a few years. He’s described as a freakish athlete. https://t.co/chSiYLFmLC— Daniel Victor (@slydanno70) July 15, 2021
Virchis said he was attracted to Butler due to his baseball-rat mentality: “He works out at 5:00 a.m. every day, which you don’t see very often in high school players.”
Butler’s measurables include a 48´´ vertical leap, and Virchis says that the outfielder “can run a 4.1 to first base when he gets out of the box the way he’s supposed to, but his speed plays more once he’s on the bases and as a defender.”
Butler, a three-sport high school player, wowed the Sox.
“He can do things other people can’t,” Virchis says “He’s a freak athlete.”
Things like hitting an unfathomable .741 during his senior year, with 15 home runs and 32 stolen bases in only 22 games. Butler’s gaudy statistics would seem to be video game like as he rolled over high school competition like Danny Almonte destroyed 12-year-olds during the 2001 Little League World Series.
Although Butler played against softer competition by attending a private school, Virchis (the scout who inked former White Sox Marcus Semien) believes that Butler’s tools will ultimately win out. “This guy has better tools than Marcus had out of high school,” he says. “He has the bat speed, he has the strength. It’s just going to be a matter of learning pitch recognition and getting his reps.”
Virchis also cautions that there will be some swing-and-miss, saying, “Cam is going to have to learn to lay off pitches that he used to go after and smoke, because the velo [in pro ball] is different.” Even considering the developmental bumps and bruises ahead, it’s still awfully hard not to get excited about Butler. “He makes loud contact,” Virchis says. “He looks like a Double-A kid taking BP, he can whistle the bat. Once he learns to use right-center, good night!”
Butler has some initial promises for White Sox fans.
“I bring a ton of competitiveness and work ethic to the table, as well as athleticism and feel for the game,” he says. “I’m super stoked to be part of the organization.”
The 19th round saw the White Sox picking infielder Shawn Goosenberg from Northwestern. Goosenberg was one of three 2021 draftees signed by Lally.
“This was a guy that we thought could be drafted as high as the fifth round,” Lally says “He fell, and we got him in the 19th. He’s a middle infielder with power. He hit 14 homers for Northwestern this season. He’s a guy that I really liked in this draft, I stayed on him, and I’m glad we signed him.” Goosenberg’s Northwestern teammate Michael Trautwein, the 13th-round pick for the Cincinnati Reds, volunteers, “Goose is hands-down the best hitter I have ever played with. On top of that, he always found a way to deliver in the clutch every time he was put in a big spot. The dude can flat-out hit.”
With the 2021 draft class preparing to converge on Birmingham for mini-camp before moving to Arizona for training and perhaps some Arizona Complex League games, the White Sox system may experience a shock wave of personnel moves that will likely mean the end of the baseball road for some of their existing minor leaguers.
With the contraction of the advanced rookie league (for the White Sox, losing the Great Falls Voyagers), there are simply not enough roster spots to get all of the prospects the necessary reps needed for development. Although exciting for Sox fans, this draft is also a painful reminder that baseball is still a business.