This is the beginning of a three-part analysis of Chicago’s college picks from the 2023 draft. Starting up top with the most promising players, we’ll take a look at Jacob González, Grant Taylor, Seth Keener, Calvin Harris and Lucas Gordon in this edition.
Rick Hahn and Mike Shirley stayed in the Power 5 conferences with two left-handed hitting, national championship-winning teammates from Ole Miss in Jacob González and Calvin Harris in Rounds 1 and 4. Sandwiched in-between them was LSU RHP Grant Taylor in the second round (coming off of his own national championship in 2023), and RHP Seth Keener, who also played in Omaha last month, on the nation’s best overall pitching staff. Rounding out this top group is Lucas Gordon, a LHP from the University of Texas.
Jacob González (Ole Miss): .327/.435/.564, 10 HR, 134 wRC+
A three-year performer in the SEC, González has a profile without a signature carrying tool, but he’s above average at just about everything except for speed. He maintained an OPS better than .960 and wRC+ topping 125 in each of his three seasons at Ole Miss, with more walks than strikeouts.
González had a 96th-percentile Hard Hit rate and a 70th-percentile Barrel rate. His batted ball profile was great in Oxford. He hit well against both fastballs and breaking balls, but a really impressive nugget was his ability to make a lot of contact on right-handed changeups. González also handled lefties (.948 OPS) just about as well as righties (.990 OPS), pulled the ball in the air well, and handled the velo of the SEC well. He should be a high-floor, quick mover through the system, and I think this is what intrigued the front office.
A future infield of Bryan Ramos, Colson Montgomery and González looks promising, and the latter two are both left-handed hitters. With Ramos and Montgomery both having 2024 ETAs, Tim Anderson only under team control through 2024 while holding a wRC+ right around 50, and Yoán Moncada’s inability to stay healthy, this group might be the group sooner rather than later.
Grant Taylor (LSU): 5.81 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 25.8 K%, 13.9% BB in 31 IP (2022)
Taylor is coming off of Tommy John surgery after blowing out his elbow in February, so getting healthy is priority No. 1. The White Sox have clearly put a lot of faith in his 2022 summer on the Cape and his underlying pitch metrics. D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers also noted his success last summer carrying over to the fall games at LSU.
The @whitesox got a damn good one in @LSUbaseball RHP Grant Taylor. Thought Taylor could drop a little and end up back at #LSU in the NIL era. Now, he will definitely sign. Missed 2023, but was LSU's best arm in the fall outside of Skenes. Filthy fastball w/ nasty life.…— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) July 10, 2023
What undeniable is Taylor’s ability to spin the baseball, as his Fastball spin rate was in the 90th percentile, with three different breaking balls with rates that collectively sat in the 87th percentile of D1 Baseball. He has a straight over-the-top release that helps him create all that backspin on his fastball, but he also has a very interesting factor of deception. Given Taylor’s release point, generating the well above-average horizontal break on his slider is very abnormal — hitters aren’t used to seeing that movement profile (horizontal break) from that (very vertical) release point, so it helps the pitch play up. This concept of movement unexpectedness is something that I detailed a few years ago.
As Rogers noted, Taylor looked primed for a big 2023 season before he got hurt prior to Opening Day, and his fall data backs this up. He was enjoying big jumps in velo, ride, and extension from his 2022 season that put him on track to have one of the best fastballs in college baseball.
Aside from his heater and slider, Taylor showcased a low-90s cutter and a hammer 12-6 curveball. The latter has a shape that mirrors his fastball, with a massive, three-foot difference in vertical break. In short, the two pitches should tunnel with each other well, though I haven’t looked at this specific relationship empirically. He’s bringing four uniquely shaped/defined and legit pitches to pro ball, creating a really intriguing arsenal.
When Taylor was picked, I assumed he’d be an under-slot sign given his status of rehabbing a serious arm injury, but he ended up inking a deal for the full slot value. After digging into his pitch metrics, there’s a considerable amount of upside here that likely warrants that slot value, though rebounding from TJ is never guaranteed.
Seth Keener (Wake Forest): 2.69 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 33.5 K%, 7.1% BB in 70 1⁄3 IP
Keener dropped his FIP by almost three runs from 2022 to 2033, and the biggest change he made was making his slider his primary pitch. In 2022, his fastball was hammered and his slider got a ton of swings-and-misses, so he decided to do the logical thing and throw it a lot more. What drove his overall success was that he was able to maintain an almost identical whiff rate while increasing slider use.
Keener is another pitcher who seems to use deception to his advantage. His slider doesn’t feature big break, but with its “slurvey” shape and mid-80s velo, it an atypical combo that hitters aren’t used to seeing, especially as much as Keener featured it. He also had a very good pitch mix regardless of the count state, often flipping in sliders or even changeups when down in the count.
His .169 overall BAA was the sixth-best in D1 baseball in 2023, and right-handed hitters hit just .148/.241/.195 against him, with a strikeout rate just shy of 40%. Only eight of Keener’s 23 appearances in 2023 were starts, but that’s largely a product of him pitching on the best staff in the country. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t given every chance to start in the Sox organization.
The focus for Keener and the White Sox as he turns pro is to make some tweaks to his fastball to get it out of the “dead zone.” It currently has movement traits that hover around average, and a velocity that no longer will carry the same weight. The organization has had some recent success adding ride to heaters, and will likely try to do the same with Keener, whose raw spin was in the 90th percentile, but it was not efficient spin to generate impact ride.
Calvin Harris (Ole Miss): .321/.398/.579, 12 HR, 128 wRC+
After combining for five homers through his first two season at Ole Miss, Harris blasted 12 long balls in 2023. He also cut his ground ball rate by 7% and his strikeout rate by 8%. His 128 wRC+ was the ninth-best among D1 left-handed catchers in 2023.
Harris was great against fastballs, with a well above-average Z-Contact% and Hard Hit%. He also had better than average chase rates on breaking/offspeed pitches. He had a 75th percentile Barrel rate with an above-average SweetSpot%, but one thing he’ll need to do better is pull the ball in the air, as 63% of his pulled batted balls were on the ground.
It seems unlikely that Harris will stick behind the plate unless the league institutes some version of robot umpires, as Harris grades as a well below-average pitch framer, yet has shown solid pop times.
Lucas Gordon (Texas): 2.63 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 24.1% K, 8% BB in 102 2⁄3 IP
After a successful freshman season pitching out of the Texas bullpen, Gordon moved to the Longhorns rotation and put together two more good seasons. Gordon has a three-pitch arsenal – fastball, changeup and slider, while mixing in an occasional cutter.
His changeup gave right-handed hitters fits all season, and they only hit .227/.304/.382 against Gordon. He does a nice job of killing velo and spin on the pitch, creating a 90th percentile velo disparity between it and his high-80s/low-90s fastball. With the pitch’s above-average movement metrics and Gordon’s command of the pitch, his changeup is the offering that likely attracted the Sox to make him a Top 200 pick.
His fastball generates above-average vertical break, and Gordon wasn’t afraid to use it at the top of the zone even at his well below-average velo. The pitch’s profile along with its pairing with his changeup allowed this plan to work well.
His slider has a Gyro shape, and Gordon doesn’t really have a feel to spin it at high rates, yet it got great results in 2023 likely to do its late-breaking nature. Gordon also avoids the heart of the strike zone well and generally has good command. One might call him a “pitchability lefty” to overgeneralize, and he should be able to provide upper-minors depth quickly.
One way to look at this group is that it’s a signal of what’s to come over the next year-and-a-half with this organization: Five college players who all played in Omaha at the College World Series in the past two seasons. This doesn’t look like a precursor to another drawn-out rebuild, but rather, at worst, a “re-tooling” 2024 season leading up to 2025 when some of these players could contribute to a competitive major league team.
A different lens could be that the organization has done some reflection on the player development struggles that have hampered what was a competitive window, and these picks represent a type that (relatively) doesn’t require a ton of grassroot development in order to make it to Chicago.