This is the second of three analytical pieces on Chicago’s college picks from the 2023 draft. In the middle rounds, the White Sox placed a premium on contact hitters, drafting two from the PAC-12 in Eddie Park and Rikuu Nishida. They also snagged a couple arms coming with interesting pitch traits that they’ll attempt to make the most of, Jake Peppers and Ryan Franklin. Rounding out this group, they took a corner infielder coming off a massive mid-major season in Ryan Galanie.
Eddie Park (Stanford): .333/.413/.475, 6 HR, 117 wRC+
With the selection of Eddie Park from Stanford in the eighth round, the White Sox went with their fourth bat, and their fourth left-handed bat. They also stuck with their theme of recent College World Series participants, with Park playing in Omaha in both 2022 and 2023.
The 2023 season was Park’s first collegiate one cracking 100 wRC+, finishing at 117. He did so by hitting 10 more doubles and six more homers than he did in 2022, while also cutting his strikeout rate by 5%. Park actually chased pitches at a higher clip in 2023, but that coincided with a zone contact (and quality of contact) improvement. He also cut his ground ball rate by more than 8%.
Park really struggled against breaking balls in 2023. It’s not a swing-and-miss issue, it’s quality of contact, which is the overall question mark with Park. His Barrel rate was only in the 20th percentile in D1 Baseball in 2023. A somewhat redeeming factor, and one that Park will have to continue to optimize, is his SweetSpot% (how often his batted balls are at optimal launch angles), which sat in the 59th percentile.
Jake Peppers (Jacksonville State): 4.81 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 24% K, 10.4% BB in 58 IP
Peppers appeared in 44 games for Jacksonville State over the last three seasons and started 19 of those – improving his FIP, SIERA and opponent OPS each year. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and got solid results in 2023 with above average arm-side run, but the star of Peppers’ arsenal is his slider.
With Peppers’ spin axis data pointing to a high gyro degree on his slider, there’s some seam-shifted wake evidence that looks to be contributing to a late-breaking nature. That shape and characteristics led to a Whiff rate that was the sixth best of any slider in Division 1 baseball, along with the fourth lowest Zone Contact rate (min. 250 pitches).
To round out his arsenal, Peppers has a changeup that doesn’t jump off the page metrically, but he takes off a lot of velo, and that worked well enough to be a solid third offering, at least in the ASUN. Is this a fast-moving, two-pitch reliever, or a starter, in terms of the organization’s plan? I would lean towards the latter, because there’s three pitches here, and you might as well try.
Zach Franklin (Missouri): 7.45 ERA, 5.83 FIP, 32.4 K%, 10.4 BB% in 38 2⁄3 IP
Franklin was a sixth-year pitcher at Missouri this season after spending his first five college seasons at Western Carolina. Franklin mainly served as a back-end reliever for the Tigers, but he saw his walk rate jump more than 2% and his HR/FB% balloon from 6.3% to 20.6%. SEC bats are no joke.
Franklin featured two different fastball shapes in 2023, a traditional four-seamer and a sinker. Both sat in the mid-90s, but the former got solid results despite a roughly average movement profile, and the latter got absolutely tattooed. The spring for Franklin consisted of a ton of whiffs, but also plenty of damage.
Aside from his heaters, Franklin has a breaking ball that no one really knows what to call. It moves like a cutter/slider hybrid but has a shape like a traditional curveball. Whatever it is, it had a huge Whiff rate. He was able to induce a lot of swing-and-miss despite anything, other than above average velocity on both fastballs, that says he should generate those kind of results. There’s undoubtedly some pitch deception at play here, and when you watch Franklin pitch, it’s one of the shortest arm actions you’ll ever see on the mound. He almost looks like he’s throwing a shotput.
His split-changeup is another pitch that has largely average movement metrics, but it just flat-out worked, helping him to hold lefties to just a .219 batting average.
We have ourselves a funky reliever in the 10th round.
Rikuu Nishida (Oregon): .312/.394/.443, 5 HR, 108 wRC+
After hitting .383 at Mt. Hood Community College over two seasons, the Japan native transferred to Oregon. He started the season as Oregon’s second baseman before moving to right field in mid-March. He also swung a wood bat all spring, which is extremely unusual in non-Summer League games.
Nishida has a similar profile to the other PAC-12 White Sox draftee that taken three rounds earlier in Eddie Park. Both are slender lefties who don’t hit the ball very hard, but control the strike zone (9.1% BB vs 8.7% K) — and with Nishida, he provides some defensive versatility as well. Although Nishida doesn’t have the same kind of optimal launch angles that Park does (he ran a near-60% ground ball rate, among the top-50 in D1 in 2023).
The upside here is likely a versatile utility player.
Ryan Galanie (Wofford): .383/.491/.670, 17 HR, 166 wRC+
As soon as he became an everyday player for Wofford in 2022, Galanie put up huge offensive numbers. In 2023, his 1.161 OPS was the 51st-best, and his 166 wRC+ 48th-best, in Division 1 baseball among 2,285 qualified hitters. He also walked more than he struck out, and was 19-of-24 in stolen bases. These numbers scream great value in the 13th round, even if his .383 batting average was propped up by a .408 BABIP.
His batted-ball profile is also really impressive. His Barrel rate was in the 86th percentile with absurd hard hit rates in general. One knock might be that his ground ball rate saw an 8% uptick in 2023, so there could even be more in the tank if he can hit the ball in the air more. This is especially true to his pull-side, where his Pull Air% was in just the 31st percentile.
Galanie spent a majority of his time at third base through his fist three seasons on campus before transitioning to first for the 2023 season, which likely hurt his profile, but even if he’s a 1B/DH type, the bat should play based on what he was able to do in college. There might have been some quality of contact, ground ball tendency and right-handed first baseman-driven concerns around Galanie, but he looks like a Top 10 round talent who could end up being a steal this late.
With a year of colligate eligibility remaining, Galanie was set to play for Tennessee during the 2024 season before he reached an agreement with the White Sox.
With Park and Nishida, the White Sox clearly believe they can get the most out of this kind of extreme batted ball profile, which is not easy to do. You likely need elite K:BB ratios and great defense to make it worthwhile.
Peppers and Franklin are the kind of low-floor, high-upside middle-round picks that you like to see. This mold of pitcher puts some pressure on the player development staff, and while Franklin will almost surely be brought on as a reliever, Peppers seems to have a shot to start based on his collegiate experience and arsenal. These determinations are always interesting to monitor, because so many factors influence the ultimate decisions.
Galanie’s raw numbers on the surface make you wonder why he was a 13th round pick, but under the hood, you can see some dissuasive traits that make it make sense. Still, that kind of offensive production anywhere in the bottom half of the draft is encouraging.