In the third of three analytical pieces on Chicago’s college picks from the 2023 draft, we examine the very longest shots, all of whom have at least one interesting trait that they’ll try to lean on to progress through the system.
Edrick Felix (Florida Gulf Coast): .366/.449/.774, 25 HR, 171 wRC+
Felix was the best hitter on a 42-win Florida Gulf Coast team this past spring. The former JUCO transfer is an extremely aggressive hitter, but it worked for him as he put up a 1.223 OPS and a 171 wRC+ through his lone D1 season. That wRC+ was tied for 30th-best among qualified D1 hitters in 2023, and the sixth-best among middle infielders.
His batted-ball profile backs up these numbers, as Felix put up a massive hard-hit rate that came at the expense of a lot of whiffs. He swung-and-missed more than 62% of Division 1 baseball, yet he only struck out 19% of the time, which is just less than league average. Felix has a quiet stance and load, which helped him hit .328 and slug .582 on breaking balls in 2023, typically at least putting them in play with two strikes.
Given the White Sox hit more ground balls than any other club in the American League, adding a player coming off of a season with a mere 30% ground ball rate is a plus. He’s also great at pulling the ball in the air, as he hit 57% of his pulled batted balls in the air (88th percentile).
Much like Ryan Galanie a round earlier, Felix is a player coming off huge production at a mid-major school. No matter the red flags, getting a hitter coming off a Top 30 offensive season in college baseball in the 14th round is a worthwhile gamble.
Weston Eberly (Columbia): .309/.435/.552, 9 HR, 135 wRC+
Eberly is coming off near-identical, highly productive 2022 and 2023 seasons after his sophomore 2021 season cancelled by the Ivy League.
His 14.4% walk rate was the 24th-best in D1 among qualified catchers, and it helped him to a .435 OBP which was the 21st-best among the same group. He was a very patient hitter at Columbia with a zone swing rate and chase rate that were both 3% below league average. However, Eberly did have roughly league average whiff and strikeout rates, with changeups particularly giving him the most fits. The patient approach helps Eberly’s profile and is likely what ultimately got him drafted, as posting league average swing-and-miss numbers against Ivy League pitching leaves you vulnerable to much higher rates in pro ball.
Eberly was able to hit the ball in the air more in 2023 than he did in 2022 while generally optimizing his launch angles. There are very nice adjustments. He sat in the 77th percentile of Pull Air% and also had an 87th percentile SweetSpot%. He popped 16 homers over his junior and senior seasons, and not many of them were cheapies. There’s solid raw power here for a bottom-five-round catcher, and the Sox hope to get him to it more often while maintaining the disciplined approach.
Behind the dish, Eberly was a slightly above-average pitch framer.
Mikey Kane (Oregon State): .281/.396/.475, 9 HR, 114 wRC+
I’m sensing a trend here. We have another former JUCO product turned PAC-12 hitter who controls the strike zone.
Kane had a better than average contact rate, chase rate, and whiff rate, finishing with a strikeout rate that was 6% better than the average D1 hitter. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was in the 85th percentile.
His batted-ball profile leaves a lot to be desired on the surface, as Kane was in the bottom third of D1 in Barrel%, SweetSpot%, and average exit velocity in his lone season at Oregon State. However, he is another hitter that pulled the ball in the air well, as was in the 89th percentile. He has a simple leg kick in his load and keeps his hands inside the baseball nicely to allow him to turn on inside pitches and elevate them. He hit better than .300 on inner-third pitches in 2023.
Defensively, Kane was the Beavers’ usual third baseman, but he also played some shortstop.
The White Sox must feel that this type of profile for a college hitter has a much higher probability of returning any kind of major league value versus the inverse, at least for them.
Caden Connor (Cal State Fullerton): .329/.415/.502, 5 HR, 120 wRC+
After an abbreviated freshman spring in 2020, Connor put together three productive seasons at Cal State Fullerton where he walked more than he struck out and improved his wRC+ from 114 to 119 to 120 last season.
The lefthander only hit 10 homers over those 3 1⁄2 seasons in college, but he did cut his ground ball rate each season while clubbing 20 doubles this past spring. In 2023, he finished with well above-average hard-hit rates and a 51st percentile SweetSpot%. The White Sox likely see an opportunity to continue to raise Connor’s launch angles and generate more barrels with that solid contact. The frequency of contact and discipline was there, too, especially on breaking balls, where he was very good at making in-zone contact and not chasing out of the zone.
Watching Conner hit, he looks to have a solid approach at the plate, and this can be seen by looking closer at his 20 doubles. He got to his pull-side power when he had count leverage, but also oftentimes sprayed line drives to left and left-center with two strikes. Hand-eye and barrel control skills are present with Connor.
Conner came to college appearing mostly in the outfield, but as he matured, almost all of his starts were at first base. In 2023, it was all his starts.
Garrett Wright (TCU): 3.10 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 30.0 K%, 13.3 BB% in 29 IP
Hahn and Shirley went back to the well one more time and took another Omaha participant. This time, they got TCU’s closer, who had a very productive three-year career for the Horned Frogs.
Wright’s arsenal is mainly just a fastball/slider combo, and both look like solid offerings. His heater sits in the mid-90s and peaked in the upper-90s with above-average ride, performing well in the zone and generating a Whiff rate 4% better than league average.
Wright’s gyro Slider had a 96th percentile Whiff rate, and that’s his moneymaker. It’s a similar pitch shape to White Sox ninth-rounder, Jake Peppers, so it’s a shape that the club clearly has targeted. It’s a sharp breaker that sits in the upper-80s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the White Sox have Wright throw it more than he did at TCU, which was roughly one-third of his pitches. However, at the College World Series, Wright pretty much flipped his pitch usage rates and spun in a ton of sliders, and it continued to dazzle on the biggest stage.
Wright creates an uncomfortable look for opposing hitters because he does an impressive job hiding the ball behind his body before a rapid forward move to the plate. When you get a late first glance at the pitch with sharp, late break nearing 90 mph, it’s no fun trying to hit.
Wright was the last pick for the Sox, but could prove to be a really good one. Having spent too much on the major league bullpen over the last couple of seasons, pitchers like Wright who have recent Power 5 conference and World Series experience who can potentially move through the minors quickly is a nice way to round out this year’s class. I would not be surprised if the organization is aggressive with his affiliate assignment come Spring 2024.
Mike Shirley, Rick Hahn, and Ken Williams put a premium on high-level college experience, left-handed bats, strong strikeout-to-walk ratios from hitters, and seam-shifted, wake-inducing pitches. These five players largely fit into these traits.
The highlights of this final group are Felix’s massive offensive production that even outpaced Galanie’s coming from his own respective small school, Caden Connor’s track record of success hailing from a historically powerhouse mid-major with impressive approach at the plate as a lefty bat, and Garrett Wright’s prolific slider that helped him in closing games through TCU’s run to Omaha.
The early returns on the 2022 draft class look promising, with many of the 20 picks doing some serious damage in both Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. In clearly steering away from high school prospects, especially in the early rounds, the plan here is to set up the fruits of this class to be able to contribute to the struggling team in Chicago as soon as 2025. However, the first step for the 2023 group is to follow in the steps of last year’s class and take care of business in A-ball.