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Pitchers, prep bats at top of 2018 draft class

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Best amateur talent runs counter to White Sox’ preferences the last few years

2017 Division I Men's College World Series - LSU v Florida - Game 1 Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The White Sox were expected to contend for the top draft pick in 2017, but they could only summon the lack of strength for baseball’s fourth-worst record. They simply acquired too much talent in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton trades. The White Sox went 9-6 in starts by Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and Yoan Moncada hit .305 and slugged .500 over his last 20 games. That was too much new and exciting production to compete against the free-falling Tigers, the Giants and the Phillies.

Unless Welington Castillo’s signing foreshadows further free agent activity, the White Sox should have one more crack at top-five territory, as they’re still cycling through plenty of suspect talent to open the season. However, should Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech lead the second wave of prospects with immediate success while the first wave cements itself in the plan, the Sox might be able to punch their way out of the bottom 10.

I don’t get too wrapped up in draft position when young players lead the charge. It’d be cool if every prospect could shape his struggles so that they lead to only beneficial losses during the time the Sox aren’t expected to contend, but I’d rather see what the Sox saw in the young talent that compelled them to trade their best players, and as soon as possible.

This is all to say that the 2018 draft is an important one, because they shouldn’t take future draft pools for granted. And when looking at MLB.com’s initial list of the top 50 draft prospects, the strengths runs counter to Nick Hostetler’s first-day draft habits from the last two years. Jonathan Mayo sums it up:

It's a fairly even split in this year's Top 50, with 26 high schoolers and 24 from the college ranks. It's split right down the middle at the top, with the top 10 filled with five college players and five prepsters. While it is pitching heavy at the top, with seven of the top 10 on the mound, there are more bats to be found later on. That speaks to the aforementioned depth. There might not be a college bat in the top 10, but there are five in the 11-20 range -- led by Madrigal at No. 11 -- and no one would be surprised to see some of them end up in the top 10 once the Draft rolls around.

The White Sox have targeted collegiate players with production the last three years, resulting in Carson Fulmer, Zach Collins and Jake Burger in the first round, and guys like Alex Call, Jameson Fisher, Gavin Sheets, Luis Gonzalez and every other Louisville Cardinal.

Yet these draft classes are curiously absent from the raves about the White Sox farm system. The excitement is all about the high-upside guys acquired from elsewhere — Moncada and Kopech from the Chris Sale trade, Giolito and Lopez from the Adam Eaton deal, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for Jose Quintana, Luis Robert, signed for $50+ million out of Cuba. The draft has restocked the kind of depth that turns a top-10 list into a top-15, but it hasn’t been the engine for enthusiasm.

The exception is Alec Hansen, who the White Sox drafted after a terrible year at Oklahoma sunk his draft position by 30+ picks. The Sox went for his projection instead of his production with their second-round pick, and that choice has paid dividends thus far. He outranks all the other draft picks who posted sturdier NCAA numbers.

It’s too early to say the White Sox will have to choose between a college pitcher and a prep bat. A lot can change in either direction, as hashtag cause Seth Beer has discovered.

Beyond the individual draft stock, the White Sox could use a couple months to see what their recent collegiate selections look like in April and May. For instance, there’s a massive bottleneck at Winston-Salem, where a convergence of stalled collegiate picks (Call, Fisher), on-schedule collegiate picks (Gonzalez), trades (Luis Alexander Basabe, Blake Rutherford) and international talent (Robert, Micker Adolfo) have jammed up the outfield. While Best Player Available trumps other concerns on draft day, it could be a tiebreaker if the White Sox don’t have an easy avenue for advancement at one position.

Should everything hold, it seems like the conditions are right to draft a prep bat, as there will be nothing in the way of a player across the lowest three levels of the White Sox farm system. With the massive trades exhausted and another year and a half of international signing restrictions, the draft is the best route to get fresh upside into their system.