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Nick Hostetler has overseen three full drafts for the White Sox, and his crew has chosen the college route each time on Day 1.
Monday’s strategy fits right in:
- 2016: Zack Collins, Zack Burdi, Alec Hansen
- 2017: Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets
- 2018: Nick Madrigal, Steele Walker
In case you didn’t believe that a coincidence would turn into a trend, Hostetler telegraphed it in April by telling James Fegan in April, “We’re not going to get cute.”
It makes sense to some extent. With Jake Burger being lost for the year-plus with a pair of surgeries on the same Achilles tendon, the Madrigal pick gives the depleted infield ranks a fast riser. Madrigal probably has the best hit tool in the system along with good defense at second base, so he may not require all that much maintenance.
If you expected Hostetler to say he got his guy, you won’t be disappointed. The budget limitations of the White Sox’ social video team forced Hostetler to lean heavy on exposition in the dialogue, telling Madrigal on the phone, “I told you sitting in that meeting that you were my favorite player I scouted in a long time, if you remember correctly.”
The selection. The celebration. The call.
Welcome to Chicago, Nick Madrigal! https://t.co/u8H8PTiLi2
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) June 5, 2018
(Speaking of video, my first impression of Madrigal post-draft is that he can talk with a camera on him without sounding like he’s under oath in a murder trial. Casey Mize and Alec Bohm struggled with this.)
The biggest immediate question with Madrigal is a bigger question for the organization. Madrigal excels at second base for Oregon State, but Yoan Moncada has locked down that spot for the White Sox. The Sox are going to send Madrigal to the minors as a shortstop in order to make sure they’re not inheriting somebody else’s roster restriction, but that’s where Tim Anderson plays. Anderson’s defense leaves some to be desired, but it would’ve taken a Gold Glover to bump him off the position at the college level. Something may eventually have to give.
“Eventually” may imply “necessarily,” but it isn’t “immediately,” not for a White Sox organization with Eddy Alvarez and Juan Perez in Charlotte, and Danny Mendick and Trey Michalczewski at Birmingham. If Anderson and Moncada turn into a rock-solid double-play combo and Madrigal fulfills his scouting report (great bat, just not a third baseman), the Sox will either have depth-chart insurance or the good kind of roster issue to address. A successful rebuild has both.
As for Steele Walker, the biggest question there is “Where did he get his bible?”
Well, that and “Isn’t there a limit to how many fringe center fielders the White Sox can carry in A-ball?” Winston-Salem’s outfielder logjam was perhaps the most compelling reason for the White Sox to target a high school prospect early in this draft. Grab an Alek Thomas or a Jeremiah Jackson or some other prep player I wasn’t aware existed until last week, and let him start in Arizona while the roster congestion solves itself.
Instead, Hostetler steered right into Hurricane Luis. Hostetler wants to start Walker as a center fielder, and there’s room for that in Great Falls, but not so much above. Luis Gonzalez already is biding his time in Kannapolis due to the logjam, and Luis Robert isn’t going to alleviate that particular issue when he joins Winston-Salem, even if his arrival displaces one or more of Luis Alexander Basabe, Alex Call, Blake Rutherford or Joel Booker.
Again, depth-chart congestion isn’t that great of a concern in the big picture. All of the aforementioned active outfielders are performing reasonably well, even if you include Micker Adolfo, who has been relegated to DH. It’s not something that should stop the White Sox from pursuing value, and Hostetler thinks he found that here:
“Steele had huge success last year with Team USA with the wood bat, so I don’t expect any sort of delay in his development in regards to getting adjusted to the wood. I think he’s going to be a guy that hits the ground running from the left side. His speed is going to help him as well. It’s not positive where we would have him go, obviously. Everyone knows there’s a log jam a little bit in the outfield in the minor leagues. [Director of Player Development Chris Getz] Getzy will find him playing time. That’s on him now, so I just made his job a little bit harder. That’s a good thing. Hopefully we’ll continue to give him good players throughout this draft the next two days that he’s going to have a hard time getting in lineups. That’s our goal is to make it as hard as possible for these guys to find playing time because that means all the players we’re bringing in are good.”
And maybe he did. I’ve just been skeptical of Hostetler’s proclivity for polished collegiate talent because the supposedly safe route has left them little margin for error. When Burger’s wheel suffers two blowouts, it’s not going to be any easier for him to stay at third. When Collins’ hit tool disappears, his entire MLB future is in doubt. When Sheets hits just two homers over the first two months at Winston-Salem, he has little recourse besides “start hitting homers.” When Call loses a year to a chest muscle strain, there isn’t one element of his game that he can unlock to make up for lost time. That lack of upside is the reason why just about all of the Sox’ top prospects have been acquired via trade or now-prohibited signing bonuses.
At this moment, though, I can’t pretend I know more about Hostetler’s picks than Hostetler does, so I’m merely registering a counterpoint. And even adopting a pessimistic mindset, a few things can be acknowledged. Madrigal is going to be fascinating, and well before he starts knocking on the 25-man roster’s door. He and Walker aren’t destined for first base, so that’s an improvement over last year’s first day.
And between the Sox picking Madrigal over Brady Singer (despite rumors of “more decorated people” preferring the latter) and resisting the urge to draft the son of the team’s director of conditioning, the fan base’s Kennyphobes have little to complain about. Well-qualified family ties were on the board and the Sox instead chose a college player, so it’s pretty clear the organization is letting Hostetler do his thing.