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When the White Sox have selected a pitcher in the first round of the draft, it’s because they’ve wanted to see him as soon as possible.
2020: Garrett Crochet went from being selected at No. 11 to pitching for the White Sox at the end of the year without any minor-league experience, but in the White Sox’s defense, there was no minor-league experience to be found in 2020.
2016: Zack Burdi made it as high as as Charlotte in the same year he was drafted out of Louisville 26th overall, but the White Sox’s postseason hopes fizzled, and an arduous rehab period after Tommy John surgery the next season doused Burdi’s potential.
2015: The White Sox promoted Carson Fulmer up the chain, and ultimately to the majors, a year after the Sox selected him eighth overall. The problem was that Fulmer never really earned promotions after A-ball, and Robin Ventura had no idea how to use Fulmer at the MLB level. That was one of the few things for which Ventura couldn’t be blamed.
2014: Carlos Rodón could’ve pitched out of the White Sox bullpen at the end of the year if there were a need. Because the White Sox were still in the middle of their first rebuild, there wasn’t one. But they did try to break out of the intentional-losing period over the winter, so Rodón only pitched two games for Charlotte before spending the rest of the year in the White Sox rotation.
2010: Rodón was fast-tracked like that because the White Sox had incredible results with Chris Sale, who threw just 10 innings in the minors, transitioned seamlessly to the White Sox bullpen, which begat a smooth and startlingly successful transition to the White Sox rotation. He might be a Hall of Famer.
The White Sox spent the next decade understanding how rare a beast Sale was. Even Rodón, who spent his career at NC State understanding that he wasn’t destined to ride minor-league buses for long, struggled to maintain effectiveness in the majors because he never figured out a routine for pitching every five days over six months. That process took him the better part of six years.
Looking at it through this lens, the White Sox’s first two selections in the 2022 draft were built with anti-impatience devices included. With the 26th overall pick, the White Sox selected Noah Schultz out of Oswego East High School, whose draft stock was held back by a case of mono in the spring. In the second round, the Sox selected Arkansas righty Peyton Pallette, who had Tommy John surgery in January and won’t be ready until sometime next year.
The bad news is that neither pitcher can be penciled into MLB plans three years from now. That could also be the good news, because that means the White Sox aren’t counting on the first round of the draft as a quick fix for MLB emergencies.
Both angles are valid, because the White Sox haven’t shied away from seven-figure bonuses for prep arms, and they’ve yet to see results. They spent $4.1 million on Matthew Thompson and Drew Dalquist in the second and third rounds of 2019, followed by $3 million on Jared Kelley, and none of those prospects has any considerable momentum in A-ball thus far. Ideally, you’d like to see somebody like Schultz drafted after the White Sox have established a bit of a track record with teenage arms.
That said, while Schultz wasn’t expected to go in the first round, everybody seems to understand why the White Sox wanted him there. He’s a 6-foot-9-inch lefty who White Sox scouting director Mike Shirley stresses does not move like a 6-foot-9-inch teenager.
“If he doesn’t get mono, Noah Schultz could be going extremely high in this draft,” Shirley said. “You sometimes think about the awkwardness of a guy being 6-foot-9, but he does not move like that. The weapons operate with little effort. You’re talking about a guy who we saw up to 98 miles an hour in his opening start before the mono. He came out hot. Our staff, being that he’s local, was able to get there.”
It can be very difficult to mechanically sync up such a long-levered frame, and league scouts view Schultz as a project to harness plus stuff into usable command. But the reason Shirley emphasizes Schultz’s ease of movement is to express optimism that he’s athletic enough to improve his command as he matures and continues to add strength.
And if he has a full spring and a showcase circuit sans rust, maybe he doesn’t stand a shot at dropping to the White Sox. But even if Schultz didn’t battle illness, he’ll still have to contend with some shifts in how he moves, because you’d figure that frame will add weight. Hell, at 18, a little more height remains in play.
The Sox don’t have a whole lot of precedents here, but given the extreme nature of Schultz’s profile, even some success from the Thompson/Kelley/Dalquist tier would provide so much instruction. Schultz is far more intriguing on draft day than anybody from that trio, so the Sox are in charge with maintaining a difference, rather than building up a distinction that makes a difference in professional ball.
As for Pallette, his case is a lot more cut-and-dried. He at least has a season in the Arkansas rotation under his belt, but before the Sox can chart a trajectory from the SEC to the big leagues, they first have to manage a recovery from Tommy John surgery. Fulmer and Burdi are humbling examples of neither process being assumable, but that territory is well-trod, and first comes waiting until 2023.
In a perfect situation, this combination of pitchers would’ve landed while Thompson, Dalquist and/or Kelley advanced into Double-A with Sean Burke maintaining a fast-trackable profile. As it stands, the White Sox have Davis Martin as the lone high-minors success story, and Cristian Mena providing the undercard as the 19-year-old to watch in Winston-Salem. Alas, after Mena and Norge Vera, Schultz and Pallette are the next pitchers to watch, and even optimistic timelines don’t have them helping this particular White Sox window.
If nothing else, these selections show that the White Sox scouting department is free to operate independently from 26-man roster pressures, and that hasn’t always been the case. Whether that translates into MLB success on any timeline remains to be seen, but now that they’re drafting at the end of the first round again, all expectations are automatically tempered due to the naturally lower success rate. You may as well indulge that luxury with a healthy and healing shrug.