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FLEXIBILITY AS PART OF THE STRATEGY
Mike Shirley’s mission in the 2022 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft involves being flexible without the advantage of possessing much flexibility.
“Our pool is not what it’s been in the past,” said Shirley, the White Sox’s director of amateur scouting. “We’re a little bit lighter with the third-lowest pool in the draft. So, our flexibility to continue to move in that direction is a little more limited. And we’re working really hard to look at this thing straight up. Take the best player each round, what’s in front of us, because I think financially we’re a little bit tied up.”
The 2022 First Year Player Draft will begin on Sunday, July 17th live from Los Angeles, California. The Chicago White Sox possess the third smallest bonus pool in the sport as a large market revenue generator who played in the playoffs in 2021. The club has $6,289,100.00 to spend on the first ten rounds, but they should spend something in the ballpark of $6.6 million using the 5% overage that is allowed.
Shirley and his staff will be limited without compensatory draft selections and extra bonus pool space available unlike their counterparts in the American League Central. As a large market club, however, the contending White Sox need to make it work.
In his first two years as scouting director, the organization has employed a strategy relying on the prioritization of impact talent at the top of the draft. After selecting Tennessee southpaw Garrett Crochet with the 11th overall pick in 2020, aggression kicked in and they utilized their pool space to pay Texas prep right hander Jared Kelley $3 million to sign way over slot in round two.
In order to accomplish this, it was necessary for the club to go extremely under slot with their three remaining picks. The strategy doesn’t come without risk considering the lack of available funds to land more projectable big-league players as a result.
Mike Shirley has only made 25 selections in the big chair but he’s been scouting for a long time and aggression remains an option for the White Sox despite their limited bonus pool.
“We’ve shown that we’re not afraid to get a player that the group likes,” Shirley said Thursday to a select pool of White Sox media. “If those pieces become available, we’re never going to be afraid to be aggressive.”
PREPARED LATE IN THE FIRST ROUND
In any draft that takes place in professional sports, the phrase “best player available” is often uttered. In baseball, though, the notion of constantly taking the best player is a fallacy. Teams are afforded a specific amount of money to spend based on multiple factors and the goal of a front office is to utilize said bonus pool to procure as much talent as possible.
Shirley was asked whether their selection at No. 26 overall in the first round would be influenced by organizational need or whether the franchise would take the best player on the board.
“Without question it’s a combination,” Shirley said. “We know how important this arms race has become in major league baseball. From that perspective, in any draft room, it’s critical to understand how much the landscape has changed in our game. The pitching thing is really critical. Every team is trying to figure out the pitching landscape and then you have to weigh the position players against that. At the end of the day, the preference may be a pitcher, but that doesn’t mean if the right position player is available that we won’t walk down that aisle.”
The White Sox should have a plethora of options to choose from in the first round, but Shirley noted that the room needs to be ready to pivot if someone they weren’t expecting falls down the board. The organization hasn’t selected a prep pitcher in the first round since 2001, although they’ve taken the other demographics in recent years. Picking late in the first round changes the game a little bit for Shirley.
The process has changed significantly with this draft because in all of my years of doing this, when you go outside of pick eight or nine, I think you have no idea what’s going to happen. My history, we’ve never had a board with so many players who could possibly be there at 26. I think the room down the hall is a little exhausted due to the amount of work we’ve put in.Mike Shirley
Pitching is always a priority for clubs and the White Sox are no different. The preference in the first round seems to be pitching, but the front office won’t force a selection if it’s not the right fit.
“The hurt pitcher in this draft is a real thing and it’s a light pitching class as a whole,” he said. Shirley later acknowledged that there could be a run on available pitchers prior to their selection and noted that it could affect their plans ultimately.
WHITE SOX ARE A WILD CARD
The White Sox spent four consecutive first rounder selections on college position players during Nick Hostetler’s run as scouting director. Whether influenced by ownership or the front office, the strategy has been altered significantly with Shirley at the helm. College pitching was tabbed in 2020 and Indiana prep shortstop Colson Montgomery is flying through the system after being taken at No. 22 overall in 2021.
It’s tough to pinpoint what any club might do with 25 teams choosing in front of them but it’s even more difficult to peg the thought process of White Sox decision makers in this draft. The pitching class is ravaged, but it’s almost become underrated.
Shirley has a good idea about the strength of this year’s draft class.
“I think the strength of this class is the college position players — at the top especially,” the Scouting Director said. “There are a lot of position players that we really like in this draft. These young guys are developing athletically, they have hitting coaches, training regimens. Development is changing rapidly.”
Whether it’s implicit or how the board has fallen, high school players are no longer taboo for the White Sox. The franchise has taken a bundle of prep talent in recent years and despite the limited bonus pool, they could do so again.
“I hope we’re starting to prove that we’re not afraid of the high school player and we’re always going to shop on that aisle,” Shirley stated. “These younger players are closer to the major leagues than what you realize, so I do feel like it’s not something that we should be afraid of.”
WHAT COULD THE WHITE SOX DO?
There are myriad options for the White Sox in this year’s draft and while they can enter the draft room on Sunday evening with a multi-tiered plan, theatrics occurring before them could easily throw a wrench into the best laid plans.
On the college pitching front, there are numerous names to monitor. Justin Campbell of Oklahoma State, Gabriel Hughes of Gonzaga, and Blade Tidwell are options from the right side with Cooper Hjerpe of Oregon State as a southpaw. Kumar Rocker, Carson Whisenhunt, Cade Horton and Connor Prielipp are some unlikely options due to bonus requests and positional demand.
Robby Snelling is a prep southpaw from Nevada and he’s the only high school pitcher that has been linked to the White Sox at this point in the process. The organization hasn’t pressed this button since taking Providence Catholic’s Kris Honel and it would be a surprise to do so again. While preferring pitching, the position player group may ultimately provide the highest upside for the club on Sunday night.
Any number of college outfielders could be on the board at No. 26 overall. Sterlin Thompson of Florida, Dylan Beavers of California, and Brock Jones out of Stanford could all be options. The White Sox have reportedly been enamored with Tennessee outfielder Drew Gilbert and they’d have a decision to make if he were on the board.
While Shirley spoke about the advanced readiness of college hitters and the bulk available in the draft class, taking another prep hitter with the first selection shouldn’t be discounted. South Carolina prep infielder Tucker Toman has been linked to the Pale Hose all spring and summer and repeating last year’s plan of attack definitely appears to be on the proverbial table.
Mike Shirley believes in the make up of a player an it’s one of the reasons why he was convinced about Colson Montgomery while there were some detractors in the industry. He also recognizes that the business is defined by premium impact and there just aren’t enough of those guys on the planet. The White Sox believe that they have the system in place to add impact to an improving farm system while not being an advantageous bonus pool position.
Shirley lauded the draft combine, modern technology, data and the ability to interview draft prospects while receiving medical information as a big positive for his staff. He believes that the draft room at 35th and Shields will be ready for whichever scenario presents itself over the next three days. Pitching is an organizational need but there are 20 rounds to fill out the farm system.
The White Sox have been aggressive with what they deem premium talent at the top of recent drafts. That strategy is on the table again, but they could choose to pivot and select the best and most signable player at each slot. They’ll also be recruiting heavily after the draft with no spending caps on bonuses re-installed for undrafted players. They don’t have as much money to spend as other teams so it’s imperative for Shirley and his staff to stick to their process and hopefully they get it right.