When meeting with local reporters on Friday afternoon in Chicago, White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Shirley seemed glad to head downstairs and see some sunlight.
“Just like any draft, we’re fully submerged in this,” Shirley said.
The comments also re-affirmed that the White Sox are a true wild card when it comes to the 2023 MLB draft. Shirley spoke about the four demographics and noted the strengths and weaknesses of this particular class. In his first three drafts, the club has selected a college pitcher, high school position player and high school pitcher in the first round. Now college bats are the strength of this current class.
Head of the Class
Due to the five round draft in 2020, this crop of players is stellar on the position player front.
“The college position players are the strength of the draft. The span of those players from seven on is a similar player. So makeup, performance, metrics, scout evaluations, gut feels on players, we’re using it all because that’s what it takes to be successful today. Our crew is working really hard at it. We’re starting to see some lean on our preferences,” Shirley said.
Shirley hasn’t used a first-round pick on a college hitter in his three drafts since the organization spent first rounders on that demographic from 2016-2019. The board could dictate a move back to that strategy this time around. Rumors have swirled that the White Sox could look to cut a deal with a player at No. 15 totaling less than the $4,488,600 slot value for that selection. Having multiple similarly graded options could help on that front.
“Finding them is tricky”, Shirley said in regards to the college hitter. “The stuff that they face and things they go through is tough. We want to find guys that control the strike zone and guys that have power. Those are critical pieces that we’re diving into. It’s exhausting but there’s a lot of energy up there. Lots of people contributing.”
There could be plenty of college hitters on the board for the White Sox to choose from in the first round and while Shirley has prioritized premium upside and loud traits and tools in his first three drafts, finding winning players will always remain a priority as well.
“We’re looking for winners and impact is always going to matter. We’re always looking for star-level upside but we’re also looking at makeup and winners; guys who can help major league clubs win and provide stability as well. Risk of a high-end player is real but additionally you can’t subtract a guy who wants to win and grinds at-bats every day and is a real clubhouse presence, we can’t undervalue that as well and it’s what we’re trying to build,” said Shirley.
When asked to elaborate on such players, Shirley noted the recent additions of Jonathan Cannon and Terrell Tatum in previous drafts.
“Jonathan Cannon was a combination of makeup and bumps in the road in his career. Being a third-rounder pissed him off. It gave him a little bit of an edge. His makeup and ability put him in this category,” Shirley said. “Terrell Tatum was undervalued as a North Carolina State player but it was high-end tools. Chris Getz and his guys have gone to work on him. Really knows the strike zone, big-time athlete. Those are wins and it’s because the scouts upstairs believe in players.”
It’s Still An Arms Race
The White Sox spent 12 of their 20 picks in 2022 on pitchers and used seven of their first eight selections on the demographic. Shirley also emphasizes that there’s an “arms race” to find pitching and it sounds like his mindset hasn’t changed on that front.
“The arms race in baseball today is critical,” Shirley said. “Getting pitchers right and knowing what you can fix, health and production all goes into this. Working hard to build that portfolio right now.”
Shirley lauded some of the pitching from last year’s draft where he mentioned Noah Schultz, Peyton Pallette, Cannon and even made note of two later-round selections.
“Eric Adler is big-time stuff out of Wake Forest last year, performance was up and down but real weapons from a data and performance standpoint, on top of stuff, we thought we could hit a home run there,” the scouting director said. Adler is currently throwing out of the bullpen in Winston-Salem. Shirley also cited Mason Adams, a 13th-rounder. In 52⅓ innings in Kannapolis, the righty has posted a 3.78 ERA while averaging over 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
The talk in the first round has been that the White Sox would likely lean into the strengths of this class and select a position player, but if there’s a highly ranked arm that falls down the board, the White Sox won’t be afraid to attack premium upside in the race for pitching.
In an interview with MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, Shirley stated that, “That’s the trickiest part, trying to manage that and how to attack that and when to attack that,” Shirley said. “I’ve always said this is an arms race. You have to secure these guys somehow, someway. You better be on your toes and make sure you are ready to strike.
From Preps to Pros
Under Shirley’s leadership, the White Sox have selected high school players in the first round in successive drafts after nabbing Tennessee southpaw Garrett Crochet back in 2020. The White Sox are no longer afraid to take prep talent throughout the draft. Industry mock drafts have noted that the organization has done plenty of work on the current prep class but mock drafts have consistently positioned the club with college bats. Taking a prep player at No. 15 overall shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone paying attention, however.
“I love high school players today. They’re always going to be a priority for me. I believe in them, I’ve been around them my whole life. The competition they face from the age of 14 on is real today. They see 95 mph today when they’re 15, 16, 17 years old now. It’s not something they’re unaccustomed to,” Shirley said. “They play amongst their peers in national tournaments now. The Team USA guys won a gold medal last year, they’ve been around and played with each other. It’s a more equivalent playing field today and I think you’ll continue to see this story unfold.”
“If you want to be great in the draft today, you have to be great with high school players and I mean that. We took Colson Montgomery and Noah Schultz because we believed in the high-end ability of both those guys and what they can provide our system, and they’ve both been as advertised so far. We will continue on that road”, said Shirley. “You have to know what a high school player’s makeup is. When you were an 18-year-old kid, were you nervous? Were you calm? Did you face adversity? Background is extremely important. Personality can matter as much as anything when you maximize the ability, especially on calm kids. Calm abilities to be non-emotional has been important. Montgomery and Schultz both have that. That personality trait matters. The high school kids are so exciting to watch play”.
There will be plenty of prep talent on the board when the White Sox get their turn in the first round on Sunday. If there’s a guy with whom the club feels a similar conviction, the connection shouldn’t be ruled out. Strategy could play a role because the bonus pool always matters and the organization has been linked to multiple prep talents later in the draft, but No. 15 is traditionally a best-player-available spot and it should be something to monitor as the events unfold.
Ready to Strike
Mike Shirley and his staff in conjunction with front office decision-makers need to be ready to pounce on falling talent.
“The middle of the first round, from pick seven on, this thing could go multiple directions, from Feb. 1 to today, it’s a deep dive on multiple players. We have the high school pitching front, the college pitching front, the high school position player and the college position players,” Shirley said effusively.
The White Sox believe that there are seven elite players in the class and Shirley knows that the next guys on the board will differ for every club. The franchise can spend up to $9.5 million in this draft and ownership has authorized spending past the bonus pool in every draft under this current scouting group.
“We have to prepare for the player we think might fall,” Shirley told Merkin. “Who is the famous player in this Draft who may scoot down the board? And are we prepared for him if he were to land at 15?”. Tennessee right hander Chase Dollander has been mentioned by prominent insiders as a potential option this weekend.
The White Sox love midwest talent and they’ve been able to find undervalued talent in the draft under Shirley. When Garrett Crochet was selected with the 11th overall pick in 2020, the scouting director specifically mentioned a bullpen that he witnessed from the previous spring that sold him on the southpaw. Montgomery was playing in Indiana close to Shirley’s home and didn’t have the showcase circuit experience of other prospects. Schultz’s path to professional baseball has been well documented.
“I saw Noah at 16 years old. We only get that guy because he had mono and didn’t pitch and he was a homegrown kid from Illinois. If other teams could’ve gotten here and stayed here like we did, JJ Lally, Rob Cummings and Nathan Durst, Garrett Guest, we covered him like no other. We got to draft day last year and really believed in the kid. It was a great job by them. Our entire department contributed and that guy has a chance to be a formidable piece. He’s showing his face right now and it’s only going to get better,” Shirley said.
“We’ve tried to stay open-minded and challenged the staff to make sure we attack this,” Shirley said. “We are picking in the middle of the round every time, which meant a lot of diligence looking just in front of us and just behind us in terms of depth of the players”. In referencing a question from our friend James Fegan on finding another undervalued player, Shirley said, “The draft is later and there’s a longer window to build this, it’s hard to have secrets and dig deeper. We’re also using the later draft to our advantage to get looks at players.
The White Sox have underachieved greatly as a big league club with a record of 38-52, where they sit 7½ games back in a very winnable American League Central. They appear to be likely sellers later this month, but Shirley can’t worry about that. It’s his job to find the 20 best players that they can under their predetermined bonus pool amount and add to the farm system.
“We have to separate what happens in our department from what’s happening with the big league club. We can’t draft based on what the major league team needs. It’s open mindedness for us,” said Shirley.