White Sox return to drafting for needs after drafting for wants

Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez (7) reacts after scoring against Vanderbilt on a single hit by Ole Miss catcher Calvin Harris during the third inning at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, March 16, 2023. Vandy Olemiss Base 031623 An 012
(Photo by Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK)

If we can judge a draft direction in a given year from the first two picks, the White Sox’s start to the 2023 MLB draft feels like the Mike Shirley version of a Nick Hostetler strategy.

Hostetler served as scouting director for four seasons, and in each of those drafts, the White Sox used the first couple rounds to address shortcomings on the current 26- and 40-man rosters.

2016: The White Sox didn’t have left-handed power or any-handed patience, so they drafted Zack Collins. They could always use bullpen help, so add Zack Burdi to the tag.

2017: The White Sox selected Jake Burger and Gavin Sheets, two hitters with the potential for power with respectable strikeout totals.

2018: The White Sox offense finished with the most strikeouts in baseball, so how about Nick Madrigal and Steele Walker to provide some fast-trackable hit tool?

2019: The White Sox were on their way to finishing dead last in walks, which Andrew Vaughn was the best-suited to address.

It was kind of a superficial attempt to solve problems that required a lot more introspection, especially since it resulted in four guys who were most likely to end up at first base. The ham-fisted strategy resulted in ham-fisted defense, and compounding matters, Sheets might be the only one who has reached his offensive potential.

As a result, it’s 2023, and the White Sox are still short on left-handed hitters and guys with enviable strikeout-to-walk ratios, so here comes Jacob Gonzalez from Ole Miss. Shirley then doubled down on his own brand of familiarity by drafting a pitcher whose Tommy John surgery interrupted a projected rise to first-round status, with Grant Taylor being this year’s Peyton Pallette.

This general sense that White Sox fans have been here before is my best explanation for why the reaction to the White Sox selecting Gonzalez at No. 15 was surprisingly jaded, both here and on Twitter. Either that, or any player would struggle to generate excitement when the franchise is at its most adrift, because the White Sox didn’t even do much with their opportunities picking in the top five.

(That’s an understatement, actually. The only two remaining players who can project to see MLB action from their 2018 and 2019 drafts are Davis Martin and Romy González, both of whom were selected in 2018.)

González seems like a good candidate if a team is going the high-floor route, because his pitfalls aren’t glaring. Unlike Vaughn, he’s left-handed. Unlike Collins, he can draw walks without obvious swing-and-miss dangers. Unlike Burger, Sheets and Vaughn, he’s starting in the middle of the infield, even if he’s not the surest bet to stay there. Unlike Burger, he’s already getting the ball in the air. Unlike Madrigal and Vaughn, he’s probably his listed height at 6-2.

He’s not a perfect player, but at least his flaws have pressure release valves this time. If he can’t hack it at short, he should be able to play third. If he doesn’t hit lefties well, he might still see righties well enough. The consistent criticism across the outlets is that he doesn’t use his lower half well enough, but if he did, he probably wouldn’t be available at No. 15. Every player has something holding him back at this point, and the White Sox chose the guy who needs work to tap into his power, rather than a player who needs work to cut down on strikeouts.

I’m less excited about the selection of Grant Taylor in the second round, even after adjusting for the idea that second-round picks are automatically less thrilling than first-rounders. Taylor just doesn’t have much of a body of work to point to, and Pallette’s rocky return from Tommy John surgery isn’t yet a data point that the White Sox know how to build a clear road back for somebody like Taylor. I can understand the payoff of drafting a first-round trajectory when first-round performance isn’t possible, and that was Shirley’s line

“We feel like we landed two first-rounders tonight,” Shirley said. “We feel ecstatic to land [Taylor] in the second round.”

I just want to see some proof that the Sox can actualize first-rounders from later rounds, because their actual first-rounders aren’t quite actualizing themselves.

That brings us back to Gonzalez, who has a little less to dream on than Shirley’s previous picks, Colson Montgomery and Noah Schultz, but that’s mostly because Gonzalez has had years of experience in college baseball’s toughest conference, whereas Schultz missed most of his senior season at Oswego East High School due to mono. There’s a much better sense of what he is, and along with that, a sense of what he’s not.

The White Sox deserve the healthiest of skepticism for everything they do, but the general optimism surrounding Shirley’s last two first-round selections gives him a little credibility for seeing how his approach works with a more conventional, needs-oriented pick. If I’m using recent history to inform future feelings with this organization, I’m saving my preemptive salt supply for the entire second half of the season instead.

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knoxfire30

Sheets has a 670 ops was that really his offensive potential, playing almost exclusively vs right hand pitchers… I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit….

As Cirensica

I am surprised how underwhelming as a hitter Sheets is.

His is a big dude.
He looks menacing.
His has a decent control of the strike zone.
He is a lefty that pulls the ball

…..and yet, he slaps the ball. His average EV and hard hit place him under under average. Sheets cannot barrel the baseball enough. I think those are skills inherent to the player’s own talent that Sheets unfortunately does not possess enough.

Adam

I’m more optimistic about this draft so far. Partially cause I thought Morales was coming to the Sox. But I complain quite a bit of slow, dumb players on the current roster who just flail at everything. Drafting players from the middle infield with power, discipline and athleticism excites me. If one or both of Montgomery and Gonzalez have to move from shortstop, fine. But they should still be better athletes and former shortstops tend to have a better baseball iq.

Pitchers are hit or miss everywhere. I think we need at least 2 more years to see the Shirley pitching strategy to know if it’s boom or bust or in the middle. But I am less confident in Taylor. Seems like this organization all too often tells us “no these guys are great, all the tools, never mind that 6.75 era and 6/1 walk/k ratio, they’ll be ready for the bigs next year.”

steelydan52

I will admit to not following prep or college players but their first 2 picks don’t seem to move the needle much. I hope I’m wrong.
So they drafted a pitcher that had TJ surgery and the year before he had an ERA over 5. Granted it wasn’t in a lot of appearances but still.
When Hahn gets canned I hope the new GM guts the scouting staff too.
As has been stated a billion times in here, it’s so sad that JR, KW and RH have let this organization slide down into the great abyss of where only bodily fluids exist.

ndsoxfan

I like the Gonzales pick. In the range of best player available that also matches up with current needs. Not many bones to pick there.

HallofFrank

Yeah I don’t understand the reaction to the pick. Shirley seemed to be clear up front: they were going to take whichever of that excellent class of college bats made it to 15. That’s a good strategy, I think, since that was almost certainly best player available. And Gonzalez was the guy.

BenwithVen

Honestly, I’m not sure people would have been happy with anyone they drafted unless Kyle Teel actually fell to them.

a-t

I just don’t agree that gonzalez was BPA

HallofFrank

Okay, sure, you don’t and neither does Longerhagen, but others in the industry do. My point is the White Sox went into the draft with what seems to me a sound draft strategy and then executed it. You can’t ask for more than that.

You may have preferred that they went in a different direction. Fair enough. But some fans (not saying you are) are reacting like they just took another Madrigal or a college deliver at 15. Instead, they took a SS with above-average hit and power tools and who had success in the SEC. He also seems like a reasonable mixture of floor and ceiling. So, sure, you may have wished they went in a different direction, but I can’t see how anyone could say this is a bad direction.

knoxfire30

Right, industry execs will always have different boards but a lot had gonzalez in the mix anywhere from 6 to 20… they got him at 15 when really the 2 guys they were likely hoping would fall to them didnt (dollander and teel)

I think its a scenario where you did well to both combine a bit of BPA with a guy who does things your system lacks. Lefty, premium position, walks more then k’s, lifts the ball in the air, etc.

The only legit gripe could be he doesn’t have a big upside.

a-t

What happens today could inform the Gonzalez/Taylor picks better. I still suspect they will combined get less than slot and a HS kid or two is getting a fat overslot deal today. If they don’t I’m going to be increasingly annoyed with Gonzalez as a pick. The one thing I do sorta like re his fit is the opinion that he needs to improve his strength in pro ball, and if there’s one thing the Sox appear good at, it’s helping guys get yoked… albeit at the cost of flexibility.

I’m not worried about the TJS status of Pallette or Taylor. The Sox haven’t had any high-profile guys who didn’t rebound fine from TJS; besides, surgery and recovery instruction is handled as much or more by TJS-expert surgeons as the team. The lack of current information on Taylor is what makes it much more mysterious, though for the summer and fall pre-elbow blowout he was def looking like he clicked.

jorgefabregas

“ The Sox haven’t had any high-profile guys who didn’t rebound fine from TJS” I don’t think this is true. Burdi never really got his stuff all the way back. Crochet has never gotten back the velocity he had in 2020 before the playoff flexor strain or whatever that was presumably a precursor to his torn UCL the next year.

Jim wrote about the issue here https://soxmachine.com/2019/05/tommy-john-surgeries-a-stumbling-block-for-white-sox/
Since the article was written they’ve had success with Rodon and Dunning,, not so much with Crochet. Nate Jones’ 2019 flexor mass repair, which I think was a consequence of his 2014 TJ, didn’t seem to work out.

ndsoxfan

The most interesting part of the whole night was a tidbit mentioned on the ESPN draft coverage. Shane McClanahan was supposed to be a White Sox. They promised him an overslot deal and the Rays called his bluff. That made me sad.

Root Cause

The doldrums have set in because this isn’t filling in a few holes for future needs. This is the beginning of another rebuild with very few pieces in place. It isn’t fair to be down on these kids that just got drafted. It is the front office’s fault that so much rides on every decision to reverse what they have done in the past six years. I don’t think we need a miracle pick as much as we need an exorcist.

ChiTownMax25

There’s nothing against Gonzalez. He seems like a perfectly fine player, not exciting, but a competent player who’s performed at a high college level. Taylor I’m not so sure about, not much of a track record, no public prospect evaluators had him close to where he got picked, and as often as pitchers break, you’d still rather have the healthy guy.

The issue is that the White Sox have a bottom-5 farm system and didn’t really improve relative to other teams. Yeah they got a decent prospect, but the Tigers/Nats who also have pretty poor farm systems got better players. The Rangers/Twins/Pirates who have decent to good farm systems got better players. Even the Rays, who have a strong farm system and a really good team, got a player in the same tier the White Sox got plus got an interesting Comp Round pick since they spend less than half of what the White Sox spend.

So the farm system doesn’t really get better if the teams around you who are already better than you improve more than you do.

shaggy65

I don’t see Gonzalez as a pick for need. Middle infield is just about the only position where we already have viable prospects. And heck, lefties with plate discipline are always a good idea.