Kyle McCulloch was the last straw for Kenny Williams, and deservedly so. The White Sox were making practice of botching first-round picks with low-ceiling players that, if their skills even progressed enough to reach the Major Leagues, weren’t likely to be significant contributors (Royce Ring, Lance Broadway, etc). So, in 2007, Williams issued an edict to begin drafting players’ ceilings, and suddenly, a nice middle ground was struck: the White Sox have made habit of drafting college players with prep-like potential.
It began with Aaron Poreda, who hadn’t pitched extraordinarily well at the University of San Francisco, but his size and velocity from the left size promised greater things. They did, as Poreda became part of the package that acquired Jake Peavy from the Padres last season. Next in line was Gordon Beckham, who had developing power and the defensive skillset to succeed in the middle infield. And then last year, the White Sox took the approach to new levels with Jared Mitchell, who like many high school first-round picks, covers a lot of ground in the outfield, hits a fastball a long way, but swings and misses far too often against curveballs. I expect Mitchell to be the next success story, but obviously his timetable was pushed back a year this spring with an ankle injury.
Ultimately, the Sox need to connect on these first-round picks, because it’s not happening with their international scouting department. What should be an easy pipeline thanks to Ozzie Guillen‘s far-reaching popularity is not, as it has instead become a hot-bed of controversy. The White Sox are still recovering after bonus-skimming allegations led to Dave Wilder’s dismissal from the team. Yes, the team is still one of the prime locations to Cuban defectors — leading to Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez, etc. — but just have not recruited enough impact talents from Venezuela and surrounding countries.
So with Mitchell out, and a dearth of international talent, the White Sox prospect list is topped with almost-ready prospects that each have a ding against them. Jordan Danks had a breakout season last year, and has very nice OBP and defensive skills, but his power development simply isn’t happening. Tyler Flowers can hit, but it looks more and more like a move to 1B/DH will happen, decreasing his value as a prospect. I really like Daniel Hudson, but his peak is a third starter or so, unless Don Cooper can do more change-up magic with him. The next tier is filled with guys like Brent Morel who just doesn’t profile all that well.
Part of the reason for the shallow farm system is Kenny Williams, who does a nice job of using the farm system to get good talent. We mentioned Peavy, but both Carlos Quentin and John Danks were acquired using other young players, and the Sox look to have received the better end of both deals. But, you still sometimes get head-scratchers like trading Brandon Allen for Tony Pena, which creates the worry that Williams might be too haphazard trading prospects. Williams wheeling and dealing makes it impossible to accurately predict the future of the White Sox after guys like A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko have moved on. But given the current talent level, it’s difficult to predict much success with the pool of players behind Gordon Beckham and John Danks looking so shallow.