The White Sox are in an ideal spot, competing right now and yet still building for the future.
The team heads into June’s amateur draft with all its picks — including one received after Jeff Samardzija departed via free agency — despite adding nine new players and pursuing several high-profile free agents this winter.
Off to a 23-12 start and in first place in the American League Central, the White Sox possess the 10th, 26th and 49th selections in the draft, which will be held from June 9 to June 11.
They would have sacrificed their second pick to reel in Alex Gordon, but he opted to stay with the Kansas City Royals, and the White Sox found alternatives.
Though this is exactly how he preferred it, first-year amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler swears no voodoo was involved. But he also made it clear to general manager Rick Hahn early in the offseason he hoped the team could field its roster without sacrificing the future.
“I actually told Rick I don’t want to know,” Hostetler said with a laugh. “I told him, ‘I’ll find out on Twitter, which is better for me.’ I didn’t want to be a part of it. I was totally honest with him — if they asked me my opinion of the player, I was going to be completely jaded and biased. I wasn’t going to like anybody.
“Having that extra pick puts us in play for some other guys that quite honestly ... we wouldn’t have had a chance.”
The opportunity to make an additional pick — and the extra $2 million in the bonus pool that comes with it — only arrived after a series of close calls. The White Sox pursued Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes down to the bitter end only to see them go back to the Royals and New York Mets, respectively. There was also talk in February about potentially signing Ian Desmond to fill the vacancy at shortstop.
Gordon and Desmond would have meant the team surrendered the 26th pick.
But none of the moves came together. Hostetler swears he didn’t use hypnosis, nor does he possess voodoo dolls representing Hahn, Kenny Williams or chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Hahn was willing to forfeit the pick for the right player.
Yet the club moved on and filled in some of its biggest holes with players who didn’t cost draft picks: Jimmy Rollins, Austin Jackson and Mat Latos.
“For us, the ideal scenario was to be able to win in Chicago while continuing to build our minor league system in a way that enhanced our chances for sustained success,” Hahn said. “Certainly, having three picks in the top 49 goes a long way towards helping that latter part happen.
“Since winning in Chicago is the No. 1 priority, we would have sacrificed the comp pick if the right deal was available this past off season. Given the start we've had and the fact that we kept the pick, we're arguably in position to potentially serve both of those goals.”
The additional money in the team’s draft bonus pool is equally as big as the pick.
Last year’s slotted amount for the 26th pick was $2,034,500. That’s $2 million extra to pour into a system that didn’t have a second- or third-round pick in 2015 (compensation for signing David Robertson and Melky Cabrera) and surrendered its fourth-round pick (Zack Erwin) in the Brett Lawrie trade.
The farm system has good talent up top in Tim Anderson and Carson Fulmer. But trades for Samardzija, Todd Frazier and Lawrie have hurt the system’s depth.
The extra money could come in handy if a player with signability issues falls to the White Sox at No. 10 or at No. 26. Even though there’s no consensus No. 1 pick, Hostetler said the top 10 to 12 picks include premium talent that potentially could join the team’s core group within two seasons. He also notes the White Sox are heavily scouting the top 10 to 12 players because nobody knows who will end up where.
“It’s that type of year,” Hostetler said. “The first 10 to 12 guys are pretty lumped together.”
As of now, the team’s board for their top two selections includes a group of 35 to 40 players, Hostetler said. That figure has grown by about 10 players over the last month. Hostetler is actually hopeful the team’s first three selections come from the pool.
“We’d have to have some pretty bad luck if they don’t,” Hostetler said. “One of the most exciting things for this year is we’ve got so much financial flexibility that we needed to expand our board more, we needed more options for 10 and 26 just because when we’re comparing all these, seeing where we can allocate money.”
Hostetler said enthusiasm for the team’s start is rampant throughout the organization. He hears it when he reports to Hahn, Williams or Buddy Bell. It's also present when he talks to his scouts.
He would have signed off on the addition of a Gordon or a Cespedes because winning is the goal. But Hostetler likes his current position better — and that he didn’t have to resort dark magic to get it done.
“Quite honestly the biggest thing we stress for is, at the end of the day, if the best thing for this club was to give away that pick for a player, if it ultimately resulted in putting a diamond ring on the finger in October or November, I could live with it,” Hostetler said.