For a second straight year, Nick Hostetler and the White Sox amateur scouting department have taken an added emphasis on objective data into the field when evaluating draft talent.
The White Sox haven’t at all abandoned their scouting-based philosophy but merely supplemented their previous approach with an additional tool. Though it has only been in place for one draft, the strategy’s impact on the franchise is easily recognizable. Last year’s first three position players selected -- Zack Collins in the first round, Alex Call (third) and Jameson Fisher (fourth) -- all rose up the team’s draft board because of objective data analysis.
“A guy that you may tools-wise may downgrade a little bit, it may put him back in play for you,” said Hostetler, the club’s amateur scouting director. “No part of the analytics ever makes a decision or gives us our order.
“It’s just another piece of the puzzle, just like the makeup part of it, just like the signability part of it. It’s weighted along those lines. It’s more of a supplemental piece to what we’re doing scouting-wise.
“The scouting aspect of it is still number one, that carries the heaviest weight for us. Then the analytics part comes in to supplement it, good, bad, indifferent.”
The philosophical change came about when the White Sox reshuffled the amateur scouting department in August 2015. Then-scouting director Doug Laumann was named the senior advisor to scouting operations while Hostetler was elevated from assistant amateur scouting director.
In discussing the direction they wanted to head, Hostetler and general manager Rick Hahn did a routine review of three- and five-year old draft classes. They looked hard at successful players who were selected earlier by other franchises compared to where they ranked on the White Sox draft board.
If Player A was drafted 75th overall by Team B and the White Sox had him ranked 112th, they wanted to know why. The goal was to determine if analytics had played a significant role in the other team’s evaluation. A scout since 2002, Hostetler said for him the exercise was a pivotal moment.
“I think when I saw proof of what other teams were doing I realized at that point with Rick that this needs to be a major part of what we’re doing because we’re not using all of our tools and you’ve got to use all of your tools,” Hostetler said.
Whereas the White Sox had previously used analytics, they moved to place a higher emphasis on that usage.
“I don’t think any organization would pass up knowledge or background on any player regardless of whether its as many quality subjective scouting evaluations as you can make, video, video analysis, understanding of a player’s makeup as well as the objective performance data,” Hahn said.
As they prepared for the 2016 draft season, Hostetler addressed a staff that includes 21 full-time area scouts, nine cross checkers and four analysts. He hoped his enthusiasm would sway the department.
Midwest cross checker Garrett Guest said the message -- that the subjective portion of scouting is still critical to the process and won’t be abandoned -- was clearly articulated.
“When (Hostetler) was talking about injecting analytics into what we’re doing he was very clear that he didn’t want this to completely uproot everything that our guys had done and the way they had done their job in the past,” Guest said. “But he wanted to make sure that if there was data available that could help you make a better evaluation and if there’s data available that can maybe either challenge an opinion you made from being at the park, or a previous conceived notion, or previously held belief about a player, and that can challenge your thought process on a guy, that’s a healthy thing.”
Hostetler likes how his staff has responded. He said he felt a liveliness within the club’s draft room last June.
“It was pretty invigorating,” Hostetler said. “That draft room was exciting. I haven’t been a part of a room with that type of energy before.”
The White Sox drafted Collins -- who produced a .319/.472/.601 slash line in three seasons at University of Miami -- with the 10th overall pick. They grabbed hard-throwing right-hander Zack Burdi at No. 26 to end the first day of the draft.
But it was Day 2 where Hahn said the team’s draft board held up well. The White Sox selected pitcher Alec Hansen in the second round and were pleased when Call, who had a .955 career OPS at Ball State (.425 on-base percentage/.530 slugging percentage) was still available in the third round. The were equally happy when Fisher was still undrafted in the fourth round. Fisher missed his junior season at Southeastern Louisiana but rebounded to slash .424/.558/.692 as a senior. He finished his career with a .483 on-base percentage.
“It was our intent to target/acquire as many well-rounded players as we could, still wanting that athletic type of player, but also one who brought a certain ability to play the game and understanding of the game,” Hahn said. “Nick and his staff had those guys in order and we wound up being able to convert on a pleasant number of them.”
Even though he and several members of his team are in the midst of their second straight four-week road trip, Hostetler gets excited whenever the topic shifts to the upcoming draft.
The White Sox have the 11th pick in the first round. They like how they’ve been able to implement the improved information derived from systems like TrackMan into their process. TrackMan is available in a growing number of college stadiums and boasts the tracking of 27 data points per play. If some of the numbers, such as spin rate, indicate a pitcher might have a problem with extension, a scout can evaluate the player in person to determine if the issue is fixable. If it is, a player who might be undervalued based purely on scouting can climb up a draft board.
But Hostetler said the shifted philosophy wouldn’t matter unless the rest of the department was on board.
“A lot of credit goes to our guys who are willing to adapt and adapt to some of my crazy ways,” Hostetler said. “They followed suit.
“They deserve the credit for understanding what I was trying to do and buying into it.”