A day after they said they wanted true baseball players, the White Sox think they added three first-round talents on Thursday.
The club used its top selection, the 10th overall pick of baseball’s amateur draft, to select University of Miami catcher Zack Collins, who ESPN describes as “having the best approach” in the country. Later Thursday, the White Sox added “advanced” reliever Zack Burdi with the 26th pick before they selected Oklahoma right-handed pitcher Alec Hansen, at No. 49, who at one time was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft.
“I couldn’t be happier,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “I couldn’t tell you how excited that room is right now. I think we took three impact players.
“I can’t be happier with the way Day One went.”
Though they like Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, Hostetler said he’s had his eye on Collins since early April. He made sure every important set of eyes in the organization watched one of Collins’ games (general manager Rick Hahn saw Collins strike out three times on his day).
While analysts have doubts whether or not the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder can stick as a catcher, Hostetler and the White Sox think he can.
“There’s always improvements to be made,” Collins said on a conference call. “I made huge improvements throughout this past year, even six months. It just shows how much I need to improve at the next level. You can always improve, defense or hitting or whatever. That’s how you become the best player you can be. Anybody can improve.”
There are fewer questions in relation to the bat of Collins, 21, who has a career .316/.467/.589 slash line with 39 home runs in 623 at-bats for the Hurricanes. The Pembroke Pines, Fla.-native has drawn 168 walks in three seasons for Miami while striking out only 159 times.
“Huge kid,” said ESPN’s Keith Law. “Can really hit.”
Collins was named First Team All-American by Baseball America and is a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser awards.
“Great plate discipline,” Hostetler said. “Understands the strike zone as well as anybody, more walks than strikeouts. Big, big raw power. This is something we’ve been looking for a long time in our organization and we think we found it today.”
In Burdi, the White Sox believe they found a reliever in the short term who may have starting potential. Burdi’s fastball has touched 102 mph and he mixes it with a more consistent slider and what Hostetler described as a “devastating” changeup to left-handed hitters.
The Downers Grove native, who said he was a huge Mark Buehrle fan, struck out 46 batters in 28 2/3 innings this season for the Cardinals. He has 82 strikeouts and 22 walks in 68 innings at Louisville.
“He’s a little more advanced because he only has to throw one inning at a time,” Hostetler said. “But yeah, the stuff is that good.”
Ditto for the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Hansen, who was described on MLB Network as needing work but having a “high ceiling.” ESPN.com said Hansen, who features a fastball that ranges from 93-98 mph and a plus slider, regressed this season, at times featuring 20 command on the 20-80 scale. Hostetler said the organization thinks Hansen can get back on track with several mechanical adjustments.
“It’s four plus pitches when he’s on,” Hostetler said. “There’s some mechanical things we feel we can fix. The guys in the room, Don Cooper looked at some video for us, feel there’s some small mechanical adjustments that as soon as we make with him, he’s going to take off.”
The pick used to grab Burdi was compensation for losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency.
While having the extra pick is significant for a farm system thin on talent, the extra $2 million-plus in signing bonus money is equally as important. The White Sox have more than $9.4 million in slotted signing bonus money for the 2016 draft.
Hostetler said over the last month he hoped the White Sox would wind up with three players off their main board. Even though it was touch-and-go for a minute, Hostetler is pleased with how the first day of the his first draft as the team’s scouting director played out.
“All three did (come from the big board),” Hostetler said. “The last nine picks we were sweating out. That side started to shrink a little bit. But it held true and we got the guy we wanted.”