White Sox

2020 MLB Draft: With only five picks, pressure's on White Sox to get them right

2020 MLB Draft: With only five picks, pressure's on White Sox to get them right

It’s no breaking news that the White Sox haven’t always hit on their top draft picks in the last 20 years.

Regardless, Rick Hahn’s front office has put the team on a path to a lengthy, bright future. Nick Madrigal and Andrew Vaughn — the team’s last two first-round picks — hold a lot of promise, but the majority of the work of constructing a team that could evolve into a perennial contender came via trades, international signings, contract extensions and, this past offseason, free agency.

There’s a new man in charge of the draft for the White Sox. But Mike Shirley didn’t know what he was getting into when he took the job. No one did, obviously. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and more specifically the economic toll it has already taken on the sport, has shrunk the 2020 MLB Draft to just five rounds.

That’s down from a usual 40.

Yes, teams, the White Sox included, will have the opportunity to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for $20,000 apiece. But the best of the undrafted bunch might choose to delay their professional careers until economic circumstances are more favorable. High schoolers set to enter the minor leagues might instead opt to play college ball. College juniors who don’t get drafted might return to their schools.

And then there’s the sheer reality of the level economic playing field when it comes to signing those undrafted players. The White Sox, just like every other team, will have to convince the top remaining talent that they should sign up with them instead of 29 other options.

In other words, in those five rounds in which teams will actually be able to select players, the pressure’s on.

“Obviously, you want to get five right,” Shirley said during a Tuesday conference call, “that's for damn sure.”

For the White Sox, and this isn’t necessarily a phenomenon unique to the South Side, hitting on top picks hasn’t been easy. There’s still plenty of excitement about what Madrigal and Vaughn could turn into, but they’ve yet to reach the major league level. Unfortunately, that was the case for several of their predecessors, as well.

Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker, Keon Barnum, Courtney Hawkins, Zack Burdi and Jake Burger were all taken with first-round picks between 2009 and 2017 and have played a combined zero major league games to this point. The 21st century is littered, too, with first-round picks who did reach the bigs but failed to make a great impact. Joe Borchard, Royce Ring, Brian Anderson, Josh Fields, Lance Broadway, Aaron Poreda, Carson Fulmer and Zack Collins all have career WAR under 1.0.

There are grand exceptions, obviously, with Chris Sale on a Hall of Fame trajectory and Tim Anderson emerging last season as the big league batting champion and a true cornerstone of the White Sox long-term future. Gio Gonzalez has yet to throw a pitch for the White Sox, but he proved a successful first-round pick, even if his major league success came playing for other teams. The jury is still out on Carlos Rodon, who has shown flashes of brilliance along with some horrible injury luck.

And that’s just a summation of first-round choices. There are often many, many more, and the success stories get lodged in the collective consciousness. Who could forget that the White Sox took Mark Buehrle in the 38th round? Though picked by other teams, Jim Thome reached the Hall of Fame from the 13th round and Jermaine Dye was the 2005 World Series MVP after being picked in the 17th round. Even current key cogs of the White Sox future were found down in the depths of the draft: Aaron Bummer, for example, was the team’s 19th-round selection in 2014.

But there will be no opportunity for those kinds of diamond-in-the-rough finds this year.

RELATED: Top 20 MLB Draft prospects: Who will White Sox pick at No. 11?

With no fans in the stands due to COVID-19, revenues are expected to dramatically decline. While the owners continue to fight with the players’ union over major league salaries, one cost-cutting measure that didn’t require a pitched battle was lopping off the millions spent annually on signing bonuses for draft picks.

So there will only be five draft picks. With the margin for error 35 rounds slimmer than just a year ago, the White Sox, as Shirley said, better get the picks they do make right.

There’s obviously no guarantee in this sport. As illustrated, the list of first-round flops is a mile long. The deeper in the draft, the harder it is to ensure big league success. So what will the White Sox do with the No. 11 pick? Well, that depends what happens when players start going off the board next Wednesday night.

“I think we've looked at this thing from every angle possible,” Shirley said. “We are down to 15 players that we like. … We have those players in order, and we are ready to target and strike those players. We targeted about 24 players when spring training was still going on, and we've narrowed that down to about 15 players that we do like. Obviously, we feel a bulk of that top end is not going to be available to us.

“We have 15 targets, and at the end of the day, based on who I think is going to be gone, do I think it’s down to four or five players? Yeah, I do. We’re excited about all four or five. They come from all aspects of the draft: high school, college, pitcher, hitter.”

Baseball teams don’t draft for immediate major league need like their football and basketball counterparts. MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo has the White Sox taking a college catcher in his most recent mock draft. And yet the White Sox just gave a record free-agent deal to Yasmani Grandal. So there are many players who could fit the bill at No. 11.

If the challenges weren’t already steep — having an entire draft squeezed down to five important picks and trying to buck some unfortunate draft history — the White Sox scouting team needs to try to nail these selections after most of the players’ seasons were abruptly canceled due to the pandemic.

Shirley was able to dig up some silver linings, that his team has had more access to speak with college players than usual and that his first year on the job brought so much exuberance that he did some extra work before the world was shut down.

No team ever wants to miss on a draftee. Players are selected for a reason. But there is a certain amount of failure baked into the process because not every prospect hits. A lot of them don’t. A majority of them don’t.

But with only five chances to get it right, the stakes seem even higher than before.

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2020 MLB season: White Sox opponents, schedule, format and odds

2020 MLB season: White Sox opponents, schedule, format and odds

Major League Baseball announced the White Sox 2020 schedule Monday. Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming season.

When does the Major League Baseball season begin?

After a three-month layoff due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, teams are currently in the middle of a second round of spring training, branded “Summer Camp,” that will last roughly three weeks. Opening Day is set for July 23, when Major League Baseball will showcase games pitting the New York Yankees against the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the San Francisco Giants. The White Sox will open their season a day later, on July 24, with the start of a three-game series against the division-rival Minnesota Twins.

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How many games will be played this season?

Every team is scheduled to play 60 regular-season games over 66 days, with games being played at teams’ home ballparks. At the conclusion of the regular season on Sept. 27, the playoffs will begin and are scheduled to take place during the month of October, as usual. Though there was talk of an expanded playoff field including as many as 16 teams, more than half the league, the lack of an agreement between the league and the players’ union means the playoff field will be the same as usual: five teams from each league.

Which teams will the White Sox play this season?

Major League Baseball is using a geographic schedule this season, with the intent of minimizing travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. The White Sox will play 10 games each against their AL Central rivals: the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers. They will play six games against the Crosstown-rival Cubs, and the remaining 14 games will be played against the other four teams from the NL Central: the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates.

RELATED: White Sox 2020 schedule: 5 key series during 60-game race for AL Central crown

2020 White Sox schedule

The White Sox open the season against the Twins on July 24 at Guaranteed Rate Field. They close the season with three games against the Crosstown-rival Cubs on the South Side. See the entire White Sox schedule here.

Updated odds to win the 2020 World Series

The Yankees are the favorite to win the World Series, at 3:1 odds. The White Sox have 40:1 odds. Seventeen teams have better odds.


White Sox schedule release: Slow start not an option with brutal first week

USA Today

White Sox schedule release: Slow start not an option with brutal first week

When the White Sox officially open their long-awaited "competitive window" on July 24 against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field, Opening Day will serve as Opening Day only in the sense that it is the first game of the season. The reality is, in a 60-game season, the game means a whole lot more.

“This is the way I’m approaching it,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Monday. “We got a 60-game schedule. I’m going to assume we already played 102 games and were in first place and we’re trying to hold onto that slot.”

It makes sense. All 30 MLB teams are being given the chance to be in first place in late July with 60 games to go. Who can take advantage the fastest?

The White Sox are certainly being given one heck of an opportunity – or challenge, depending on how you look at it. They will open the abbreviated season at home with a three-game series against the Twins before going on the road for three in Cleveland.

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If you were to picture a normal year in which the White Sox, Twins and Indians were in a three-way tie for first place on July 24 with those six games next up on the schedule, the hype and anxiety would be real. A bad week could cost the White Sox its season.

So consider this a 100-meter dash in which a stumble out of the blocks could end the race early.

RELATED: Full 2020 White Sox schedule

“We’re going to try to proceed that way, obviously without putting anyone in harms way, but it is important for a club to get off to a good start because obviously because the schedule is waning. It’s short,” Renteria said. “So I’m going to approach it that way and put us in a position where we are creative, try to have a good eye on what everyone is doing, and see if we can kind of maintain ourselves throughout the whole schedule.”

If you’re one who claims managers aren’t important, try being a manager in 2020. Typically, a first-place team in late July would have the benefit of having an established lineup, reliable starters and a bullpen the manager knows how to navigate. This year, the White Sox – and every other team – will be starting cold, perhaps even risking injury after just three weeks to ramp up, all while not knowing who might test positive for COVID-19 on any given day.

And simply from a pure baseball standpoint, will a rookie like Luis Robert go though understandable early-season struggles against Major League pitching or will he benefit from bypassing the April/May weather in Chicago and start hot?

"I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to start the season pretty hot and display all my talent,” Robert said Monday. “I will have to adjust as much as I can if I have any trouble."

There are a lot of unknowns, except for the fact that the White Sox will be thrust into a pennant race on Day 1 with six crucial games against the two teams they figure to be competing against in the A.L. Central. Zooming out a bit, their next 10 games include three against the Royals, four against the Brewers and three more against the Indians, meaning 13 of their first 16 games are against realistic contenders.

In other words, a slow start isn’t an option.

From there, the White Sox do have a couple favorable stretches in their schedule, including a 17-day period at home after their Aug. 13 game in Iowa against the Cardinals. But no one will want to be playing catch-up that quickly. Even just a .500 record through the first two weeks could set the White Sox up for a run, but like every other team, they must avoid an early losing streak, especially since they open against the Twins and Indians.

Of course, the goal is to make the final week really count. The White Sox end the season with four in Cleveland before a three-game series at home against the Cubs. If those games matter, well, perhaps this wonky, nightmarish 2020 season can be considered a success after all.