How Sox approach MLB Draft as World Series contenders

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago White Sox are rebuilders no longer.

After reaching the postseason for the first time in more than a decade last year, the White Sox are no longer making the kinds of high-profile draft picks that help fuel a rebuilding effort.

No, after selecting the likes of Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn and Garrett Crochet with each of their last three first-round picks -- fourth, third and 11th overall choices, respectively -- the White Sox are picking 22nd Sunday night, when the 2021 edition of the MLB Draft kicks off.

In fact, eight of the White Sox last nine first-round choices have contributed to the big league club this year, some in obviously huge ways: Tim Anderson (2013), Carlos Rodón (2014), Zack Collins (2016), Zack Burdi (2016), Jake Burger (2017), Madrigal (2018), Vaughn (2019) and Crochet (2020).

But the player picked Sunday night won't carry the same kinds of expectations. Instead, it's one of those good problems to have, a sign of the times being much brighter on the South Side -- thanks in no small part to the higher picks that came before.

"The plan of this rebuild was something that Rick (Hahn) and Jerry (Reinsdorf) and Kenny (Williams) instituted, and we feel good about what we've been able to pull off," White Sox scouting director Mike Shirley said. "Some of the higher picks we've able to acquire, they're contributing.

"We're a first-place club and holding our own even now with the depth of the prospects we were able to acquire in those drafts. I think everybody should feel good about that."


But just because the work of the rebuilding years has paid off as the White Sox are now firmly in the position of chasing a World Series title, that doesn't mean the goals are any different for the scouting department, which focuses each and every year on pumping talent into the organization with the idea of a long-term payoff -- regardless of what the current needs might be at the big league level.

This year, with more picks being made before the White Sox are on the clock, that job gets a little more difficult.

"We're learning quickly the depth of the work it takes," Shirley said. "Even last year (picking at No. 11) was a little bit later than we've picked. You had 11 targets in mind, 15 targets in mind last year. Now you're dealing with 25 targets, actually 30 targets we're still looking at.

"We're still very open minded on what may occur. ... The depth of our work in continuing to evolve extensively. There are probably a good 25 players in target for us at this moment."

Of course, just because someone isn't a top-five, top-10, top-15 pick doesn't mean they can't wind up a franchise cornerstone. Anderson, just to use a recent example, was picked at No. 17. More famously, Mark Buehrle was selected in the 38th round.

That's baseball for you, and it's why the job of the scouting department and the goals of the draft rarely change. They might swing a little differently based on the needs, top to bottom, of the entire organization. But just because Nick Madrigal is out for the year doesn't mean the White Sox will be drafting a second baseman Sunday night. Just because the big league bullpen hasn't lived up to its preseason expectations doesn't mean the White Sox will be plotting another straight-to-the-majors trip like the one Crochet made last summer.

It's about pumping more talent into the organization, all levels of the organization, so Hahn's rebuilding plan can do what it's supposed to: produce championship-contending rosters for years to come.

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