Although Major League Baseball has been around since 1869, the baseball draft is relatively new. I would have thought it started in the 1930s or maybe 1950s, but the first Free Agent Amateur draft was in 1965. Thus, tomorrow’s Major League Baseball draft which begins at 6 pm, Chicago time will be the 53rd annual draft. It will go on for three days and 40 rounds. More than 1300 college and high school baseball players will be asked if they want to play professional baseball with the ultimate goal being to play Major League Baseball. Most of them will spend 2 – 10 years trying to make it to the ‘big leagues.’ Most of them will fail.

Baseball is unusual in the way it both drafts and then uses those high school and college players. The National Football League draft also lasts three days, but it lasts just seven rounds, meaning less than 250 college football players get picked, most (although not all) of whom will eventually play for the team that drafts them. They might play only a minor role, but at least two-thirds will play for the pro team. The National Basketball Association’s draft lasts only two rounds. Most of the college players picked in the first round will eventually play for an NBA team. As for the second round, those players are long-shots to make it off the bench.

It’s to be noted, however, that a player picked in the first round of either the NFL or the NBA draft is expected to help their team within a year or two, but a player picked in the first round of the MLB draft is expected to help his team eventually, maybe in a year, maybe longer. It’s a rare, but very talented ballplayer who makes it to the major league team the same year he is drafted. It is not unusual for a first round pick to spend four or five years making his way through the minors before he gets called up to the major league club, sometimes just for a game or two before he eventually makes it to say. Major League Baseball’s draft is not so much one of expectations as it is one of hope. It is not unusual for a first or second round pick to ever become a major league player. Nevertheless, draft day is one that many baseball fans pay attention to, especially fans like me, fans of a team that hopes his team will pick a player that will eventually help get the team up off the bottom of the league.

Chicago White Sox logoI am a Chicago White Sox fan and to a lesser degree a Chicago Cubs fan (having grown up in the Chicago area its hard for me not to be at least a little bit of a Cubs fan) and now, because I live near Los Angeles and was born in Brooklyn, NY I’m also somewhat a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles. When push comes to knock-em-down, I’ll always want to see the White Sox win. While the Cubs and Dodgers have done reasonably well-picking players in the first round who eventually make it through the minors up to the major league team, the White Sox have not.

The Sox will be picking fourth tomorrow. Among White Sox fans there’s a lot of hope the players picked tomorrow, especially the player picked in the first round will be able to help the major league team soon, because that’s about the only hope White Sox fans have at this time… the hope that the players in the minor leagues will be good enough to help the White Sox in the near future. At this time the Sox are the second worst team in baseball (ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles) and the Sox have been one of the worst teams in baseballs for the past five years.

To say the least, it’s painful being a White Sox fan. According to the sports writers it’s not supposed to be as painful for Sox fans as it might be for fans of the other bottom dwellers such as Baltimore, Kansas City, Texas, Cincinnati, Miami, or San Diego. Supposedly those teams all have ‘farm’ systems (their collection of minor league players) that range from good to worse, but the Sox now have one of the best, not because they have done well in the draft, but because the White Sox management has been on a crusade to gather respectable minor league players from other teams by trading established major league players for minor league players. It remains to be seen if that will play will work. It seems to have worked for other teams such as the crosstown Cubs, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros and most recently, the Atlanta Braves.

The reason the White Sox are in this position – hovering near worst in baseball – is because in the last 20 years their first round picks have been horrendous. Only two of their first-round picks between 1997 and 2017 have become all-stars, and only a handful have become noteworthy major league players. because the White Sox management has been busy building a farm system that is expected to produce enough quality players for the White Sox to be playoff and perhaps even World Series contenders in 2020 or 2021. Sitting where I am that seems like a long, long, long way away.

I was wondering how it is the White Sox have gotten themselves in this mess. Why have they had to build a farm system? Why haven’t they had a farm system that could tide them over and at least give Sox fans the same glimmer of hope fans of at least 20 other teams have that their team might be a contender this year.

Right now there is talk that another Major League Baseball draft is right around the corner. It’s got me wondering how the White Sox have done with their draft picks for the last 18 years (generally the maximum lifespan of an All-Star ballplayer). It’s not a pretty picture. Generally, it’s been a futile exercise for the Sox.

In 1996 the White Sox had a stunning six first-round picks. One regular first-round pick and five supplemental first-round picks. They took:
15. Jason Dellaero (his major league career lasted less than one month in 1999)
33. Kyle Kane (never played major league ball)
34. Brett Caradonna (never played major league ball)
43. Aaron Myette (pitched for four major league teams compiling a 6-12 record and 8.16 era)
46. Jim Parque (pitched for the Sox the following year, compiled a 29-26 record over three seasons until a shoulder injury all but ended his career)
51. Rocky Biddle (became a relief pitcher – two years for the Sox, two years for the Expos).

Missed out on: Lance Berkman, Jayson Werth, and Tim Hudson)

The next year the White Sox picked Kip Wells at # 16 and Aaron Rowand at # 35 in the supplemental first round. Wells made it to the majors with the Sox, spent most of his time as a reliever and was traded after two years. Over the next ten years he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres. In 2005 he lead the league in losses, going 8 -18. He finished his career in 2012 with a 69-103 record.
Rowand on the other hand became was one of the players who led the White Sox to their World Series win in 2005 and made the all-star team in 2007, and earned another World Series ring with San Francisco in 2010.

Other players the Sox could have picked: C.C. Sabathia, Brad Lidge, Mark Prior, or Matt Thornton.

The White Sox had four picks in 1999 draft. They took:
15. Jason Strum (never played major league ball)
22. Matt Ginter (relief pitcher for the Sox from 2000-2003, then played for the New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians)
35. Brian West (never played major league ball)
45. Rob Purvis (never played major league ball)

While the Sox struck gold with Rowand in 1998, they struck out miserably in 1999. Here are some of the players they could have had: Brian Roberts, Carl Crawford, Alex Rios (who did eventually play a few seasons with the Sox), John Lackey, Justin Morneau, Jake Peavy (another familiar name to Sox fans), and Albert Pujols (but then just about everybody missed on Albert who saw 401 other players picked before his name was called).

The pick in 2000 was Joe Borchard at #12. He did play a little for the Sox and some other clubs, but he never amounted to as much as Chase Utley or Adam Wainwright who were picked after him in the first round. The Sox would have been better off stretching for the likes of Cliff Lee, Yadier Molina, or even Bobby Jenks who were picked in the fourth and fifth rounds.

The Sox had two picks in 2001: #16 Kris Honel and # 39 Wyatt Allen (both of whom never played professional ball, although Allen won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and a bronze in 2008 for Men’s Eight Rowing). Instead of drafting those two the Sox could have picked They could have had David Wright or Jayson Nix (a player who eventually played for the Sox after he was signed as a free agent in 2008).

2002 saw Royce Ring get picked by the Sox at #18. However, they could have had a number of future major leaguers who were also picked in the first round: James Loney, Denard Span, Jeff Francoeur, Matt Cain, Mark Teahen.

Center Fielder, (and future minor league pitcher) Brian Anderson was picked at #15. Anderson was a decent defensive outfielder, but he couldn’t hit the ball even when the pitcher threw the ball at Brian’s bat. Later in his career he quit trying to be someone who swung at the ball and tried being a pitcher but he was as good hitting the bat as a pitcher as he’d been bad at hitting it when he was a hitter. That year the Sox could have had Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Adam Jones, among others.

The next year, 2004 the Sox again picked a guy who was strong on defense, but weak on offense at # 18, infielder, Josh Fields. They also had picks at #34, Tyler Lumsden, and #38, Gio Gonzalez who was traded away a few years later. He’s now a starting pitcher with the Washington Nationals and has a 123 – 88 won-lost record. A couple of notable players the Sox missed out on were pitchers Phil Hughes and Houston Street now pitches

2005 the year the Sox won the World Series also saw them take a giant step toward the futility that would lead them to where they have been the last few years when they picked Lance Broadway instead of Jacob Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Colby Rasmus, or Matt Garza.

More of the same ensued in 2006 with pick # 29 Kyle McCulloch. However, that pick was not much worse than any of the other picks in the first round after #11, Max Scherzer, because almost none of the picks after #11 amounted to any player you would be likely to remember.

In 2007 with the 25th pick the Sox chose future trade bait Aaron Poreda, who was one of four players sent to San Diego in exchange for Jake Peavy. Poreda, with his 97 mph fastball looked like a great pick at the time, but the Sox could have had Josh Donaldson, Todd Frazier, Rick Porcello, Brett Cecil of Ben Revere instead.

Fringe player, Gordon Beckham was picked at #8 in 2008. When the Sox brought him up a year later he looked like a future all-star. He played so well that was named the Sporting News’ 2009 American League Rookie of the Year and was voted the American League Rookie of the Year by the MLBPA. After that, his career fizzled and he gradually drifted into utility infielder status. He’s still playing – with the Seattle Mariners. While Beckham was almost a great pick the Sox could have had Jason Castro, Justin Smoak, Brett Lowrie, Lonnie Chisenahll, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, or Lance Lynn.

2009 saw the Sox make two first round picks: 23 Jared Mitchell and 38 Josh Phegley. Mitchell is now playing for a professional, independent baseball league team and Phegley is on IR with the Oakland A’s after having broken two fingers of his right throwing hand. This is what I would call an ‘Oh what could have been’ year for the Sox because they could have picked Mike Trout, Garrett Richards, or even Matt Davidson instead of Jared Mitchell.

Finally, 2010 saw the White Sox make one of their best picks in the last 20 years, at # 13 Chris Sale. Yes, WE HAVE A WINNER. A few big names were picked before Sale: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Matt Harvey. So there were about ten other teams who swung and missed.

The White Sox management made one of the worst mistakes they’ve ever made in 2011 when they gave up their first-round pick (#13 or 14) to sign Adam Dunn. At first glance, it looked like a good idea. Dunn had eight consecutive years with 38 or more home runs. His first year with the Sox he managed only 11 homers. He redeemed himself somewhat the following year when he hit 41 homers but he also struck out 222 times, just one short of the major league record. The Sox did have a first-round compensation pick at #47 and picked 47 Keenyn Walker. If they hadn’t signed Dunn they might have drafted Tyler Panik, Jackie Bradley, Jr., or Michael Fulmer.

The Sox had two picks in 2012 going with Courtney Hawkings with the 12th pick and Keon Barnum with the 48th, neither of whom made much of a dent in the Sox minor league system. It could have been a good draft if only they’d picked one of these players: Corey Seager, Michael Wacha, Marcus Stroman, Stephen Piscotty, or even Lucas Gioloto.

White Sox at Orioles 5/6/17

In 2013 the Sox again picked someone able to play at the major league level. Tim Anderson was the 17th pick in the first round, a decent pick, but instead they could have gone with Aaron Judge, Sean Manaea, or Cody Bellinger.

Since then the White Sox have picked Carlos Rodon in 2014, Carson Fulmer in 2015, Zach Collins and Zach Burdi in 2016, and Jake Burger last year. Rodon and Fulmer have both seen major league action. Collins, Burdi, and Burger are likely to sometime in the next couple years.

So, that’s the grim tale: 23 picks between 1999 and 2013, but few of them have made it to the majors. So far only three picks have made an all-star team, only one of them while with the Sox (Chris Sale), the others after being traded (Aaron Rowand and Gio Gonzalez). Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon could be All-Stars in the near future, after that, your guess would probably be as good as mine.

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