White Sox Think Their Development Tide Is Turning
GLENDALE, Ariz.—Fast track or off the tracks?
The White Sox can cite success stories from their player-development system, based on the fact that Gordon Beckham, Daniel Hudson, Chris Sale and Addison Reed needed less than two years to reach the major leagues in the past three years.
But after that? It's a sore subject among some members of the White Sox player-development staff, who point to the instant successes rather than the win-now, scrap-later style that has cost them more prospects at the expense of trying in recent years to win at the major league level.
"Our guys have been able to identify guys quickly as far as getting them to the big leagues, which is how we evaluate our system," said Buddy Bell, who was promoted during the offseason to vice president of player development and special assignments. "In that regard, we feel pretty good about it.
"As far as we have a bunch of prospects at one time, I don't think since I've been here (since 2008), we haven't had that. I don't think in terms of how we do it on the major league level as far as how we use our minor league guys as far as trades and things like that. We're always about winning at the big league level, so we do it differently than anyone else. In that regard, I understand that. It makes it easier for everybody because I think sometimes farm directors and player-development guys get upset because you trade guys. But I think because I was in the big leagues, I understand it easier."
The White Sox are at a dangerous intersection. After trading the likes of bona fide major league starters like Gio Gonzalez, Clayton Richard and Hudson, they've been forced to accelerate the development of a few players like Beckham from a farm system that lacks depth.
They cut their major league payroll by about $24 million this offseason through trades involving Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos in an attempt to fortify pitching talent that had thinned at the upper levels, stemming largely from trades for Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson.
And at the bottom of the pyramid, where talent is brought in, the White Sox ranked last in dollars spent in the draft from 2007-11. On the international side, the White Sox have fared well with the signings of Cuban players such as Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo, who both figure to be big league starters in 2012. But those successes were overshadowed by the bonus-skimming debacle that surfaced in 2008 and involved David Wilder, the former director of player personnel who now faces time in prison.
Among Wilder's signings are Juan Silverio and Brazilian righthander Andre Riezno, neither of whom has reached Double-A after four minor league seasons. In addition to the obvious negative attention, the White Sox also greatly scaled back their international efforts after the scandal, cutting off another source of new talent.
Better Signs On The Horizon
But there are signs that lead the Sox to believe they will be on a more even playing field with their competitors going forward.
The shift in investing more resources in the minors began to evolve when Bell took over Wilder's responsibilties overseeing the minor leagues in 2008 as director of player development. Bell had served as Chicago's director of minor league instruction from 1991-93 before spending most of the next 15 years as a major league coach or manager. As part of his new, expanded duties, Bell will evaluate amateur talent. He completed a five-day scouting trip in early March.
The offseason acquisitions of five pitching prospects—led by Nestor Molina (from the Blue Jays for Santos) and Simon Castro (from the Padres for Quentin)—symbolize a change from the days when the Sox would aim directly toward winning a playoff berth.
White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also was involved in negotiations of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that places spending limits on amateur and international signing bonuses. This year, the White Sox's aggregate signing pool for the first 10 rounds (in which they have 11 selections) is just north of $5.95 million, more than twice as much as the organization spent in last year's draft (roughly $2.8 million).
After picking no higher than the second part of the first round for 17 consecutive seasons, the Sox will pick in the upper half of the first round for the third time in the past five seasons. The 2008 draft that snapped the streak of no high draft picks produced Beckham, third baseman Brent Morel (third round) and Hudson (fifth), with outfielder Jordan Danks (seventh), lefthander Charlie Leesman (11th), infielder Tyler Kuhn (15th) and outfielder Brandon Short (28th), possessing a realistic shot of reaching the majors at some point.
The reconstruction of the organization's international program got a boost last December with the hiring of Marco Paddy as a special assistant in charge of international operations, with a concentration in Latin America. Paddy made a quick impact by signing 17-year-old Venezuelan pitcher Luis Martinez to a $250,000 bonus.
"My vision is that I think we're in good shape," said Bell, who was replaced as farm director by Nick Capra, the former field coordinator. "I think we're always going to be in good shape because I think we've got great instructors. I think our scouts do a great job and just getting the big guys in the big leagues is the most important thing.
"We could have kept guys in the big leagues longer. I don't get too wrapped up in ratings because everyone does things a little different. I do understand it, but I think it's a little misleading."
Bell said that even though the players are with other organizations now, White Sox coaches can point to the successes of young pitchers like Hudson as signs that they do things the right way. One of those coaches, former pitching coordinator Kirk Champion, was promoted to Capra's old field coordinator gig. Bell said he doesn't plan any radical changes in the way the organization teaches, and that the emphasis will continue to be on making players self-sufficient.
"When you're playing in front of 50,000 fans, you don't have someone holding you by the hand, telling you what to do," Bell said. "I want people who can think on the fly and get the job done when they don't necessarily feel their best."
And at least one Sox prospect has faith in the quality of the system.
"I don't read too much into what people say that we have a weak farm system," said outfielder Trayce Thompson, ranked as the Sox's No. 4 prospect. "But you know what? I'll take our guys over any of their guys. That's just the way it is. I'd go to war with these guys as far as with Jared Mitchell, Jake Petricka, Brandon Short, Tyler Saladino—guys like that. I'd take them over some of the most talented players out there.
"Just because we're not all first-round picks or top five picks doesn't mean we're not a top farm system. We still have a lot of talent. Look at what Addison Reed did last year. As far as producing, it's all about playing on the field and I think we've got plenty of talent."