In June, with the #3 selection the White Sox will have the highest first round draft pick they have had since taking Harold Baines #1 overall in 1977. They've fared pretty well with their three Top 5 selections since then, grabbing guys like Jack McDowell and Alex Fernandez - although taking Kurt Brown ahead of Barry Bonds was probably ill-advised. So, seeing as they have had all of four Top 5 picks since the Carter administration, this is a bit of a special occasion.
In most sports, and indeed, particularly in baseball, the best plan in a draft is to draft the best available player instead of sacrificing on talent trying to draft for need. After all, the idea that it will somehow be a problem if the best available player is awesome at a position where you are also irrevocably stacked is so rare, that it isn't really a problem. Frankly, so much time passes between baseball draft picks and them actually reaching the majors (if they do at all) that the roster can and often is entirely different from when they were drafted.
As it stands, the White Sox have had to trade some cost-controlled pitching for the hitting prospects they have not been able to develop. And while the organization could use help on both sides of the ball, the addition of Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu theoretically "fixes" a third of the lineup for several years.
Most of the other prospects in the organization - Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Tim Anderson, Micah Johnson, etc. - are position players. Erik Johnson is getting his feet wet in the majors, and the White Sox are already relying on him to hold his place in the rotation, as Felipe Paulino is clearly the weak link and there aren't a ton of options behind him.
As it stands, the main pitching prospects left are Chris Beck, Tyler Danish, and Chris Bassitt. Bassitt is on the DL, and I'm probably higher on him than most. Chris Beck has had excellent run prevention success, but his absolute inability to strike batters out terrifies me. Danish has a low enough arm slot that I assume he's a reliever until proven otherwise (although the flip side of that coin is that until someone actually hits the guy he remains interesting). Other pitchers like Scott Snodgress have stagnated, although obviously his career is by no means over. Someone like Andre Rienzo is tantalizing in that he is so close to the majors and has shown flashes of nice pitches, but he has done little to dispel the prediction that he would turn out to be a reliever - likely a good one, but a reliever nonetheless.
Fortunately, this draft looks to put the White Sox in a position where the best available player will simultaneously suit an organizational need. The consensus opinion everywhere I look seems to be that anywhere from the Top 3 to the Top 8 or 9 guys in the coming draft are all pitchers - and the White Sox really could use an infusion of pitching talent.
Carlos Rodon had been the consensus #1 pick for 2014 heading back to last year. With mid-90s heat and, at times, a legitimate 80-grade slider, it looked like the question would simply be who would go second in the draft. This season, however, Rodon has taken a serious step back. His fastball has lost velocity. His slider, still plus, is also not as sharp, and his command with his entire repertoire has diminished. Another concern is that NC State enjoys abusing its own pitchers, and Rodon was left in to top 130 pitches in his start the other night. Rodon, however, did pitch very well in that start, and his fastball velocity had recovered somewhat.
Really, no matter what Rodon does at this point, where he winds up being drafted is going to be fascinating. When everything clicks, like it did pretty much all of last year, he looks like a no-brainer major league pitcher. But if his fastball is low-90s with poor command, his profile is significantly downgraded. If he keeps sliding, what will teams think his true talent level is? If he does rattle off a rebound, does he start pushing his way back toward the #1 pick?
In the meantime, scouts from teams as far down as in the teens have started going to Rodon starts as his poor 2014 had, for some, dropped him out of the Top 5 or 10 entirely.
Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek have stepped into the opening that Rodon has left for them. Both high school pitchers, Aiken is a lefty with a diverse repertoire and great feel for his pitches, whereas Kolek is a monster right-hander who throws triple digit heat.
Other names in the mix include guys like Jeff Hoffman, who is a great athlete and whose arsenal sounds unhittable when you read about it, but the results haven't been as good as one would hope. The other name I have heard bandied about the White Sox is Tyler Beede from Vanderbilt.
While I would love it if the White Sox were able to grab Kolek or Aiken at #3, I am not sure if that is in keeping with the organization we have come to know in my lifetime. True, Rick Hahn has orchestrated the closest thing to a rebuild that we have seen in some time, and there are reasons to believe that he is going to run a very different operation from his predecessors.
At the same time, it's still Jerry Reinsdorf's team, and he does not like to do long rebuilds, and Kenny Williams isn't gone - he's still very much a part of the decision making hierarchy. Perhaps -as has often been the case in the past - the White Sox believe themselves to be closer to contention than outsiders do. Perhaps that drives them to draft someone like Rodon or Beede or Hoffman, deeming them closer to the majors and as lower risks than prep arms like Aiken or Kolek. It's certainly possible that the White Sox go outside of this list of five names - either because they march to the beat of their own drummer, or perhaps effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of various prospects rejiggers the draft board for everyone.
The Astros and Marlins are also going to have a lot of say in what's available - the Astros are making a habit of being the #1 pick. They have also shown a willingness to grab someone who is not the consensus best available player in order to free up their draft pool to spend on depth. The Marlins' plan is anybody's guess.
There's still a lot of time left between now and the draft. Fortunately, Rick Hahn will have a lot of intriguing options from which to choose when the time comes.