The 2014 MLB Draft is finally upon us, and later tonight we'll finally know who the White Sox will be adding with arguably the team's most important draft selection in more than 20 years.
We've spent a lot of time in this space discussing the what, how and why regarding the White Sox's possible choices at No. 3 overall, but for the most part we've left the "who" alone.
At this point, everyone who has followed the draft process knows the pitchers the White Sox will be choosing between — Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek, Carlos Rodon, Aaron Nola — as well as the bats that remain possibilities — Alex Jackson, Nick Gordon.
The aforementioned players are the Top 6 on Jim Callis of MLB.com's big board. Without the benefit of having seen any of these players in person, we have to rely on the reports of Callis and other scouts around the Internet to get a good idea of the particular skill sets these players would bring to the White Sox if they are selected.
That said, let's take a look at these six. We'll be going through each player's measurables, as well as snippets from the scouting reports of Callis, ESPN.com's Keith Law, as well as a few others from around the web. At the conclusion, I'll give my best guess as to who the White Sox will take with the No. 3 pick.
Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.), Senior
Height: 6'3", Weight: 210
Bats: L, Throws: L
College Commitment: UCLA
You'd be hard-pressed to find an MLB Draft rankings that doesn't have Aiken firmly entrenched as the No. 1 prospect. Likewise, it'd be difficult to find a mock draft that doesn't predict that the Astros will take him No. 1 overall. Aiken is primed to become the first prep arm to go 1-1 since the Yankees took Brien Taylor back in 1991. So why?
Aiken entered the season as a potential Top 10 pick, but shot up to No. 1 thanks to showing increased velocity this season, as well as good command of several pitches, per Callis.
He has the chance to develop three above-average or better offerings. His once-average fastball is now topping out at 97 mph and sits 92-94 mph, featuring both run and sink. He commands his fastball well and throws all three of his pitches for strikes. He gets good depth on his curveball and keeps hitters off balance with his changeup, which usually comes in around 10 mph slower than his fastball.
That point is echoed by Law:
Left-handers with the potential for three plus pitches and feel for pitching generally don't hang around the board very long, and that's what you're getting with him.
The scouting grades for Aiken support those facts. Per Callis, Aiken doesn't have a single tool that registers below 60 (on the 20-80 scale) and Law only has him below 60 on command, which he rates a 45 with a future rating of 55.
Baseball America's John Manuel called Aiken the consensus top talent in the draft in his latest mock, and said he's drawing comparisons to Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels.
For what it's worth, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said he likes Aiken the best of the four pitching prespects the team could have a shot at, as he told CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes.
“I liked the kid Aiken maybe the best. But a high school kid, that’s going to be a little longer."
Olympia HS (Fla.), Senior
Height: 6'2", Weight: 170
Bats: L, Throws: R
Commitment: Florida State
Nick Gordon is the son of former White Sox reliever Tom "Flash" Gordon. If you're really smart, you've probably deduced that he is also the brother of current Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon.
Gordon's situation is interesting in that he's also a pitching prospect, but pitched sparsely during his senior season in high school in order to focus on his work in the field and it's assumed that whichever team drafts him will do so with the idea of putting him at shortstop, where he profiles as an above-average defender, per Callis.
Gordon has the actions and arm to stick at shortstop, and his plus speed plays well on the bases. He has a solid left-handed swing and uses the whole field to hit. He's made some strength gains this spring, but will need to add more muscle to hold his own against big league pitching.
Drafting for need is not something teams usually do in the first round, particularly when picking as high as the White Sox are at No. 3 overall. But their system is currently stockpiled with middle infielders, including last year's first-round pick Tim Anderson, Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez, Marcus Semien and others. There has been rumors that the Astros might take him No. 1 overall so they could bring him in well under slot (just as they did two years ago when they drafted Carlos Correa), but most mock drafts have him being taken between No. 4 and 6 overall.
Law sees Gordon as an above-average defender who still has some work to do at the plate.
He has a somewhat high leg kick and at times his hands can trail the rest of his body leading to some timing issues, and struggled with the better breaking stuff he saw last summer on the showcase circuit.
Callis grades Gordon at 60 overall, with 60 rankings for his arm, fielding and running and slightly lesser ratings in hitting and power.
Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.), Senior
Height: 6'2", Weight: 215
Bats: R, Throws: R
Jackson was long considered the top bat in the draft, and comparisons to Kris Bryant — whom the Cubs took at No. 2 last year and who has been flying through the minors — have been thrown around. He's been seen penciled in as high as No. 2 to the Marlins, but Law recently pegged him at No. 6 to the Mariners with Gordon and Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto being taken directly in front of him.
The biggest question regarding Jackson is where he will ultimately stick defensively. A catcher in high school, some wonder if he'll be able to advance enough to play there every day or if he would be better suited for a corner outfield spot. Either way, his bat doesn't seem to be much of a concern, per Law.
Even as an outfielder, Jackson's hit and power tool project to be as good -- if not better -- than any prep hitter in the class, and he looks to be an everyday player who could put up big offensive numbers with average or better defense.
Both Jackson's hit and power tools grade out at a 60, per Callis, but there's a correctable hitch in his swing that the team that drafts him will likely look to correct.
He has enough feel for hitting that he could produce .280 batting averages in the Major Leagues. To do that, he'll need to curb a tendency for his swing that gets long at times which causes him to miss hittable fastballs.
The White Sox haven't been tied to Jackson, a Scott Boras client, in any mocks leading up to the draft. Manuel has him going at No. 2 to the Marlins and Law at No. 6 to the Mariners.
Shepherd HS (Texas), Senior
Height: 6'5", Weight: 230
Bats: R, Throws: R
Kolek is the player who has been most often tied to the White Sox by draft experts. Law, Callis, Manuel and several others are predicting them to take him with the No. 3 pick in the first round.
In each mock, Aiken is going No. 1 overall, but regardless of who goes No. 2, the White Sox are pegged to take Kolek. And it's easy to see why.
Kolek fits the prototypical "big, Texas-bred flamethrower" bill that scouts obsess over. His body size and mechanics have drawn such ridiculous comparisons as Roger Clemens, as well as guys like Josh Beckett, Stephen Strasburg and Joba Chamberlain
His size and velocity are insane for a player his age, as Law mentions.
Simply put, Kolek has the arm strength to throw harder than any pitcher in the class, sitting more in the 93-95 mph range, occasionally reaching triple digits with some late movement as well. He didn?t hold his velocity in some of his outings, but that can be attributed to the amount of travel and work that Kolek put in during his offseason.
There are concerns regarding Kolek, of course. A kid who throws that hard at such a young age would presume to be at a higher risk for arm injuries down the line. But the way I see it, the reward of Kolek reaching his potential is worth the risk of someone with his skill set flaming out. He's far from polished, however, as Callis points out.
The only real knock on Kolek is that his control and command have yet to catch up to his premium stuff. That still hasn't prevented him from becoming a contender to go No. 1 overall to the nearby Astros.
From what Cooper has seen on tape, he believes Kolek is workable, per Hayes.
"It’s hard not to like the stuff coming out of the hand of Kolek. Those high school kids, there’s work to be done there.”
Height: 6'2", Weight: 170
Bats: R, Throws: R
Prev. drafted: 2011, 22nd (679) - TOR
While the White Sox are presumed to be interested in one of the "big three" of Aiken, Kolek or Carlos Rodon (who we'll get to in a minute), there is some speculation that, if the White Sox decide to stay away from prep arms or Boras clients, Nola will be their guy.
Nola shot up draft board of late after a successful junior season at LSU, and is expected to be closer to contributing at the Major League level than either of the high schoolers, which makes him appealing for a team looking for a quick rebuild, as the White Sox are known to be. Per Law:
Right now Nola gets labeled as the "safe" pitching prospect in this draft by some, a starter without huge upside but minimal flaws.
What that basically means is that Nola might have the highest floor of any of the pitching prospects. While he doesn't have the potential to be as good as Aiken, Kolek or Rodon, he's far less likely to fail completely.
That's not to say Nola isn't good, of course, he led Division-I in most significant pitching categories, and Callis sees a lot to like.
Nola isn't physical or overpowering, but he has exquisite command of his three-pitch arsenal. He effortlessly works at 91-93 mph with his fastball, which plays up because his low three-quarters arm slot produces sink and he can locate the pitch wherever he wants. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, grading as plus at times, and he can throw his three-quarters breaking ball for strikes.
If the White Sox want to play it safe, Nola will be their pick.
North Carolina State, Junior
Height: 6'3", Weight: 235
Bats: L, Throws: L
Prev. drafted: 2011, 16th (491) - MIL
Rodon is the most known and also has been the most heavily scrutinized of this year's top prospects. He entered the season as the consensus No. 1 prospect and seemed a shoo-in to go 1-1 to the Astros as recently as a few months ago.
So what happened?
Rodon had a subpar junior season at NC State, by his standards, and some scouts have worried that his lack of a deep arsenal destine him for a future out of the bullpen.
The upside, however, still revolves around his slider, which Law said is ready to get big league hitters out right now.
(Rodon's slider) is the best breaking ball of any pitcher in this year's class. It sits in the mid 80's with ridiculous movement that will give both left and right-handed hitters fits thanks to its bite and tilt.
Law grades Rodon's slider at a 65 right now with a future grade as a maxed-out 80. Callis has it at a 70 right now, but they both agree he'll need to develop other pitches in order to be an effective Major Leaguer. He features a fastball that projects to be above-average as well, but his changeup, which he really started working on this season (and could be a reason for his numbers dropping) still offers much to be desired.
Still, Rodon is seen as the closest pitcher in the class to becoming a Major League contributor, and the upside might be too much to pass up if he were available at No. 3.
If Aiken and Rodon go 1-2 to the Astros and Marlins, respectively, the decision is easy in my eyes. Kolek offers the most long-term potential and the White Sox are in a position where they could and should take a risk on a project even if it means he won't reach the big leagues until 2017 or later.
If both Rodon and Kolek are left when the White Sox are up at No. 3, which remains a distinct possibility, the decision becomes a little tougher. Do the Sox go with the project or the established pitcher with slightly lesser upside?
I've been on the Rodon bandwagon for most of this year. The way I see it, when a pitcher has one pitch as dominant as his slider projects to be, you go with that and hope the rest falls into place. But his lack of a deeper arsenal makes me worry that he won't be able to offer the type of diversity needed to get big league hitters out on a regular basis.
You likely can't go wrong with either guy, and the bats aren't "sure thing" enough for me to consider at No. 3, but if I'm forced to pick, I'd go with Kolek by a hair, and in the end I think that's the direction the White Sox will go in as well.
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