The thing about projecting the MLB Draft, which begins with the first two rounds tonight, is that, like most drafts, it's a fool's practice. As Ben Lindbergh noted on Grantland last week, nobody gets anything right. Even Kevin Goldstein, for years one of the top prospect minds in the game who now works for the Houston Astros, only got 18 picks right over a six year period, and in 2010 only got the No. 1 overall pick correctly before whiffing on every other pick, as noted in Lindbergh's piece.
One of the reasons for this is that teams spew out a lot of misinformation as to not tip their hand about who they like. That has me optimistic that the White Sox — who every draft pundit have targeting college arms — are actually approaching the No. 8 pick with open minds instead of zeroing in one one specific position or one specific skill set.
There's nothing wrong with the White Sox drafting a college pitcher, but as Nick noted last week, it would be foolish for them to rule out drafting other positions simply because of their developmental history. Scouting director Doug Laumann said during a radio interview prior to Sunday's game against Detroit that the White Sox have their eyes on eight different players for the No. 8 pick — four position players and four pitchers. That, of course, doesn't tell us much, as teams have no reason to tip their hand this close to the draft, but let's hope if that whichever of those eight players falls to No. 8, the White Sox take the one they have rated highest, and not the guy who best fits their criteria.
All that said, let's take a look at some of the guys the White Sox could be in position to draft at No. 8:
Guys they're supposedly high on
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
If mock drafts are to be believed (and they're not; see my note about Goldstein), Fulmer is the guy who is most expected to be the White Sox's pick at No. 8. Of the four most noteworthy pundits I go to — ESPN's Keith Law, MLB's Jim Callis, Baseball America's John Manuel and Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel — all but Callis currently have Fulmer slotted to the White Sox at No. 8. From McDaniel:
I’ve heard that the White Sox prefer Fulmer to Jay (as do I, further proving the White Sox have good taste in pitchers) and all spring they’ve been tied to those two, with some chance neither gets here — although, in this scenario, they both do. I’m not sure who their third option is if all three college arms fail to get here (I haven’t heard them tied to one bat), but most assume it’s Jon Harris.
The good folks over at Future Sox have been doing scouting reports on all the top draft prospects (seriously, check them out, they're really good at what they do), had this to say about him:
If all goes to plan for Fulmer he could feature three above average pitches with average command. His fastball has excellent velocity and movement, giving it a chance to be a real weapon, and his curve could be a plus pitch too. Those who like him see a potential #2/3 starter who shouldn’t need a lot of time in the Minors. Others look at his size, delivery and shaky command and say he’s destined for the bullpen.
Fulmer, whose Commadores are still alive in the NCAA Super-Regionals, has started 16 games this season and is 12-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 107.2 IP this year with 147 strikeouts and 41 walks.
Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois
Jay is one of the most intriguing guys in the draft because his stock rose so late. Once a virtual non-prospect, he burst onto the scene last summer while pitching for the USA national team and has been dominant for the highly-ranked Illini all season while pitching almost exclusively in relief. However, teams supposedly believe he can start in the pros and that's why he'll likely go in the Top 10. (if you're interested in seeing him, he'll be making a rare start tonight for the Illini in an elimination game against Vanderbilt that will begin around the same time as the MLB Draft).
A few weeks ago, most of the aforementioned mock drafts had Jay slotted at No. 8, but then his stock rose so highly that most believed he wouldn't be around when the White Sox made their pick. Now, some like Manuel have him going as high as No. 3 to Colorado while others like Law have Jay lasting to the White Sox, but them passing him over to take Fulmer. (Confused? Me too).
Even with his performance level in the elite ranks of NCAA-D1, this lefty still begs the question: “Can he hold up as a starter?” More often than not, scouts have answered that question with a yes. As far as repertoire, there should be no doubt that Jay has what it takes to start. Jay throws four pitches, listed in terms of frequency he features: fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.
In 60.1 innings thus far this season, Jay has a 0.60 ERA with 70 strikeouts and seven walks.
Dillon Tate, RHP, UC Santa Barbara.
I mentioned earlier that three of the four draft pundits have the White Sox taking Fulmer. The one who doesn't — MLB.com's Callis — has them taking Tate, a pitcher who was expected to go in the Top 5 for most of the weeks leading up to the draft but has recently seen his stock slip a bit. The reason the other three don't have the White Sox taking him is because they all have him going before the White Sox make their pick. From Callis:
It's no secret that the White Sox covet college arms here. Tate didn't figure to last this long a month ago, but his stuff faded down the stretch in his first season as a college starter.
Tate has four plus pitches but the fastball is considered his most dangerous weapon, and he can routinely hit the high 90s on the radar gun. From Future Sox:
How Tate fits as a prospect for the White Sox is obvious: he is a college pitcher. Away from that, Tate is an athletic type with questions about holding up as a starter. While the Sox have never been afraid to draft a guy with concerns about starting, but I think that’s really irrelevant in this draft as very few top guys look like guaranteed starters.
Unlike the other two guys, Tate's season is over. In 103.1 innings pitched, he went 8-5 with a 2.26 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 28 walks.
Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
Harris being linked to the White Sox seems, in some regards, to be solely because of their being linked only to college pitchers. Unlike Fulmer, Jay and Tate, there isn't a single mock draft I've seen that has Harris going higher than No. 8. In fact, both McDaniel and Callis note in their mocks that Harris would be a fallback plan of sorts if none of the other three are available when the White Sox pick.
It'd be unwise to immediately react unfavorably toward any pick the White Sox make given their track record of developing pitchers, but Harris' ceiling compared to other top prospects would make it difficult to get too excited. Future Sox sums it up pretty nicely:
There are really two ways to look at Harris. On the one hand, he is a relatively polished starter with advanced command for his age but relatively low ceiling. Note that he doesn't have any one or two stand-out pitches, and even the 60 FV on the fastball may be ambitious. This screams of high floor, but quicker to the majors talent that could be a contributor as soon as 2016. Some White Sox fans may be having flashbacks to the likes of Lance Broadway and Kyle McCulloch, though Harris' projections are stronger than those profiles had. For some, this would be a disappointing choice.
Harris and Missouri State's season ended on Sunday with a Super-Regional loss to Arkansas, and in 103 innings pitched this season, he went 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA, 116 strikeouts and 36 walks.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Arkansas
I should note that my "favorite" I'm talking about the guy I like the most who could realistically be available at No. 8. Obviously, I would one of the shortstop trio of Vanderbilt's Dansby Swanson, LSU's Alex Bregman or high schooler Brendan Rodgers, but it seems virtually impossible that any of those three will still be around at No. 8.
That leaves Benintendi as the guy I'm most intrigued by. He's a draft-eligible sophomore who has put up insane numbers, with a triple slash line of .380/.489/.715, 19 home runs and 47 walks compared to 31 strikeouts. He's also 23-of-27 on stolen base attempts and most scouting reports grade him as above average in center field. The only knock against him being the fact that he's relatively small (5-foot-10) and this is his first year of really high-level production.
College stats are dangerous to judge a guy based off of, and can obviously be misleading (Gordon Beckham's college stats, for example, draft even Benintendi's as he hit .411/.519/.804 his final year at Georgia), but I feel like for an organization that struggles to develop hitters, taking a guy who, of the likely available prospects, seems to be the farthest along in his development, would be a wise move. Compared to some of the high school position players who could be available such as Daz Cameron, Kyle Tucker, Tyler Stephenson or Trenton Clark, Benintendi might not have the upside, but seems the safer bet without necessarily being a "low upside" guy like we mentioned about Harris.
There are other names I failed to mention who the White Sox could take a look at. The other Vanderbilt pitcher, Walker Buehler, Louisville's Kyle Funkhouser and UCLA's James Kaprielian all fit the bill if we're to believe the White Sox are zeroing in on college arms, but the aforementioned three seem, at least for now, to be the guys the White Sox are most focused on.
It's all speculation at this point, but we'll finally be done wondering soon enough.