Debunking the Development Fallacy


Chris Sale headlines a White Sox youth movement ( Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports).

It always pops up around this time of year; the time when the offseason winds down and spring training is right around the corner.  It’s a White Sox fallacy, that this year, snuck its way into conversations when the Sox let A.J. Pierzynski walk, proclaiming its faith in Tyler Flowers.  Those that question Flowers’ ability to be an adequate starting catcher refer to the White Sox’s inability to develop prospects through the system.

The “development fallacy” has three facets: 1) The White Sox never produce any homegrown talent; 2) Because they don’t focus on or spend enough money on the draft; 3) And any prospects that they do have, they trade away for washed up veterans.

Let’s debunk this fallacy once and for all, tackling one part at a time.

The White Sox never produce any homegrown talent

Taking a look at the present White Sox roster, it might surprise some people just how many players made their first significant contributions at the major league level in a White Sox uniform.  While some would argue that the Sox didn’t actually draft some of the players and rather acquired them by other means, does it really make a difference?  Using that logic, Sox fans should focus on the fact that the Dodgers actually developed Paul Konerko and not that the Sox had the foresight to acquire him as his career was about to blossom.

For clarity sake, we’ll use the 25-man roster, as the 40-man roster is usually filled with prospects not ready to compete at the major league level.  We will also consider someone’s first significant major league season to be a season in which he appears in at least half as many games/has half as many plate appearances as he would in a typical season.

64% of the White Sox 25 man roster experienced their first significant season in the big leagues on the White Sox.  And that number doesn’t include Matt Thornton or Donnie Veal, who each only had one season under their belt when they were acquired by the White Sox.  Comparatively, Tampa Bay, an organization known for developing great talent, currently has 56% of its 25 man roster as homegrown talent.

Breaking it down even further, two-thirds of the White Sox starting nine, half its projected bench players and four-fifths of its starting rotation are “homegrown.”  Less than half of the bullpen is homegrown (counting Thornton and Veal as not homegrown).

The White Sox do not focus or spend enough money on the draft

While nobody can defend that White Sox’s ascetic spending in past MLB drafts, including spending less than $3 million in 2011, the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) rules have come to the rescue for the White Sox.  The new CBA says that each team will have a monetary cap on its signing bonuses.  Every pick during the first 10 rounds of the draft now has a corresponding and non-negotiable bonus value.  Teams that exceed their specified draft budget will be punished in the form of taxation relative to the amount overspent or the loss of future draft picks.

What this all means is that the gap between what the White Sox spend and what teams spend that heavily invest in the draft has decreased significantly.  While the White Sox’s draft philosophy and behavior might not change, the players available and who they are willing to select might.  Amateur players who demand more money might slip in the draft and conversely, players who are projected as better financial values might move up.

The White Sox trade all of their prospects

Have the White Sox made many moves for players who are probably past their primes?  Absolutely.  Have the White Sox traded many prospects in these deals, whether in-season or during the offseason?  Definitely.  But have a majority of those prospects turned into bona fide major league talent?  Not even close.

Here’s the list of White Sox prospects that have been traded away in the last five or so years (hide your eyes!): Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, Nick Masset, Ryan Meaux, Matt Heidenreich, Blair Walters, Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Hernandez, Daniel Hudson, Zach Stewart, David Holmberg, John Ely, Jon Link, Dexter Carter, Adam Russell, Brandon Allen, Danny Richar, Chris Carter, Tyler Lumsden, Daniel Cortes and Joe Borchard.

The only prospects on that entire list who have had any major league success are Daniel Hudson and Chris Carter, both of whom have only had one year of success.

So while not all of these trades have worked out for the Sox, they certainly haven’t lost much, if anything at all.  And before claiming that this supports the fact that the Sox never produce homegrown talent, please refer to part one.