As the White Sox close out year two of the rebuild, there is one thing that the team and the fans should learn.
White Sox homegrown position players have had more success in 2018 than homegrown pitchers have had.
This has also been the case with successful rebuilding teams like the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs.
On the 2018 roster, one of the most successful players on the team was none other than a position player that the Sox drafted in the first round in 2013. Tim Anderson has spent his entire baseball career with the White Sox. And, in his third season in the Show, he set a team record as the first ChiSox shortstop with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in one season.
Another highly successful homegrown position player is Adam Engel. In his second season with the Sox, he raised his batting stats significantly. In 2017, he has a miserable slash of .166/.235/.282. His 2018 slash is much better: .236/.279/.339. Yes, his bat still needs work, but the kid has speed and agility in the outfield. At 26-years-old, Engel has a little bit of time to improve his offensive play.
Then, there’s Kevan Smith. He’s had limited time playing with the Sox in 2018. In fact, he joined the team as a backup catcher to Omar Narvaez after Welington Castillo was suspended. In 47 games, Smith batted .296/.351/.371 with four home runs and 30 RBI. He improved dramatically after a ho-hum 2017.
All three of these homegrown position players have positively affected the White Sox in 2018. Anderson has added the most, as his 2.8 WAR shows.
On the flipside, homegrown pitchers have proven to be troublesome for the White Sox. In 2018, the pitchers who were drafted by the White Sox and played in the Major Leagues included Carlos Rodon, Jace Fry, Nate Jones, Aaron Bummer, and Ian Hamilton. All of these pitchers have struggled repeatedly in the 2018 season. Two have missed significant time due to injuries. Pitchers struggle more and have issues with fragility in ways that position players do not. Can you imagine any of these pitchers starting, relieving, or closing with consistent success in playoff games?
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The Astros and Cubs are the two teams that rebuilding teams like the Sox look to as examples. If you look at the Astros lineup in 2017, only two starting pitchers were homegrown (Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers), but nearly all of their infield position players have only played for the Astros, whether acquired through the traditional free agent draft or through International signings.
The 2016 Cubs were in the same position. Not one of the starting pitchers on the 2016 World Series team was a homegrown Cubbie. But, many of the top position players have only played for the Cubs. Think Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez to name a few.
What these teams figured out was that they could build a strong program with young position players. Then, they added pitchers as needed. The Astros could not have won without the Justin Verlander trade and without bullpen pitchers acquired through various trades. The Cubs added Jake Arrieta, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman to fill in where they were weak.
The White Sox would be wise to look at these two teams and realize that it is easier to fill in pitching holes with free agent signings and interesting trades than to grow pitchers from drafts. The Sox should also recognize the importance of everyday position players and the culture they bring to successful teams.
Yes, pitchers are important. But, they only pitch every five days and they are better at preventing losses than getting wins. Position players show up every single day and they are the players who get the wins. It’s better to place your hopes and dreams for a World Series championship on the homegrown position players, rather than on the homegrown pitching staff. When it comes to drafting players, it’s a simple case of buyer beware. Or, is it buyer be aware?