If you needed a clue as to the direction the White Sox are headed look no further than the field at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday night.
For the third time in eight days the team’s lineup featured five rookies and a sixth, Erik Johnson, was the starting pitcher.
Prior to Sept. 21, you had to go back to September 2007 to find when the White Sox last started five rookies. The last time six rookies started a game was Oct. 2, 1999, per Stats, Inc.
Clearly, general manager Rick Hahn’s plan to develop a long-term winner via a youth movement -- one he had to expedite because of the club’s poor season --- has begun.
Saturday’s contest against the Kansas City Royals, where 2011 draftees Johnson and Marcus Semien played starring roles, is only the start as the White Sox are guaranteed the No. 3 pick in next June’s amateur draft. While the major league product has been a disappointment, the club’s new direction is one area Hahn can speak about in a positive manner.
“I feel good about the health of the organization,” Hahn said. “And as painful as it has been to sit through this year, come next June and July, with the sizable amateur draft and international signing pools that we're going to have -- I think we're in a great position from a staffing standpoint and operational standpoint to spend that well, which will further solidify our direction towards long-term, sustainable success here.”
Sizable might not be a strong enough description for the increase in the team’s amateur and international bonus pools slotted for next season.
This summer the combined bonus pools for the White Sox -- how much they could spend on the amateur and international signing bonuses -- was $7,469,900.
In 2014, the White Sox could have almost double that amount to spend.
The Colorado Rockies, owners of the third pick in 2013, had a combined $14,413,200 to spend, including $10,199,400 on the amateur draft.
To put that in perspective, from 2007-11 the White Sox spent $18,327,450 in amateur signing bonuses, per Baseball America.
That type of money should allow the White Sox to infuse more top-tier talent into their system after the organization added several new prospects through trades this summer.
“You feel confident at No. 3 you’re going to get a good one,” amateur scouting director Doug Laumann said. “More than anything it comes down to our philosophy.”
Their philosophy could be swayed by how the team’s current crop of rookies fares at the start of 2014.
Prior to their retooling project this summer, the White Sox hoped to compete and then rebuild in time for 2015 after the contracts of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios expired.
But those plans were waylaid by an all-out collapse in June and July. Rios and Jake Peavy were offloaded and in return the White Sox received Avisail Garcia and Leury Garcia.
If those two, along with Semien, Johnson, Conor Gillaspie and Josh Phegley, show they can be productive in the majors, the White Sox might choose to draft a player who can reach the big leagues faster if one’s available. Determining what type of impact those players can have is why White Sox manager Robin Ventura has played his rookies often in August and September.
“You’re going to have to assess if you think guys are going to have better years next year -- people like Semien, both Garcias -- and can be productive and part of a team that is going to be able to win games,” Ventura said. “That was going on for a while here, not just September.”
Thus far Hahn sounds pleased with what he has seen. Avisail Garcia has showed off all of five of the tools he was said to have since he was acquired for Peavy. Semien and Johnson have looked good too.
“There's been a lot of progress in this organization as a whole, continued progress from things we started over the last couple of years, like the amateur draft, our presence internationally, the development of some of our internal prospects -- guys who have really taken a step forward this year,” Hahn said.