White Sox stand by Minors system's strength

White Sox stand by Minors system's strength

White Sox stand by Minors system's strength
CHICAGO -- Under general manager Ken Williams, the White Sox have pursued a "live for the moment" approach that has had them in contention in every season of his tenure, including a World Series title in 2005, with the '07 season the lone exception.

But the run of continued success has come at the expense of the farm system, which largely has been utilized to acquire players to keep the team on its winning path at the big league level. Those who expertly study such things consistently rank the White Sox at or near the bottom in overall ratings of farm system ratings. And the truth of the matter is that the South Siders are not deep in young talent.

The question is, how much does this lack of depth matter in the White Sox pursuit of the ultimate goal -- World Series titles? According to Buddy Bell, the one-time Major League manager who starts his fourth season in charge of the White Sox Minor League talent, big league success always stands as the focus.

"I don't look at how our Minor Leagues are doing. I look at what it provides to the Major League team," Bell said. "If someone wants to look at it in another way, I think that's ludicrous. It doesn't make any sense to me. Look at what our Major League system has provided our Major League team. I would put that up against anybody."

A glance at the 2012 roster lends some support to Bell's comment.

Brent Morel (third round, 2008 First-Year Player Draft) takes on the starting third-base job for a second straight season. Chris Sale (top pick, 2010 Draft) moves from a highly successful 1 1/2-year bullpen run into the starting rotation. Addison Reed (third round, '10 Draft) looks to be the team's future closer, and Gordon Beckham, the team's most ballyhooed prospect over the past five years and its top selection in the '08 First-Year Player Draft, returns at second base.

Beckham is a cautionary tale about putting too much pressure, too quickly on a young prospect. The 25-year-old certainly didn't appear rushed to the Majors when he had a breakout rookie campaign in 2009, but Beckham has struggled to find success at the plate over the past two years.

Less pressure on the White Sox Minor Leagues might have meant more Minor League time for the likes of Beckham, Sale and/or Reed. But the White Sox also believe in giving young players a chance for promotion when they are ready to compete, regardless of age or service time, and the players are eager to meet the challenge.

"When things go wrong, everyone wants to have a heart attack and freak out about everything," Beckham said. "It's the wrong way to approach things. We have to figure out where did we go wrong and what do we have to do to get better? There's no spot for negativity and stuff like that.

"How many out of 25 players do you need to be homegrown for it to be a good system?" Beckham asked. "They do a good job of finding guys they want and stick with them. They have stuck with me, and I appreciate that and hope to prove them right."

The division-rival Royals, with players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon, currently stand as darlings of player development and seeing such success in their division leads fans to wonder why the White Sox don't have a more players like that. And they probably think the same thing when watching Tampa Bay's 22-year-old phenom, Matt Moore, shut down the potent Rangers lineup in Game 1 of the 2011 American League Division Series.

But Kansas City should have a plethora of Grade A talent traveling through its system. Since 1995, the Royals have had but one winning season. That means the Royals have held a consistently large number of Top 10 draft picks, where the can't-miss prospects are taken.

"If you are in a position to draft high, you certainly have to be right about it," Bell said. "If you do make the right decisions and have guys who aren't afraid to make that decision and pay the money out, you end up in pretty good shape."

"Take a look at baseball's history and see how many guys made it and had great careers but weren't first-round picks on some list," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, the 10th pick overall by the White Sox in the 1988 First-Year Player Draft, adding that hidden talents often are found in later rounds.

Ventura took part in a White Sox homegrown youth movement during the early 1990s that involved heavy contributions from players under the age of 30 such as Frank Thomas, Jack McDowell and Alex Fernandez. That group matured together and eventually became a 1993 AL West championship force.

Ultimately, though, it's hard to win a championship based solely on those strong farm system elevations. The 2010 Rays, who reached the Fall Classic, started Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, James Shields and David Price from their own system, but also added Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and Matt Garza as key veteran cogs.

St. Louis had a massive influx of homegrown products on their 2011 title team, from Albert Pujols to Yadier Molina to John Jay to Jason Motte. But the best alternative is to find a balance between using your own players to both fill gaps in the lineup and acquire players from other organizations who can make impact.

Over the years, Williams has dealt Joe Borchard to land Matt Thornton, Brandon McCarthy in a five-player deal that netted John Danks, and Chris Carter to acquire Carlos Quentin, all of which served the big league club well. The key is to not miss on the player you're surrendering prospects to acquire, but that has happened, too.

The White Sox gave up Gio Gonzalez in a 2008 trade with Oakland for Nick Swisher, who was not a good fit on the South Side. Swisher was traded to the Yankees after the '08 campaign, and none of the three players in return currently are with the White Sox.

The club traded four players -- including Clayton Richard, who won 14 games with a 3.75 ERA for the Padres in 2010 -- to obtain Jake Peavy. None of the other three have had an impact in San Diego, but the bigger issue is that Peavy has suffered a series of injuries over the past three seasons that have prevented him from having the anticipated impact with the White Sox.

Success of prospects, even at the high end of the scale, is difficult to predict, and Williams prefers to go for more certainty when spending for a title. But with a few of the gambles on more-proven commodities having gone awry -- such as Peavy and free agent Adam Dunn -- he's in a retooling mode in an effort to restock the Minor League shelves he cleared to build the team. To that end, he's traded away Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor and Quentin for five prospects in return.

"We aren't loaded," Bell said. "Our prospects are kind of scattered, but our decent players have gone quickly through our organization, so it's a little misleading. You have one or two players per year to have impact, and if that is the case, you are doing all right."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.