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White Sox 2014 Draft plan starting to bear fruit

Progress of Rodon, Fry bodes well given current dearth of lefties in bullpen

White Sox 2014 Draft plan starting to bear fruit

CHICAGO -- Doug Laumann looks at the current makeup of the White Sox bullpen and feels a sense of frustration.

That line seems to be an easy opening setup for a comedic shot at an injury-plagued unit that collectively has turned in a poor 2014 performance. But those feelings felt by the White Sox director of amateur scouting, who is in charge of the First-Year Player Draft for the team, strike a more personal chord.

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"I get a little frustrated myself when we don't give [White Sox manager] Robin [Ventura] the opportunity to maybe have left-handers coming out of the bullpen," Laumann told MLB.com during a recent interview. "I take responsibility for that, to a certain degree. It's our job to provide those kinds of pieces that he needs to have."

Eric Surkamp currently stands as the White Sox lone left-hander in the bullpen. A starter for Triple-A Charlotte before joining the White Sox in-season, Surkamp wasn't exactly dominant during that opening big league relief run. He returned from Charlotte to the Majors on Saturday when Javy Guerra was placed on the bereavement list.

Before Surkamp was recalled, the White Sox went without a left-handed option. So in staying with this example, how did Laumann, assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler and their staff address this issue?

The answer to that question might not be truly known for three or four years. That's the way things play out when focusing on talent development from the Draft. But in the case of the White Sox 2014 selections, they made their picks following the best-player-available model -- as Carlos Rodon (first round) and Spencer Adams (second round) would indicate -- while also looking for the best fits as the Draft progressed.

A pitcher such as Jace Fry, taken in the third round and a southpaw who made 16 starts this past season for Oregon State, is currently working out of the bullpen for Great Falls in the Pioneer League. It's a way to manage the workload for a 21-year-old who threw 120 1/3 innings before joining the White Sox, and one whom the team still views as a future starter. But if he doesn't eventually fit that role?

"If not, he will certainly be a very, very valuable reliever," said Laumann of Fry. "We took three or four who most of them were starters in college, but for lack of a third pitch, maybe for durability, things of that nature, we felt if they only had to come out of the bullpen and be a lefty-on-lefty or a seventh-inning guy, that they would fit that role real nice.

"You know, we have a plan. Sometimes people don't always think we do. Sometimes you don't always see it. Our plan this year was we thought the pitching was going to be a dominant piece of the Draft, and that's kind of the way we played it -- with our first 10 picks, getting the seven pitchers and doing what we did. We got those guys in place and then we got some relief pieces along the way, some left-handers.

"It takes time," Laumann said. "But I have to admit, we took four or five lefties that we felt could be pieces for [Ventura] out of the bullpen sooner rather than later, and so far that has worked out pretty good."

Players such as Brian Clark out of Kent State (ninth round), Ben Brewster out of Maryland (15th round) and Aaron Bummer out of Nebraska (19th round) drew strong early praise from Laumann as part of this "left is right" pitching group. Of course, it would be hard to find a player, let alone a left-handed pitcher, who has been more impressive than Rodon since the Draft.

Rodon has moved from the Rookie-level Arizona League to Class A Winston-Salem to Charlotte, making his International League debut this past Tuesday. The southpaw from N.C. State figures to get a September callup with the White Sox, possibly working out of the bullpen in the short term.

"On our game reports [from Rodon's last start for Winston-Salem], he was 93-98 [mph], average was 95. Plus command," said Laumann of Rodon. "We know he's always had the plus slider, as some guys hung 70 grades on it. Actually, we had some guys there in attendance, along with staff, that gave him a 65/70 changeup. He always had a changeup. He didn't quite use it as much in college. He didn't really need to. He's progressed just kind of like we thought he would."

"We feel this guy is very close to being able to help us in the rotation -- whether that's the first part of '15, the second part of '15 or '16, we'll see," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "But this guy is coming, we believe, on a fairly quick path -- and not necessarily one that would require him to spend time in the bullpen."

Laumann humorously referred to Adams' 54 strikeouts and four walks over 39 2/3 innings in Arizona as "obnoxious." Adams has hit 93-95 mph on even his 50th or 60th pitch. As an 18-year-old out of high school, he's only going to get bigger and stronger.

The Draft wasn't solely based on pitching, with infielder and seventh-round selection Jake Peter already jumping from Great Falls to Winston-Salem, as an example.

Great post-Draft starts certainly don't guarantee long, successful Major League careers. But at least in the first few months, this White Sox Draft plan seems to be working.

"When I get asked these questions right after the Draft, obviously we are excited," Laumann said. "We think we've got the right guys. We've made good picks. Now it's two months later, and a lot of the guys are doing what we thought they would do."

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.

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