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White Sox planning for No. 3 pick, larger bonus pool

Club challenged to bolster weak system, build long-term success

CHICAGO -- The final White Sox selection of the 2013 First Year Player Draft came on the afternoon of June 8.

By June 12, the team already began work toward its 2014 picks.

It's not that the organization usually takes a month or two off in normal Draft preparation -- maybe 10 days at the most. But even with the White Sox sitting just two weeks removed from reaching .500 on that warm summer day, a strong feeling existed that the next year's Draft would feature higher selections than recent memory.

This feeling could have come from 10 losses in 11 games after hitting the break-even point. Then again, nobody could have envisioned the White Sox losing 99 games and ending up with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Draft.

Their first Top 5 pick since Alex Fernandez was taken fourth overall in 1990 brings with it an inherent amount of pressure. Having this same elevated pick in every round, not to mention an increased bonus pool projected near $10 million, also presents the White Sox with a challenge to help build a sustained winner they are ready to accept.

"There certainly are higher expectations when you pick higher in the Draft," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "As a result, it will be an important pick. However, when you pick in the top five, one of the benefits is a significantly larger bonus pool you are afforded later in the Draft.

"That actually allows you to do some things up top, as well as potentially reallocating that money a little bit and get higher-costing talent later in the Draft. It's not necessarily all going to fall on one kid and this is the No. 3 pick in the country. Instead, it will come down to what's the best way to allocate a fairly significant bonus pool that we've earned for the upcoming Draft."

Carlos Rodon, a left-handed pitcher from North Carolina St., has been projected as the top pick, going to the Astros. The White Sox certainly would sweep him up without a second thought if he was available, but other talent such as right-handed pitchers Tyler Kolek, Jeff Hoffman and Michael Cederoth, catcher Alex Jackson, shortstop Jacob Gatewood and outfielder Braxton Davidson appear to be some of the team's early targets.

In 2010, Chris Sale dropped from a thought-to-be top-four selection to No. 13 with the White Sox and was pitching in the big leagues two years later. Sale is now featured atop the White Sox rotation as one of the game's best starters.

When the White Sox had the 13th pick in 2012, their choice was Texas high-school outfielder Courtney Hawkins. The White Sox really weren't certain Hawkins would be available until the Mets took Gavin Cecchini at No. 12. Far less of that guesswork will exist at No. 3, with director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann, assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler and their staffs being able to focus on a more specific pick or two.

A chance exists for players to move up and down from this offseason to the start of spring and even to the Draft. That movement could take place even this high up, as the Sale example shows.

"Very rarely do you see a guy July 1 and you say, 'OK, he's a definite at this spot,' and it stays," Hostetler said. "For us, it's more of an excitement every year. This is the highest we've ever picked. So, you have a different pool of players but, at the same time, you still scout all of them to make sure you have the right guy."

"You can narrow the field down a little bit more and you have a little bit better idea of what you are going to get [at] one and two," Laumann said. "It will give Rick and [executive vice president] Kenny [Williams] and a lot of people the ability to go out and know they are going to see our guy. I don't think we'll be able to narrow it down to three, but we can get it down to a group of five or six and be pretty sure what we can do."

Laumann pointed out that in 2008, when the team selected No. 8, it had the process down to first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Gordon Beckham and first baseman Justin Smoak. Alonso went at No. 7 to the Reds, and the White Sox took Beckham.

At No. 3, there isn't much poker to be played.

"These are the best three guys and you get the one that the other two don't take," Laumann said. "We feel like we know who is going to be there and who we would like. But this thing is really, really fluid. We'll go out and see who the best guy is when it's time to pick."

Although the bonus pool increases, the White Sox still just get 40 picks as Laumann quipped. So, the plan doesn't change: it's just that the picks are a little more high profile and coveted. They are the backbone of Hahn's reshaping process, trying to strengthen a weak Minor League system and not only get this team into contention but have the core to keep it there.

"All we are doing is paying more for each guy, which should translate into the fact that they are better players," Laumann said. "Whether we are picking third or 13th in the round, we are still hoping to get the best guy that's left."

"It has been a very difficult year to sit through," Hahn said. "But next June, we are going to reap some benefits from having had this happen."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
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