Commentary

Desperate Sox Remain Picky

Originally Published: June 9, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- 2008 is playing third and standing at first, beaming after a single to left ended an 0-for-13 start, while 2007 jitterbugs in the bullpen. 2003 is in center, hitless over his past nine games and really, most of his career, while 2004 is stewing on the bench, where he can't strike out or commit an error, hoping his manager doesn't rip his face off and probably wishing the general manager, the third-round pick in 1982, finds him a place to play.

When he's not playing football, according to his college football biography, 2009 said he likes to "hang out" and when he's not doing that, he likes to play a little baseball, which is pretty sweet news for the Chicago White Sox, who might call him up next week, given their recent history.

On Tuesday, though, the White Sox came back in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Tigers thanks to Paul Konerko's double. They couldn't close the deal and fell 7-6 in 10 innings.

Drafting is an inexact science, more so in baseball than any other sport. But in theory, having four first-round picks out of the past six drafts on your club at the same time is a sign of good drafting, right?

Well, sure. If they're good.

Gordon Beckham, the overall eighth pick in 2008, is still trying to settle in as the everyday third baseman after arriving in Chicago last week via chariot as the second coming of JC (yeah, that's right, Joe Crede), not to mention the immediate replacement for Josh Fields, 2004's first- round choice, who is on the outs with the organization. The Sox just traded 2005's first pick, Lance Broadway, to the New York Mets for backup catcher Ramon Castro.

Brian Anderson, the team's first-rounder in 2003, is hanging on in center, where he has zero job security thanks to an inability to hit major league pitching with any consistency.

Let's just say he's not exactly blocking the path for this year's first-round pick, Jared Mitchell of Louisiana State, a leadoff/center fielder type, who also played a little wide receiver for the Tigers.

Mr. 2007, Aaron Poreda, made his first appearance at the Cell, where he redefined the term wide-eyed rookie. Maybe wild-eyed is a better description.

As Poreda, who is left-handed in all senses of the word, chatted with the media Tuesday afternoon, his eyes darted back and forth, from his questioners to the cameras ringing the dugout. He was excited, to say the least, and refreshingly original. Some would say eccentric.

"I can't wait to hear these quotes," a Sox player joked as he walked into the clubhouse.

The Sox can't wait to see him pitch. Poreda made the jump from Double-A Birmingham and he'll move from the rotation to the bullpen, for now, as the team puts Bartolo Colon on the 15-day disabled list (left knee inflammation), now that Contreras is back for good after his wildly successful start Monday night.

A few weeks ago, I called for the Sox to bring up Beckham and Poreda, and while they didn't listen immediately, it's obvious they're ESPNChicago.com fans. In any event, general manager Kenny Williams showed he's ready to go with the guys he's picked since taking over more draft responsibilities in 2007, when he selected Poreda, the big 6-foot-6 southpaw out of the University of San Francisco. Both players have impressed in their short minor league stints, and with the Sox battling to stay afloat in a bad division, it was time to shuffle the deck a little bit.

Poreda broke the news himself this morning on his Facebook page, and not because he's trying to control his brand online. He was just really psyched.

"I was just so excited I wanted to shout it out to the world," he said. "I guess it snowballed a bit."

Calling up your last two draft picks in one week in June is so uncommon, I can't even think of a funny simile. I'd like to ask Elias Sports Bureau if a team's ever pulled that trick, but I don't have their number.

The funny thing about how these top picks is that they all pale in comparison to Tuesday's starter, the Sox's 38th-round pick from 1998, Mark Buehrle.

Poreda would do well to emulate the guy with the 88-mph fastball and focus on throwing strikes. That's all Guillen wants.

"This kid can get anybody out," Guillen said. "I told him really clear, if you give up 10 home runs, I can live with that. If you walk two guys, you're going to hear it. I want him to attack the strike zone."

Poreda looks like the kind of guy who's going to be easy to coach, as long as he performs.

"I like to pound the strike zone, throw lots of fastballs, [I've] been working on my slider and changeup, too," he said. "Going right after hitters, a lot of inside fastballs."

Poreda was seen as a still-developing prospect in the minors, while he mastered the slider and changeup to complement his 96 mph fastball. But he's not here to genuflect at the feet of pitching coach Don Cooper.

"I [made] it really clear to him, this isn't development," Guillen said. "You're going to be treated the same way as everyone else. If you don't do the job, we have Southwest Airlines waiting for you to go to Charlotte. That's the only one with nonstop, I already checked."

(Guillen didn't really check, but he did admit to being a big fan of Southwest, the Greyhound of the sky. "It's a private plane," he joked, "for me and 150 of my friends.")

Poreda, who was leading the Southern League with 69 strikeouts, was 5-4 with a 2.38 ERA in 11 starts.

"My slider has gotten a lot better," he said. "I'm able to throw it all the time. Like every game, it's been there for me when I've needed it. Even when my fastball command wasn't there, I was able to get out of sticky situations using my slider and trying to throw my changeup as much as possible."

Poreda, who has hands the size of Rawlings gloves, is going to start in the bullpen, but there's a pretty good chance he'll start some games this year, given that Clayton Richard, an eighth-round choice in 2005, has struggled his past two starts and Contreras' return is anything but guaranteed.

As for the Sox's last top draft pick, Beckham will keep starting at third, until he doesn't, and the team ships him back to the minors.

"I hope he sells a lot of shirts," Guillen said, "but I need production."

Fields will certainly have his long-awaited talk with Williams after voicing his displeasure on his benching to a beat writer for the second time during Monday's double-header, telling the Sun-Times' Joe Cowley the move is "awkward" and "hard to swallow."

I wouldn't be surprised to see Fields, with his high strikeouts, sudden lack of power and shaky glove work, shipped out to fill a need. Or a want. Or a particularly good hoagie. One thing's for sure: If he doesn't go, he's going to hear about his comments from Williams and Guillen, who like their young players to speak softly and occasionally get an extra-base hit.

Beckham singled in his first at-bat Tuesday, the first of 3,000, to be sure. Fields was on the bench, not far from where his manager was railing against his most-recently published comments, once he found out about them from the media. Fields' future probably lies with another team.

The Sox didn't need Poreda on Tuesday. His future is in his own dinner-plate-sized hands. The MLB draft is being touted big-time by the league's new TV network, but it's always gotten short shrift because draft picks spend years honing their crafts in small towns in North Carolina and Florida. The White Sox, however, are adhering to a different model.

"I'm more than excited I got picked by the White Sox," Mitchell told reporters on a conference call.

Who wouldn't be? See you in a week Jared! We'll "hang out."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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