Questions I Wanna Ask Hahn – Part 1
I’ve got a string of questions that I’d love to ask our boy Rick Hahn. Not like in an official media capacity, but off the record, just the two of us over beers, pouring out our souls to one another. Actually, the kind of honesty I’m looking for will require hard liquor, and lots of it.
Today’s question – why do all of our prospects keep getting hurt?
After excitedly writing three straight blogs just about the glut of outfield prospects (and still probably leaving off one or two guys worth mentioning), I’ve been too bummed out about the constant flow of prospect injury news to continue to what should be a fun list of catchers/infielders and pitchers.
Eloy is out again, though he seems to just get small dings that cost him a week or two rather than anything more serious. Still, is this the kind of player he is, constantly having to hit the DL? The downside of being an uber-player like Eloy is that even a 10-day DL stint will be a major blow to the Sox when they’re back to competing.
Frustratingly, Robert is once again shelved for 6-10 weeks, which could eat up the rest of the normal minor league season. I’m sure they’ll keep looking for places for him to play throughout the off-season, but you want to see what he can do at the normal minor league levels. More importantly, being able to hold up to the rigors of the 162-game schedule and still be in top shape for October is every bit as important as having the skills to be a big leaguer.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. 2016 (Burdi) and 2017 (Burger) 1st rounders are both dealing with multi-season-length injuries. Two of our best SP prospects (Hansen and Dunning) will each end up having missed half of 2018. Micker Adolfo, a young raw slugger who gets some decent hype, gamely battled his way to over 300 plate appearances this season, but now will have to have TJ surgery.
More bothersome – our top two draftees this season (Madrigal and Walker) both came in with existing injuries, while multiple trade acquisitions from last season (Cordell, Davis) have struggled to find the field. Throw in that the Sox have targeted acquiring guys like SPs Hansen and Cease, who had significant injury histories already in their young careers, and maybe there’s a pattern emerging.
Look, I have no idea how the normal flow of prospect development goes. That has never been something the Sox did well, so I can’t say I have great command of the regular timelines and missteps that will always be involved. I’m sure part of the reason that development is a numbers game is because these guys get hurt a lot. And we’re looking at a small sample size of this one season so far, as I really wasn’t paying that much attention last year to know if we had similar issues.
So maybe I’m taking limited evidence and projecting a major issue when this is just the normal course of events. Perfectly possible.
But with those qualifications stated, it does seem like maybe there’s an organizational issue here. Either the Sox are not properly factoring in health to their acquisition analysis or the Sox have a poor structure in place to keep these guys healthy throughout their development. Or maybe both.
I will say, the Sox have long been well respected at the big league level for their ability to keep their guys healthy, thanks in part to everyone’s favorite funny-figured trainer, Herm Schneider. But that doesn’t mean the same thing applies to their organization-wide apparatus or their affiliates’ set-ups.
Maybe in this new foray into becoming a farm-heavy organization, the Sox brass needs to learn the importance of investing into the training and health structure system-wide to ensure these kids can avoid injuries big and small.
I have no clue if that’s actually a problem worth addressing, but I really hope the Sox are going in with eyes wide open, ready and willing to analyze every single aspect of their organization and find every single area to work an advantage or counter a disadvantage.
Because what has made the Cubs and Astros successful is not just as simple as losing a lot and picking high. I guarantee those organizations focused on things like health, self-scouting, mental make-up, chemistry, and all of the many structures you’ll need to excel in those areas and more.
Here’s to hoping the Sox realize that, have a good eye for what it all will entail, and are willing to make the necessary investments. Especially in areas where their initial plans may prove to be lacking.
Now equally as possible a cause for these injury issues – if they really are systemic rather than just within the standard expected levels – is that Hahn and his retooled scouting team aren’t properly factoring in the health resumes of their draft, trade, and international targets.
I dig taking some flyers on guys who’ve flashed high-end potential but suddenly lose perceived value because of some bad injury luck. Perfectly possible to steal plus prospects that way. It’s exciting to have guys like Cease and Dunning getting a lot of hype after the Sox were willing to acquire them despite previous health issues.
But are Hahn & Co. going too far in that direction, being too willing to accept injury red flags or just poorly evaluating the downside of guys who seem to get hurt a lot? And if so, will they realize the error in their ways in time to make the changes necessary going forward?
Because don’t believe for a second that all or even most of the pieces of the next Sox title team are already in the organization. First off, the Sox still have at least one more and probably two drafts left where they’ll be taking a very early pick each round. They also have some trade bullets left – be it Abreu, Avi, Nate Jones, or someone we’re not even considering or possibly still not yet with the club.
The Sox also will find it necessary to complement their young core with proven vets who fill in where our prospects can’t. And to upgrade at spots where the prospect pipeline doesn’t deliver. The front office will also never stop scrounging around on the periphery for depth and role player types, or just unmined value. That’s especially true when you have a reclamation specialist like Cooper on staff.
Point is, player acquisition is still going to be a crucial aspect of future plans for Sox contention. Hahn is going to have to bring in lots more talent to drive any chance of winning a title or sustaining their success year-after-year (something the Sox have never done).
Again, it’s entirely possible I’m making something out of nothing. The Sox on-field play is so uninteresting right now that you do start over-analyzing everything else. Maybe there’s nothing here but what we should be expecting anyway.
I guess I just hope that Hahn is asking himself these same questions, and really challenging himself and his staff for honest answers. Winning a World Series title is hard as hell. All things being equal, the Sox should only expect to win one every 30 years (given there are 30 ballclubs).
And things are not equal – the Sox will always have to do things better than the deep pocket organizations like the Yanks, BoSox, Dodgers, Cubs, Nats, and Giants. Or do them better than the well-respected clubs like the Cardinals, Astros, and Indians. So maybe your standard non-rich, non-esteemed MLB club is looking at a title every 40-50 years.
That means the Sox can’t just be standard – you’ve got to look for every single edge you can. And that means putting just as much effort toward your health apparatus and other similar organizational structures as it does scouting the draft and making blockbuster trades.
And that’s true whether these injuries are “a thing” or just the standards ups and downs of an extensive rebuild process.
Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side. When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.