As any old baseball fan will tell you, the draft is the lifeblood of any organization. That becomes especially true when a team embarks upon a full teardown rebuild such as the one the White Sox started two years ago. With that, Nick Hostetler was thrust into the spotlight, entrusted with helping to stock the White Sox once barren minor league system, and correcting a history of disappointing draft picks.
Nick took some time to talk to me, look ahead to the June draft, and reflect on some of the progress that the young White Sox prospects have made since the rebuild started.
The Loop Sports: The draft is in a little over a month. Where would you say you guys are right now?
Nick Hostetler: We’re still with the northern kids. We’re still evaluating those guys. For really the first and second time just due to the weather. With the warm weather guys we’re running some different guys in there now just to get a different opinion. It’s kind of more of the monitoring situation now with the warm weather guys, we feel really good where we’re at with the amount of looks we’ve had, and we feel comfortable that even if the draft were today, we feel really good where we’re at as far as our evaluation process.
TLS: Are there any guys that you look at and you’re like, “well they’re just they’re not going to be there for us at four.”
NH: No I don’t think we’re there yet. I think you can even go back to the Carlos Rodon year  where I think a lot of people felt that he was probably the number one overall selection for a long time there. If you go back to earlier this year with a few other guys that were at the top of the list that aren’t there anymore. The draft is such a fluid process and there’s so many pieces to this that, we’re not at that point where we can do that with anybody we can just throw out. We still got the high school guys. Florida playoffs are going on. Some injuries pop up there. You know we get, even with the college guys, they’ve got probably five or six more starts, probably five more starts before the draft.
And then they’ve got stuff after the draft, so there’s a lot of variables that can happen where it can change everything and throw a monkey wrench [in] and not even get enough. You mentioned the money part of it. You know, depending on what a team in front of us wants to do, whether it’s spread their money out there, go full freight, or whatever it might be we still fully believe there’s an opportunity for anybody in this draft to get to our pick.
TLS: So are you involved with the money at all? Or do you just say, “these are my guys.” And then it’s up to Rick Hahn and the contract negotiation team?
NH: No, ultimately I handle that. I have my hand very much on all of it. We will get most of our signability from the agents. Well, you know it’s [that process] has started already really, and we’re where we’ll speak to the agents who get the information. Myself, our national cross checker, our Midwest guy, our national guy — like they’ll all have a part talking to certain agents, we’ll all have different relationships with certain guys so we’ll start the groundwork with that. Then Rick (Hahn) and our contract negotiator will wind up getting involved more when it finally comes down to the guy we know we want to take.
TLS: I know at SoxFest you said that your focus was primarily on high school bats and college arms, has that changed at all since then?
NH: You know at that time I think that probably was the depth of the draft. I think high school arms is still or where the depth in this draft is. Some of the high school infielders that we thought were going to rise up haven’t, some have, and then like I said, every year people knock the college crop of bats then they always seem to rise to the top. So it’s kind of a process. This year’s draft high school arms are probably what I consider the most depth in the draft this year.
TLS: Are you able to look at a 17 or 18-year-old kid and project out what his role will be in the major leagues?
NH: Yeah, essentially. I mean that’s kind of what are our main job description is. It’s something that’s impossible to do. We can sit here, and there’s a lot of people nowadays with video and Twitter and all of that, that thinks they can do what we do as far as evaluating them and whatnot, but at the same time a lot of this goes down to comparisons. So what you try to do is you try to take guys that maybe you have seen previously. You see that they were built like them, or had similar stuff. Or maybe a similar path, whether it be an injury or a return from an injury, whatever it may be.
You try to draw comparisons upon those players to then formulize what it is in the end game. What do you think the player is going to be? So, it’s an impossible task trying to predict what an unpredictable 18 or 21-year-old is going to be in five years. If you have an ego in this game, and you think you know it all, this job isn’t for you. If you’re willing to adjust, if you’re willing to accept your mistakes, learn from them, learn the process of what caused those mistakes, then ultimately you know you’re gonna be a pretty good scout.
So, trying to predict what these kids are going to be when you really truly don’t know exactly what you’re going to get from a makeup [standpoint] until you get them on campus, until you get them under your, you know, under your guidance is difficult. And it’s a hard process to do it. I truly believe we have some of the best guys in the game and that evaluation process, and that helps me sleep at night. But otherwise it is a very taxing, and a very stressful job to try to think that you can predict what the guy is going to be in five years.
TLS: Are there any guys that maybe aren’t high on a ton of national lists, that are seriously in consideration at number four?
NH: Yeah yeah we have, and you know I think that’s the exciting part about this is. It’s kind of like walking into Baskin-Robbins — with their 31 flavors — and you get to pick which one you like the best. It might not be what somebody else likes, you know it might be something. It might be chocolate chip and you love chocolate chip, or they love cookie dough and you don’t. So maybe I’m tipping my hand more that I like ice cream. But you know what, I think that’s one of the things that’s so great about this.
I think we just saw it in the NFL draft. You know I always love it when the prognosticators and the people who are watching the draft and they give draft grades like right after it. I’m like OK, well what did you think three or five years ago when a team drafted J.J. Watt, or guys like that and you’re killing it then and now it’s great. So, I do think that that’s one of the unique things about what we do. You’ve got to find the guys that fit for your organization.
There’s just some guys, whether it be a pitcher with an arm action issue, or a hitter that does something that you don’t feel you like, when talking to your player development people that’s something we can help them ultimately achieve getting to the big leagues, and achieve their ceiling. You’ve got to find a guy that fits your mold. Our mold might not be what another team’s mold is.
TLS: Everyone loves to use the word ‘X-Factor’. Is that real, or is there something you know you’ll see in a kid, you’ll love his tools and then you’ll talk to him and you know he’ll just come off as whatever and it’s something that gives you pause on a kid that you would otherwise be really enthusiastic about?
NH: Absolutely. We are actually going through that process right now. Like I said, and I said it before, but I really want to make sure I emphasize the point that I have the best support system. With my cross checkers, my national guys, my area scouts, they are some of the best in the game and [they] make my job and life easier. So, they know these players in and out, and I know they put the work in. I ultimately go in with a couple of our guys. We spend some time with the higher guys but that goes all the way down the line, down to what the legwork in a foundation that our area guys have said. So that helps me when I’m doing this.
But yeah, I mean we’ve looked into it, and we’ve met with players that we’ve walked out of there saying, “boy I really liked the talent” but we’re not sure he can stand the test of what it takes to get to the big leagues, and to compete at its highest level in front of 30,000 people in Game 7 of the World Series. Can that guy answer those questions for us when we’re meeting with him? And you know the hard part about it, like in all we do, there’s not a “yes” or “no” to this. As much as I would love for it to be black and white, that simple where you know, myself or my guys can give it a “yes” or “no”, it’s just not there.
So we’ve got to dig through all the information. Whether that’s talking to coaches, talking to teachers, talking to us, family members, teammates, people that [they] have gotten into altercations with — why did that happen? Reading articles, maybe there’s some hidden clues in there that some coaches mention or some players mentioned. We’re really trying to unearth any possible thing.
Our social media department digs into all of their social media pages, and we want to know what’s out there. We want to know what we’re investing in. So yeah there’s been a lot of times and it’s went the other way too. We’ve had a guy that had the talent [but] maybe there’s a couple things that were of low concern from an evaluation of talent standpoint with the kid [but] we say to ourselves, “hey this kid’s got unbelievable character makeup that he’s gonna fight through this.” And you know he’s going to get better, and there’s such thing as bad make up, but there’s also questionable makeup — you take chances on certain guys — and we have done that in the past, and we continue to evaluate that the same way we do with any other physical tool.
TLS: You got hired at kind of an interesting time in terms of the analytics movement in baseball. How would you describe you and your department’s approach, because in ‘Moneyball’ there’s that scene where the scouts are sitting around and saying, “this guy is 6’5″, 250-pounds, but he’s got an ugly girlfriend, that means no confidence.”
How much would you say you’re leaning on sort of, “old school” practices. You know, eye test stuff, versus digging into these guys numbers in high school, and really looking at the advanced analytics?
NH: I think the one thing where you can really separate yourself is by the subjective information that you have acquired. The the analytics are there, we have our stats [department] that we’ve actually beefed up here as of late, and we’re excited about having them help us decipher all this, and all the analytics, all the numbers that are available with these college guys.
But the high school guys can put stock in the coach’s daughter to keep score, where she doesn’t know the difference between an error and a hit, and stuff like that. I do think one of the things that separates scouting departments, is how good your guys are in really getting to know these players, and how good they are. There’s all of those cliches that we’ve heard the guy has rosy cheeks or red hair, [or] something like that. I’m not sure we really put a whole lot of stock into stuff like that as much as we do some stuff that we think actually is absolutely real, and takes hard work, it takes time.
That takes a lot of effort, I mean just in a group of guys that we have in consideration for four. There will be five or six of us that do nothing but spend the rest of our days until June trying to dig into every piece of information we can have. So I don’t know if there’s an exact number that I can say you know 60-40, 50-50, or whatever it may be. But I’m a firm believer of both sides. I was brought up the Braves way of Roy Clark and Paul Snyder and guys like that taught me that we were all scouting just purely based off what our eyes told us. Comparisons and things like that. And the game has changed, and you either change with the game, or the game gonna pass you by.
So we fully embrace the analytics part of it, it’s something that’s very obvious in our recent trends, or just the last two years that’s changed. But at the same time, just because their exit velocity is good, or more strikes or more walks and strike outs, things like that — that doesn’t automatically mean that they’re a target of us. At that point then we start to compare the reports we compare the make up part of it and vice versa.
We have the reports part of it, and we throw in the analytics so we can kind of process that. Some teams have models and computers for it. Our model is essentially in our scout’s heads, and you know we keep it that way because ultimately as much as the computers can tell us, and the numbers can tell us, there is a human part of this game that will never leave the game of baseball.
These are humans, these aren’t robots. These aren’t numbers. These are humans with human emotions, [and] ups and downs. We have to be able to understand, to the best of our ability, what we’re getting into from that standpoint.
TLS: Are you able to tell me if you have a list right now of potential targets at number four overall?
NH: Yeah we do, we’re probably at about seven or eight right now. Seven comfortably. There is another one that we’re looking at that could fit there as well, depending on how the season goes and the weather breaks, we could finally get in there and get us some good looks. So we’re about seven or eight right now that we’re digging our teeth into, and like I said before, so I’ll say it over and over again, with my staff I can essentially focus on all of this. What we do from a first pick I can sink my teeth into that, I trust my guys that they’re going to get all the right information on anything extra that we need for those later picks.
TLS: So you have seven or eight guys on your list, are you going and talking to their teachers and their parents and people like that?
NH: Yeah we talk to everybody, teachers, parents, girlfriends, etc. One guy I talked to was a convenience store owner across from the high school. I mean, we will go to any measure possible to get every piece of information we can get. With the college guys it’s a little bit easier to get the information, just because you’ve got a little bit more track record, you go back to their high school coaches, summer coaches, neighbors and stuff like that. But with the high school guys it’s a little less of a time frame. So there’s a few less people to talk to.
You’ll be amazed at the amount of people when you tell them what you do for a living that want to talk to you. They’re pretty honest. Very few times have I ever felt that I was being lied to. There’s times I have, and times that I know about it, but it’s easy to tell. But for the most part most everybody is pretty open and honest.
You’ve also got to wade through the guys that are people that are jealous. There’s a lot of jealousy especially at the high school level. You talk to teammates and parents or something like that. They’re jealous little Johnny is getting the attention and not little Jimmy. So you know there that becomes an issue. We have to wade through all of that. But yeah we will go to every length possible to get as much information on players we can.
TLS: So one guy I want to ask you about in particular, you talked about him at SoxFest, your guy Dylan Cease. You said watch out for him. He’s going to have a big year, and he has. Since Spring Training he has looked awesome. Would you say he is surpassing expectations?
NH: You know it’s funny because he’s a guy that you really draw back to what we saw when he was an amateur, we loved the talent. Obviously the injury derailed a little bit of the time frame he was going to be on there. He was legit. So, you knew the stuff was always there. The big thing with Dylan is he had been bitten by the injury bug not only just the elbow, but he had an ankle injury when he came over to us, and you could just see in instructional league like just a little bit of a shoulder thing at the end of the year. That was just the little nagging things that came up.
You just saw him mature, and when he showed up and you saw him throw a bullpen at SoxFest, and the difference between when he left us at instructional league to that bullpen, physically he just seemed so much stronger, but mentally so much in a better place. And he’s a happy kid. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s easy to talk to and you saw him throw that bullpen and you’re like, “wow that’s the guy.”
Now the big thing is to stay healthy. You gotta stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day and be able to go out there and accumulate an innings workload that gets you ready for the next step. He’s done it. I have to hope it’s that easy picking a stud at number four, like it was saying he was going to have a breakout. I mean he’s got tremendous upside, no doubt about it. He’s a terrific worker. I think that we haven’t begun to see a ceiling. He’s not reached it yet. You know he has only scratched the surface, so it’s still a work in progress, but boy he’s a lot of fun to watch.
TLS: In our current system we know you’re a big Cease guy, based on everything you’ve seen early in the season and through Spring Training, who are you personally really excited about right now.
NH: I think it’s hard not to be excited about the development and the start that Micker Adolfo has had, one of the cool things is, Marco Paddy let me come down to the Dominican and see him as an amateur, and be down there with him when Rick came down to the signing ceremony with Micker. So, I’ve known him since he signed, and to know the kid and know the struggles he’s dealt with — some of the injuries, and adjusting to living in the States and all of those things — to see the success he’s having man, it’s exciting.
I just talk about it with a smile on my face, just knowing how much work and how much time this kid has put in and how much Marco believes in his talent. That’s one that jumps off the page at me and I’m just I’m really happy for him, really excited about that.
Just hard not to like the whole Winston-Salem team as well. I think even if you go down to the Kannapolis level, the guys that were higher picks like Luis Gonzalez, the start he’s had it’s been really, really, really good. He’s doing what we thought he would be doing. Obviously we have a lot of outfielders, those outfielders are going to have to continue to perform.
You’ve got Joel Booker and Alex Call, both center-fielders trying to make a name for themselves, that’s been exciting. Bullpen pieces like Ian Hamilton and Ryan Burr. Those two guys have been lights out. I’m forgetting a thousand of these guys, the way these guys started off but man how about Rose in Double-A. These guys just do a terrific job, and I think we’re seeing some of the hard work that Getzy and his staff has put in, developing these individuals, the plans for each player so they know what to work on, they know the positives, the negatives, the strengths and weaknesses, it’s been really exciting to see that we’ve gotten off to a great start.
Most of our teams are having a really good start from a winning perspective because there’s players in each club. They’re an exciting part of this future and pretty exciting to watch and look at box scores every night.
TLS: So the official favorite prospect of Sox Twitter is Seby Zavala. Anything on him?
NH: Funny story about Seby — I saw Seby at San Diego State and he was playing the outfield that day and I always joke with Rick. Rick actually said to me the other day, “that was the ’15 draft (That we took Seby)” and he said essentially, “you made the pick.” I said I can’t take full credit for it, because when I saw him play at college, he was playing the outfield, he wasn’t even catching. But you know (as a scout) you love athletes. I mean the athlete was tremendous. Our area guy and our West Coast guy really liked the athlete.
It’s funny because one of the things about Seby, he had a really hard time when he went out of college keeping weight on. He’s such a good eater, unlike myself. He’s healthy and everything like that. So he’s had trouble getting the weight on. Change something in his diet and nutrition and he’s really started to blossom. You talk about another terrific kid that’s a great teammate, he’d run through a wall for you. I always enjoy seeing Seby, I love getting caught up with him whenever I get the chance to see him. The funny part about that for me is that my scouts told me he caught and I told them he didn’t catch last year he played the outfield. It’s been a really good success story and I’m looking forward to some day soon when he graduates to Chicago.
TLS: Zack Collins has really picked it up lately, what do you think about him right now?
NH: Yeah it’s been great. You know I love Zack, he started out slow this year. You know you’re a scouting director and as a scout you are personally involved in these players. And once you draft a guy you hang on to every single box score for your kids. You know, does he get a hit, does he strike out. So, Zack’s slow start was a little tough, and its funny, I talked to Zack and he laughed it off. He’s like, “don’t worry about it my timing, it’s getting there.”
And about three days later, he starts raking. He sent me a text two days ago, two or three days ago after he had a two-hit game with a couple of doubles, maybe even a triple. I think it was the triple game. He actually said, “see I told you, you knew you drafted a good player, but I bet you didn’t know you drafted good speed too.”
I mean, you got a 21-year-old, 22-year-old keeping it light-hearted when he’s struggling. You got to take a step back and take a breath. Trust the process. It has been a lot of fun to watch these guys. It’s going to be more fun once they end up in pinstripes.
TLS: Once again thank you so much for your time Nick, good luck in the draft.
NH: Any time, any time.
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