CHICAGO -- Duane Shaffer has viewed somewhere between 125 and 175 prospects during the past 4 1/2 months in preparation for the First-Year Player Draft on June 7.
That's just prospects alone. The number of players he has reviewed overall needs both a calculator and an abacus to figure out.
"You figure 18 per day and two games per day, over 4 1/2 months," said the White Sox senior director of player personnel with a laugh. "That's how many I've seen."
Preparation is the mantra for Shaffer and his staff as they prepare for the White Sox's selection in the first round -- 15th overall -- and the many, equally important subsequent picks. The White Sox hold the longest streak without a top-10 pick of any Major League franchise, with the last one being right-handed pitcher Alex Fernandez at No. 4 overall in 1990.
Yet, the draft continues to bear dividends. Take a look at Mark Buehrle, one of the best left-handed starters in the game, who was a 38th round draft-and-follow selection from 1998. Or how about starting third baseman Joe Crede, selected in the fifth round of 1996? Right-handed pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who made his Major League debut on May 22 at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, was selected in the 17th round of 2002.
Younger players such as outfielders Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney and Chris Young, not to mention pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez and Ray Liotta (both selected last year) are quickly making their way through the organization. So, whose name will be read this year as the White Sox's opening pick?
The team has narrowed down the list to five or six key players. In 2004, the White Sox were lucky enough to get their first choice in third baseman Josh Fields.
In 2005, there is reported interest in Jeff Clement, a strong-hitting catcher from USC, who could help fill a weaker spot within the organization. There also appears to be focus placed on right-handed pitcher Cesar Carrillo from the University of Miami and left-handed pitcher Brian Bogusevic from Tulane.
Carrillo pitched for Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago, while Bogusevic was a standout for De La Salle High School -- located just minutes away from U.S. Cellular Field. As evidenced by the 2001 first-round selection of right-handed pitcher Kris Honel, who prepped at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Ill., the White Sox don't shy away from local products.
"If Carrillo or Bogusevic is the guy on the list, we will take him," Shaffer said. "If not, we'll go with the guy we have there. We are looking for the best available player.
"The ideal situation in a draft is to fill a need with the best available player, a very fortunate situation. But the only teams who can really do that are drafting in the top five. We have been fortunate with players such as Brian (Anderson) and Josh Fields," Shaffer added. "We filled some needs and got the best player on the board. Hopefully, we can pull it off again."
After pick No. 15, the White Sox don't have a selection again until the 97th slot in the third round. The team not only picked up Fields in the first round of 2004 but also added quality left-handed arms in Tyler Lumsden and Gonzalez with sandwich picks. This year, the South Siders lost their second-round pick at No. 65 with the Type B free agent signing of Orlando 'El Duque' Hernandez.
In Shaffer's opinion, though, there are only two places to really select in any draft -- first or 30th. Of course, picking 30th signals a World Series title, which would be one of the perks, of sorts, from general manager Ken Williams' ultimate goal.
"Yeah, just once I would like to be 30," said Williams with a smile. "Our guys have done a nice job seeing that I can't remember the last time we have had a top 10 pick. It speaks volumes that we are still able to bring our share of talent to the Major Leagues and stay competitive."
"That's what we are here for," Shaffer added. "I don't care if we pick first or 30th, as long as we provide the White Sox with players and Kenny with players that have value to another club. That's what scouting is all about, and anyone who tells you otherwise is fooling themselves."
Shaffer should know, as part of the White Sox organization for 34 years. He's watched Williams ship out prospects for key veteran players, with the eye always on the top prize, while the Minor League system retains consistently high marks.
Communication is the key as the draft rolls around, according to Shaffer, from the scouts to the supervisors, right on up to the top.
"We don't go on very many wild goose chases," Shaffer said. "The guys we are sent to see are good. You have a better chance for getting a deeper draft in that way."
Following one more look at prospects in the East, Shaffer returns to Chicago Wednesday in preparation for the draft. Of the many hats that Shaffer has worn during his White Sox career, nothing gets him going like the First-Year Player Draft.
"It's like Christmas, when you are eight years old," Shaffer said. "There's nothing more that you look forward to than that day. You have a chance to make a difference on that day, with which direction the organization goes in.
"Obviously, you hope it goes the right way, but in certain instances, it goes the wrong way. You have two bad drafts and the organization is stuck for five to 10 years. That's why it's so important and you get so wound up in it that you can't sleep at night. Hopefully, we can keep up our past success."
WHITE SOX DRAFT HISTORY
The White Sox haven't had a top 10 pick in 15 years, the longest such streak in the Majors, but have done well in the draft because they have been able to mine the later rounds for talent.
LAST THREE TOP PICKS
Josh Fields, 3B, 2004, Pick #18: After a stellar first season at Class A Winston-Salem, in which he hit .285 while moving from aluminum to wooden bats, Fields finds himself struggling with Double-A Birmingham. He is hitting .222 with three home runs and 25 RBIs, and fanned 53 times in his first 162 at-bats. But Fields, 22, has the perfect demeanor to fight through the low times, as he did by hitting .315 over his final 47 games last year. Even with Joe Crede entrenched at the position, Fields could be the team's third baseman of the future.
"Josh will be a definite quiet leader, a la Robin Ventura," said Shaffer of the Oklahoma St. third-base sensations. "He's quiet but stern, and plays the game how it should be played. He doesn't get too excited. He doesn't get too down."
Brian Anderson, OF, 2003, Pick #15: It's only a matter of time before this force of nature, who happens to play baseball, takes the city of Chicago by storm. Anderson not only has the personality to be a star with the media and White Sox fans, but he's one of those rare five-tool players who looks as if he can't miss at the Major League level. Anderson currently leads Charlotte with a .304 average, eight home runs and 28 RBIs in his first season against Triple-A competition. He is a career .307 hitter in parts of two seasons played for Great Falls, Winston-Salem and Birmingham.
"In my opinion, he was the best player in the (2003) draft," Shaffer said. "He has every tool you can have, and I don't see how he can't hit. He's got a natural stroke, a good two-strike approach and is maturing every day."
Royce Ring, P, 2002, Pick #18: Drafting the left-hander was a rare move of specialization by the White Sox, in that they took a true closer in the first round. Some within the organization have admitted the pick wasn't the best move, in that Ring is better suited to be a setup man. He currently is pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, after working 3 1/3 innings earlier this season for the New York Mets. But his presence served a purpose, in that it helped pry away Roberto Alomar from New York when the White Sox needed him for the 2003 postseason drive.
"We had a need at second base, and we were in the pennant race," Shaffer said. "The Mets said if you want this guy, here's what you have to pay, and we paid it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.