White Sox draft a champion in McCulloch
Hurler helped Texas win 2005 College World Series
CHICAGO -- From the handshakes, smiles and pats on the back taking place in the White Sox war room in the executive offices at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday afternoon, the defending World Series champions appeared to get the player they wanted in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft -- even with the 29th pick.
When the White Sox number was called approximately 30 minutes into the draft and following back-to-back picks by Boston, Andrew Pinter, the assistant director of scouting and baseball operations systems, called the name of Kyle McCulloch over the speaker phone. McCulloch is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander from the collegiate baseball power that is the University of Texas.
He's a player the White Sox have followed for quite some time, according to senior director of player personnel Duane Shaffer, in his 16th year running the draft for the South Siders.
"We are extremely happy to have him at No. 29, no question about that," said Shaffer of McCulloch. "We didn't think a talent like this would get to our pick, and we are very happy he did.
"This is one of the guys I've wanted for quite a while, and we've got a history on this kid from high school. He's pitched well in every league and competition you can imagine as an amateur. Now, it's just a matter of him stepping it up and getting to the big leagues and helping this club."
McCulloch and his fourth-ranked Longhorns just finished their 2006 season in stunning fashion, eliminated in regional competition with losses to Stanford and North Carolina State. McCulloch started Saturday's game against the Cardinals and allowed six earned runs on nine hits over four innings, striking out two and walking two.
For the season, McCulloch finished at 8-5 with a 3.61 ERA in 18 games as a starter and 19 overall. The right-hander yielded 113 hits over 109 2/3 innings, fanning a team-high 82 and walking 32.
But it was McCulloch's development in 2005 that helped the Longhorns race to the NCAA baseball title. McCulloch finished 12-4 with a 2.92 ERA and was First-Team All Big 12. He also started a team-best six games and went 3-1 while combining for one shutout and 24 strikeouts over 31 1/3 innings during the postseason. It was McCulloch who defeated the University of Florida in the 2005 championship game, striking out eight over 6 2/3 innings. The former pitcher/shortstop was previously drafted out of Bellaire High School by the New York Mets in the 18th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, but this time around does not plan on returning to Texas for his senior season.
"I'm going to talk to [the White Sox] in the next couple of days and all that negotiation stuff is going to take care of itself," said McCulloch via a Tuesday evening conference call. "Hopefully I'm going to get out there if they want me to.
"I just have to see what they want me to do and then take it from there," McCulloch added.
Featuring a solid blend of power and finesse, McCulloch features a fastball clocked as high as 94 mph, according to Shaffer, but usually throws in the low 90s. McCulloch also has good command of his changeup, slider and curve.
His style and body frame remind Shaffer of Bob Welch, the one-time Major Leaguer who won 211 games over his career, including 27 victories and the American League Cy Young Award in 1990 for Oakland. McCulloch, in turn, has tried to learn about his craft from pitchers such as Huston Street and J.P. Howell, former Texas hurlers who have since reached the Majors.
"They've all shared their experience and tried to help me," said McCulloch, who has a family advisor but does not have an agent. "I've tried to become a better player every day. I just try to attack the strike zone, be aggressive and let the defense play behind me."
"The best thing I can tell you, as far as the history we have on him and the success he's had at all the levels, is that he has exceeded the competition and that's what we look for," Shaffer added. "His delivery is good. His arm action is good. Everything we saw, we liked."
Shortly after the White Sox selected a pitcher with their first pick for the seventh time in the last 11 years, Shaffer and Ken Williams put a call in to McCulloch from the general manager's office. After congratulating McCulloch, Williams asked the 21-year-old what he knew about the White Sox.
"I know you won the World Series last year," McCulloch said.
"That's right," said Williams with a smile. "And we draft championship caliber players who can help us win another one. From all I've seen and heard about you, you are the type of person we want in our organization."
The only early drawback for the native of Houston is that he grew up an Astros fan. But with the 2005 World Series a distant but very positive memory and the focus on the future, the White Sox don't see that point as any sort of issue.
"Hopefully, in the American League, he likes our club," Shaffer said.
"They're a great organization. They've been around a long time and they've done some great things," added McCulloch of the White Sox. "They have a great history of developing their players and they're just a great organization, overall."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.