SSS Meets White Sox Minor League Hitting Coordinator Jeff Manto

I'd like to start this all off by thanking Marty Maloney, the Coordinator of Public Relations for the White Sox.  Without Marty, these conference call interviews wouldn't be happening.  Thanks.  I'd also obviously like to thank Jeff Manto for taking time out of his days to answer questions.  The two are truly class acts.  There were three other interviewers in on this and for reference they were Jim Margalus of Sox Machine, a guy named Anthony Mazzuca from Future Sox, and Paul Banks of The Sport Bank.

First up is the interview with Jeff Manto, the Minor League Hitting Coordinator.

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Sox Machine: Question on Tyler Flowers, last year he had pretty much minimal problems between Birmingham and Charlotte, but this year he hit a big pothole in May and has kind of rebounded since but hasn't quite hit his stride.  Can you talk about what happened in May a little bit and what he's trying to do to overcome that?

Jeff Manto: What I think happened with Tyler is what I think happens with every young hitter.  It's not a surprise, that pothole you described, because most hitters do at that level.  That there's two levels that are probably tougher than any, and that's the first couple months of AA and the first couple months of AAA.  At this point Tyler is facing good pitching every day and it's just a matter of him figuring out what they're doing.  There are four or five pitchers in the big leagues that he's facing every night, but situationally he's getting the chance to see breaking balls in a hitting count.  And right now, I don't think he's doing anything different.  He's just trying to figure out the pitch selection and the pitches being thrown to him.  When you walk up to the plate and your name precedes you, the game gets a little bit tougher, and that's what is happening to Tyler right now.  He's not seeing too many balls that are hittable.  With time he will adjust.

SM: In May in an MLB.com article, it said that he was making some changes that were perhaps suggested to him by Greg Walker during spring training.  Did you see anything in his approach that seemed different?

JM: No I did not.  And I saw that same article and what happened in spring training between him and Walk I am aware of, but when he left he was in a good place.  When it said that he was making some changes, that word came off a little bit strong, and what he meant was that he tweaked a little here and there.  He hasn't changed much from spring training, he's just doing things that every good hitter does.

Paul Banks: What you can you tell us about Brent Morel's development since he's been called up a level?

JM: He has answered every challenge we have given to him.  He's a guy who has a knack for, for his bat finding the ball.  He finds the ball quickly, he';s able to fight back and make adjustments in each bat.  He figures out things pretty quickly, and if you don't pitch him differently it only takes him a couple at bats to figure it out.  He's a guy who obviously proved at every level that he can hit, and at this point right now he's doing everything we'd hoped him to do.  He doesn't get flustered with two strikes, stays with a plan, adjust to a plan.  He's one of our better hitters to make adjustments.

SSS: Do you see any chance that Jordan Danks can lower his strikeout rate?

JM: Again, Jordan, he's a guy that needs to make the adjustments.  He will lower his strikeouts as he plays more, as he gets more reps at that level.  I think one thing that we have to remember is that that AAA level is pretty good, and Jordan's at that level and he's making adjustments, but it's just a matter of time.  But we do need to get these younger players to figure it out.  But I think because of his baseball background and the history of where he has played, that he'll make the adjustments and figure out what he can and cannot do and with that we'll see the strikeouts drop.

SM: In Winston-Salem, Jose Martinez kind of dropped off the radar.  He had a lot of potential, and then in 2008 he had the knee injury.  He's missed two full seasons and he's come back and he's done decently at high-A despite missing all that time.  What have you seen from him so far and are the results encouraging?

JM: The results are very encouraging.  I'm pleasantly surprised, that knee has come along very well.  He seems to be running like he was.  His at bats are as if he didn't miss any time at all.  His at bats are tremendous, and I'm definitely pleasantly surprised to some degree.  I think he's back on the radar.  He's showing that he's still in the picture.

AM: Trayce Thompson in Kannapolis, he was off to a pretty good start.  At least judging by his stats alone, he looked overwhelmed in rookie ball.  But then he was called up to Kannapolis, which was a bit of a surprise, but he was hitting pretty well there.  He struck out a lot, but his power was there and he showed potential that made him a second-round pick.  What changes did he make that helped him handle that jump successfully?

JM: I don't think he made any adjustments, I just think he believes in himself.  The swing hasn't changed.  His approach might have changed.  I think sometimes the best hitting coach is the opposing pitcher, you know?  Trayce came up here and made adjustments. And I hate to keep saying it, but with every young hitter there is a learning area.  Trayce adjusted well and we're happy with his progress.  And one thing with the power, is that the power numbers as we move on may not be there until AA.  If you look at the power guys, it takes time for the power to develop.  The beauty of Trayce though, is that he has the ability to hit for average also, which will lower his frustration level. 

SSS: When you get players from foreign countries who speak very little to no English, how do you guys work around the language barrier?  You don't have a translator out there on the field with them all the time, do you?

JM: No, we do not.  But sometimes we use other players who do speak English.  But I'll tell you this, Becky does a tremendous job with these players as they get here.  These players are literally well-schooled in the English language.  The barrier is not as big as what they think.  These kids that we're getting are tremendous kids and they're willing to learn.  And I think they know the importance of the communication barrier.  They really take time out in spring training and in the instructional league, there's always English classes.  And with the White Sox, it doesn't take the players very long to learn the language, or at least as much as they need to know on the field.  Again, all the credit goes to Becky in that department.  (I am not sure who Becky is, didn't really get the chance to ask).

SM: I've seen some high scoring and some high batting averages at the new ballpark in Winston-Salem.  Is that a really friendly hitting environment, or is that a product of the league competition this year?

JM: I think it's a credit to Rob Sasser (the hitting coach) and what he's trying to do down there and the players.  We've got some good hitters down there.  It's a fair ballpark, and I'm a hitting guy so I have to say this park is huge.  But we have some good players on top of some good coaching.  There are certain parts of the park that are shorter than others, like right down the lines it's 315 at the foul poles but the walls get higher.  But it's definitely a great place to hit, because you can see the ball.  The lights are great, everything is green.  There are no problems seeing the ball, that's for sure.  On top of that though, it's Rob Sasser and the coaching staff and good players.

AM: You see the guys every day and we only have to go off stats.  Is there anyone that stands out to you in the system that is someone who maybe hasn't had the results, but is someone we should keep an eye on?

JM: Nick Ciolli is having a great year.  Jim Gallagher has really picked it up some in Birmingham.  Those first couple months he had o figure some things out, and he's starting to swing the bat real well.  Here in Kannapolis, you've got Ciolli, Saladino, Wagner.  There's some players here that have really turned the page and have really jumped on page with what we're trying to do.  And quite frankly, Gartrell in AAA has really opened some eyes with what he's doing this year.

SM: One guy who is hard to get a read on with stats alone is Christian Marrero.  He had a lot of power at Birmingham and was pretty aggressive.  This year the power has dropped but his walks have increased.  Can you point out the differences between the two years?

JM: It's just these guys showing the ability to make adjustments and figure things out.  Christian made some slight adjustments to his swing and to his approach, and is paying attention more to the at bat.  He's not going up there and just hitting.  He understands the situations that he's in.  He understands when he's getting the breaking ball and who is hitting behind him.  I think all things considered, that has made him a better hitter than he was in the past and he continues to get better every day.

SM: A guy who has come out of nowhere in Winston-Salem is Brandon Short.  He's been so far off the radar, it's been hard to get a scouting report on him.  Can you give us a brief one?

JM: He's probably got some of the fastest hands we have in the organization.  He's extremely quick.  He probably has the ability to hit 15-20 homeruns at some point.  He's another guy who has made tremendous adjustments.  He's a guy who can be a leadoff-type guy.  Right now he's driving the ball.  He has some speed, but he's really putting it together this year.  I don't know if he'll ever hit 25 or 30 or those kind of numbers, but he definitely has a little bit of power.  Maybe 15 is more realistic at some point. 

AM: Can you give us an update on Jared Mitchell's rehab and if he is still going to be able to come back next year?

JM: I don't know what the timing is, but the rehab guys in Winston-Salem.  And he looks great, obviously he sat out for a little bit.  But what I saw from a hitting standpoint, his ankle looked good.  He was using his legs with no problems at all.  But I do not know the timetable as to when he'll be able to play.

SSS: What changes, if any, would you like to see the White Sox take in obtaining players; like in the draft, international signings, and in trades?

JM: I think right now the players we have are fine.  The three drafts I've been a part of here have been tremendous.  The players we get are very coachable.  There makeup is off the charts.  They're good players.  Where I'm coming from, I'm completely satisfied with what we're getting.

SM: Miguel Gonzalez came into the season as everyone's sleeper prospect, being 19 years old and hitting very well in both the Dominican League and rookie ball.  But this year with hitting he seems to be having a little trouble getting traction.  I'm curious as far as other catchers have a harder time making the usual adjustments versus other players.

JM: That could be a true statement.  I don't know that for sure, but with the workload that Miguel has had and the responsibility that a catcher has here with working so well with the pitchers that sometime they don't have a whole lot of time to concentrate on the pure hitting.  The usual position players, outfielders and infielders, don't have much time being spent with someone else.  The catchers and the pitching coaches do a real good job here getting on the same page.  I think Miguel does a great job from both sides of the ball, but his offense will be slowed because he's young.  But he's young, and he's going to be ok.

 

And that was it.  Jeff was thanked by our moderator and all the interviewers, and Kirk Champion was brought in.  That interview will be posted tomorrow.  I just want to thank Marty and Jeff again for helping get this interview together.

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