Has it really been that long since our last set of interviews? Sure enough, it has been. Earlier today I had the pleasure of talking to Vice President and Director of Player Development Buddy Bell. Joining in on the phone call were Jim Margalus (of course), John Jameson Stankevitz of CSN's White Sox Talk, Chris of Chicago Sports Addict, James Fegan of White Sox Observer, and Mike from Gapers Block. Topics of discussion included Dayan Viciedo, Simon Castro, Robin, Ventura, Terry Doyle, and more.
Mark Primiano: This week Baseball America ranked the White Sox organization 20th in the majors at prospect development. Do you feel this is accurate or do you disagree with it?
Buddy Bell: I'm not really sure what the rankings are. I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it. I'm not really sure about any of the other organizations. What is the criteria?
MP: Basically it's production through the players that have come up. It still credits teams for the prospects they've traded away, like Daniel Hudson.
BB: To be honest with you, I'm really not sure how they come up with those things. I kind of feel the same way about the other rankings. I think you could put our record up with just about anyone for candidates for our major league club. I think we all feel good about where we're at in terms of development and things like that. I don't really have an answer for you except that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me.JJ Stankevitz: You really promoted Jared Mitchell at Sox Fest and he came out and had a good spring. Is there anything different you'd like to see him do? I know he had seven strikeouts and no walks. Is that something you'd like to see him do a little better at?
BB: Quite frankly, we needed to see him being more aggressive. I think he's probably taking that to a different level than what we wanted, but we really wanted him to be more aggressive early in the count. He got himself in a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 situations last year and basically he was just being a little too sensitive about the strikezone. The way you learn how to hit is swing the bat, and unfortunately right now there's a lot of colleges and high schools that talk about plate discipline and kids aren't really allowed to swing the bats until they have to. I think that's kind of what Jared got into. He's coming into camp with a much better set-up. He's using his legs to help and he's done a lot of really good things. He's just about where we want him to be at this point in spring training. Now we're trying to decide where he belongs to start the season.
Chris: New manager Robin Ventura worked under you this past season. What about him makes you believe that he will succeed as a manager?
BB: He's very intelligent, he likes players, he's very respectful to people in the game. He sees things a lot quicker than most of us. He's just one of those guys you want to play for because you're going to get an honest answer to an honest question. He doesn't panic, he just sits back and watches the game and doesn't react very quickly to anything really. He likes to analyze before he reacts. And he'll react right away, but he uses his time and gives people and players a chance to do what they need to do. There's nothing about him I don't like. The thing I like most is his respectful nature. I feel that's really important in the game today.
Jim Margalus: Watching Dayan Viciedo this year and last September, it seemed like he was either late or just underneath pitches, fouling back pitches that he would normally turn around. Is this something you're noticing? What kind of start are you expecting from him.
BB: It's hard to say. I think you're right and that's very observant. He was sort of inbetween last year for whatever reason and it happens to a lot of players going up. With Dayan, he's better when he's being aggressive. What makes him laugh is what makes him cry in a lot of ways. Sometimes he's too aggressive which makes him a little bit out of control. He was probably more inbetween just because of that. I don't think it really had much to do with his mechanics. I think with younger players, just kind of let them go and decide what kind of stroke they're going to have. If yesterday was any indication as to what kind of stroke Dayan is going to have, hitting three homeruns for us in minor league camp yesterday, hopefully that's a pretty good indication for how he's going to get started. His bat looks extremely quick and his balance is good.
JM: I noticed after his thumb injury last year that he started taking more walks. I don't know if that was because of the injury or it just kind of changed his timing.
BB: It could be. It's hard to say. It's like the first question on this call "What do the rankings mean?". You never know about a player until they get to the big leagues. They can be highly touted, but you never really know until they get to the big leagues. It's all about make-up, it's all about heart. It's nothing really that you do in the minor leagues. You let them hit, you let them play, you support them, you tinker with their mechanics a little bit. Look at Gordon Beckham. He was really good when he first got up their for the first year and a half and then he slowed down. You never really know. In Dayan's particular case, he's a younger kid and he's from Cuba so it's probably going to take a little bit of time. There's so many intangible things and you just have to give them some time.
JJ: Are you at all concerned about Viciedo maybe bringing his defensive lack of comfort to the plate at all?
BB: That's a great question. Dayan's moved around quite a bit. I think at some point, he's going to get comfortable and I have to believe there is some part that is comfortable. You have to find a position for a guy like this. He's mentally tough and he'll figure it out. It'll affect him somewhat. It's a totally different game in the big leagues, it's so much faster than anyone can imagine.
MP: In 2009 and 2010, Simon Castro had some great numbers for the Padres minor league teams, but last year it all seemed to fall apart when he got to AAA. What was it you guys saw that made you want to trade for him?
BB: His arm. His arm strength and his makeup as well. I'm involved in the trades, but from what I understand from watching him here in spring training and in the Dominican: he has great arm strength and had great numbers. His makeup is off the charts. We felt like there were some mechanical things we think we can do. We think we can get his balance a little better and his direction cleaned up a little bit. He told us it wasn't anything San Diego did with him, it just kind of evolved into something. We're just trying to get him back to where he was before and hopefully we can do that.
James Fegan: Trayce Thompson was another player like Jared Mitchell, in that he racked up a lot of strikeouts at a lower level but still had a pretty good spring. What's his development (insert random hospital gibberish noise here)looking like?
BB: We think he's developing quite well. There is a lot of interest in the industry about Trayce. Any time somebody talks a trade with us, Trayce's name always comes up and rightly so. He's an athletic kid who can play center. He's got a lot of power. For me, with all young kids, they give up way too many at bats. Trayce seems to be better when the game's on the line, he seems to have more of a specific approach. I would say he gave up over 100-120 at bats last year just trying to hit homeruns which is why he hit .240 or .235 or whatever he hit (Thompson hit .241). He's a great kid. I don't want to put a label on him, but his body is similar to Jermaine Dye's when he was a young kid. Same body type, same swing. We would like to see him turn out like Jermaine. He's developing very well. It seems like younger outfielders take a little longer sometimes because you're hoping so badly that they can get to the big leagues quicker because they provide a power for you.
JM: Going back to Jared Mitchell, looking at his numbers it seems like going back to Winston-Salem would be best for him. But when you look at the past and see guys like Eduardo Escobar and Jordan Danks, you guys have been aggressive pushing struggling players along. Do you see repeating a level as a last resort?
BB: We have to look at the past a little bit. He played at LSU, obviously as good of competition as you can face in college. Coming out of college for the short month that he played after he signed, then he went through all the health issues. He wasn't ever 100% healthy last year. Is he better off going to Winston and going through that again or going to Birmingham to figure it out there. Jared is such a mentally tough kid and maybe the most competitive kid we have here right now and people don't understand how big of a deal that is to us. This kid cares so much and plays as hard as anyone. In some regards, he doesn't deserve to go to Birmingham. But at the same time, the way he came into camp this year, he does deserve it. You send him to Birmingham and he has a cushion to figure it out. There are a lot of intangible things we look at in making our decisions. A lot of it is "What did these kids do the last months of last season? What did they work on over the winter?". We base some of it on last year, but more on how they developed over the course of the year. Numbers make absolutely zero matter to me. It's all about how much they progress. I think Jared has progressed well enough to go to Birmingham, but we're trying to figure out if that's the best thing for him.
MP: Now that Terry Doyle is back from the Minnesota Twins, what is the plan for him this season?
BB: He'll be in the rotation in Charlotte. He just flew in a couple nights ago.
JM: Speaking of guys repeating levels, Hector Santiago's career has kind of gone from zero to sixty. Given that he's a hard-throwing lefty, it seems that he would be on the fast track. What were the Sox doing with him in A ball for those three years and how did it change his career trajectory?
BB: It was actually just more of him growing up. He didn't really have great command or throw 93-94 until we put him in the rotation. For whatever reason, his velocity then jumped up a couple notches. The main thing is a lot of times kids just get stronger and start to understand their mechanics and things fall into place. In some cases, we move aggressively with kids just based on their mental makeup. We saw a kid who was very athletic, but his mechanics weren't great so we didn't have the opportunity to move him like a college junior or senior. Towards the end of the year, he came in and pitched three or four innings in middle relief. In the third inning of that appearance, his velocity jumped up to 94-95. The length of the appearance helped his mechanics click into place. After that outing I talked to Kirk Champion and Hassler about putting him in the rotation for the rest of the year and seeing what happened. He wound up in the big leagues a year later.
Mike: Kansas City is projected to be a much improved team over the next few years due to their young talent. Is there anything you could take away from the Royals' success with their farm system?
BB: They were drafting first for a long time, so hopefully we don't end up doing that. Their approach and philosophy is a lot different than ours. I was the manager there for a time and saw some of their draft choices. And it was a lot of fun getting to talk about drafting the best player in the country for three or four years in a row. You don't normally make a lot of mistakes when you're drafting first in the country. They did the same things in their system that we do in terms of development. All the organizations handle it the same way. The answer to that is you can't learn a whole lot from it. Would we like the same players they got at number one? Well, yeah. But to do that we would have to lose a lot of games, and I don't want to do that.
Thanks again to Buddy and Marty. We'll learn about the next interview around Opening Day.