Winter Storm Q might be my favorite winter storm of all. I was supposed to have to miss out on this year's Buddy Bell interview, which was incredibly disheartening. Past interviews had revealed Bell's lack of desire to manage again and sleeper prospects galore, as well as his extreme faith in Jared Mitchell. But I was supposed to be discussing clincal pathology cases.
And then it snowed. Meaning we all get a full transcript. We had enough time for the group to ask 11 questions before Buddy had to get back to work. I'd like to thank Buddy and Marty Maloney for once again setting this all up. Other than me and Jim, questions were asked by Mike Adams of Sox Talk and Kevin Wallace of Southside Showdown.
Mike Adams: With the new title, how have your responsibilities changed?
Buddy Bell: They haven't changed a whole lot. It's kind of ever-evolving. Still overseeing the minor league system, kind of trickling in more on the major league side, it helps having that relationship with Robin. I'm going to be traveling with the major league team a lot more than I did last year. I only made one trip last year. Other than that and being involved in the scouting everything is pretty much going to be the same.
Jim Margalus: With Rick Hahn now in the GM seat, the White Sox have historically been on the aggressive side when it comes to promotions. I'm wondering if the same mechanisms are in place for deciding a player's track or if that might change at all.
Bell: I think it will pretty much stay the same. I don't think that will change. The player is always going to dictate the speed of which we promote. We obviously make the decisions but they're the ones who determine that. Numbers do mean something, but they don't mean a lot. A lot of times we move some one basically to challenge them into understanding what they have to be better at to move on to the next level. Sometimes at the lower levels they can sort of get by while their numbers could probably be better. Then there is the other question of whether or not it changes their confidence, so there's a lot of intangible stuff.
Mark Primiano: How aggressive will you be with Courtney Hawkins this year. Last season he was moved around really aggressively, will that be the case again this season?
Bell: Yeah, I was talking to Merk about that yesterday. The main reason we sent Courtney up to Winston and Kannapolis was we wanted to get him into an environment that was a little faster and more aggressive. Winston-Salem kind of tricked us because he did so well. We wanted him to go there to experience playoff baseball. As it turned out, it didn't matter what level he was at he just did better and that's obviously a testament to how hard he works and the talent that he is. It also showed us the kind of makeup that he has.
He's a tough kid. He just gets better as the lights get brighter, which is great. In terms of the speed of the promotion, we'd like to get him to AA by the end of the year. If he doesn't get there, it's not that big of a deal, but we'd like that to happen whether it's in August or July or whenever. We're really excited about the outfielders in our system.
Margalus: Does that mean he'll be starting the season at Winston-Salem?
Adams, I think?: With Jared Mitchell, we know injuries set him back. Did he feel the effects of that as the season went on and what can we expect from him this year?
Bell: As the season went on, he got healthier. He's been one of the guys I've been alluding to earlier about moving guys. We want to make sure that he understands hard and soft, since you're going to hit hard and soft more often in AAA than the other levels. For me right now, he probably looks better than anybody in camp right now in terms of body and progress. We had him in instructional league last year for about ten days and tweaked his hitting approach a little.
His balance is really good right now. Really anxious to see what he does in camp. We'd like to see that his balance has gotten better. He's probably in the top five guys we have in our organization in terms of competing. He's a crazy competitor. That's probably gotten a bit in his way along with the health issues. Right now he's as impressive as anyone we have in camp. He's going to start the season in Charlotte.
Kevin Wallace: As a followup to that, he changed his batting stance a bit. Was that because of the injury or was that more mechanical?
Bell: It was more mechanical. I guess it might have been a little health-related too, since when you hit you have to use your legs especially as a guy whose whole game is speed. I'm sure that had something to do with the mechanical flaws that he had. He looks like a hitter who is athletic as opposed to an athlete who is trying to hit, which is kind of what Jared was when we first got him. It wasn't the best idea jumping him up after the injury, but I'm over it. It was probably a little bit of both.
Margalus: Do you have any early read on how the new ballpark in Birmingham might play compared to the old one?
Bell: A lot smaller. We should say it will be more fair than the old park. The old park was very big, especially in the summer when the air is heavier. In New York and Boston, the ball travels when it's hotter. For some reason in Birmingham it doesn't. I guess it might be that the park is sitting down lower. This park will be a lot more fair, I don't think it will play too short, but more fair is what we're hoping for. Not only is it hard to evaluate a hitter there, but it was hard to evaluate pitching as well.
It's going to be a beautiful ballpark. For me, coming up in the minor leagues and hearing about all those great Negro League players that came up through Birmingham, they're going to bring all that back. So the city is really excited to bring the history back. This is something that's really going to be great for the history of the Birmingham franchise.
Primiano: Last season Carlos Sanchez came out of nowhere as a generally unheralded prospect to become one of the top prospects in the system. Who do you think has the best shot of doing something similar this year?
Bell: If I had to guess, we got a kid out of the draft last year that is very interesting to me: Joey DeMichele. We drafted him out of Arizona State as a junior and he's a really interesting guy. We like to think of him as kind of like Jason Kipnis out of Cleveland. He can run a little bit, he's got some pop, he's a high energy kid. He only plays second base, but we don't know if we'll move him around.
He played outfield his first couple years at ASU and he's only been at second a short time, but he's really done a great job there. He's a guy I'm really anxious to see and we're on the fence about if he starts the season in Winston or Birmingham. We think the competition he played against in college should make him alright in Birmingham, but we're not fully sure if we need to do that at this point.
We're looking for Tyler Saladino to have a better year as well. He had kind of a down year, but the only number that was really down was his average, but hitting at Birmingham wasn't really conducive (to high averages). He'll be starting the season at Birmingham.
One thing we're working on the most, especially in Latin America, is our infield situation. We feel really good about our outfield depth and catching depth moving forward. But our infield situation right now isn't the best. A lot of organizations aren't doing so hot. A lot of organizations get those guys from Latin America. Our situation down there now is so much better than it ever has been since I've been here. You have to have a good Latin American program to be competitive, there's no question about it. The guys we have now, Marco Paddy and Kenny are involved a lot in this thing, we're really excited about our Latin program.
Margalus: You guys made a huge investment relative to the past in the Latin American program. I'm wondering if you have any early indication on who we might be seeing first in the lower levels?
Bell: We have a few guys coming over for spring training, which we've never done in the past. We've never had any good players to bring over in the past, which was really the only reason. We've got a couple kids, a kid named Santos, a kid named (Johan) Cruz. Both are high ceiling infielders, Cruz is only 17 while Santos is 20. A lot of these kids are going through investigations right now so I can't talk about all of them.
We have a kid named (Hanleth) Otano that's good-looking. And (Antonio) Rodriguez that have been hitting in our instructional league. For pitchers that I've seen, (Yelmison) Peralta and (Jefferson) Olacio who was over here last year really got off to a great start before running out of gas in the middle of the season.
The guys that I'm really anxious to see over here are Cruz and Otano and Rodriguez. The pitchers will come over for spring training and then probably go back to the Dominican Summer League. The hitters have a chance of staying over here.
Primiano: What can we expect out of Trayce Thompson this year? Where will he be starting and where do you think he'll end that season?
Bell: He'll start in Birmingham and we expect really good things from him. He's another guy who looks really good right now. He's always been a terrific body, but he's starting to get his bat strength in his shoulder and legs. He's had two really good years. Do we want to be careful with him? They can think about power a bit too much, so we're trying to get him to be more consistent.
He's always going to have strikeouts, but when he gets to two strikes we'd like to see him not so much get down on his swing as just have a better two strike approach. He knows that and wants to do it, but with these younger power guys you just have to be a bit more patient than most people want us to.
Adams: You guys drafted Chris Beck in the second round as a guy who fell down the draft board and saw some things you wanted to change in him. What are the early reviews for him in camp?
Bell: We'll see tomorrow. These guys report today and their first workout is tomorrow. In terms of his progress, he got a little big. He wasn't overweight, but he got into a weightlifting program that was kind of a contest. We got him on a different program that makes him a lot leaner and more flexible, so we can see the stuff we saw a year and a half ago when he was considered one of the top pitchers in that draft class.
He made great progress over the course of the year. With guys coming out of college, we don't give them a lot of innings but in the instructional we really let guys let go. Kid's got a great arm, good breaking ball, a slider, and a good change. Both him and (Brandon) Brennan are both really guys we think highly of, as well as (Kyle) Hansen. They'll all start at Kannapolis until it's necessary to move them up to Winston. Let's us compare all of them at the same time too.
Margalus: Looking at Keenyn Walker's numbers and knowing that he had to deal with a couple injuries, it didn't really seem to affect his production like you might think it would for a speed player. How did the visuals stack up to his numbers while playing through the injuries and could he be in line for a bigger rebound because he played so well through the physical pains?
Bell: He had a shoulder and a knee thing on the same day. But he looks good. His weight was down about 20 lbs after the surgery, but he'll get it back. He showed us a lot playing through the injuries. We would like to start him in Birmingham as well. Right now we're trying to find time for it. He's an interesting kid, and he's different than the others because of his speed. He understand his speed more than Jared does.
He can drive the ball, but he's more of a line drive guy. You're right though, the numbers were much better than how he felt. He was really hurting and we wanted to shut him down, but he begged us not to which we really liked because these guys will have to learn to do that when they get to the big leagues.