As I mentioned in last night's post about the bullpen battle, Rick Hahn talked to a quorum of White Sox bloggers, as did assistant general manager Buddy Bell afterward. These calls are always enjoyable because they're so wide-ranging, with questions varying from organizational philosophies to nagging minor procedural details like, say, Matt Albers' minor league contract.
And sometimes there are combinations of the two, as we go through the summaries of the topics:
On the pool of second basemen
For instance, since Gordon Beckham's return is a popular point of disgruntlement here, I asked Hahn about potential side effects of keeping a successful Triple-A player at Charlotte - and in this case, utility infielder possibilities like Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez -- an extra season, should Beckham own the bench role the whole season.
"In general, perhaps," Hahn said in regards to the risk of stagnation, "Specifically, with regards to Tyler and Sanchy, I think it's less of a risk."
Speaking about Saladino because he'd already been optioned out of big league camp, Hahn said the shortstop was "fantastic" prior to the first round of cuts, but coming back from Tommy John surgery, returning to regular action at a level where he had already experienced success makes for a smoother reintroduction, instead of playing sporadically in the majors.
(Along these lines, Buddy Bell said, "The jump from Charlotte to the big leagues is the biggest jump, and I don't think it ever used to be. I don't know what the deal is. The game the way it's played in Triple-A right now is not even close to how it's played in the big leagues. The speed of the game in the big leagues has just gotten so quick compared to how it's played in Triple-A.")
Regarding the battle between Sanchez and Micah Johnson, Hahn said that even if the winner ends up batting ninth, it doesn't necessarily tip the scales toward a defensive specialist.
"Say you have a more offense-oriented second baseman," Hahn said. "Even though he may be lower in the order, that's OK for a rookie in our opinion, because he's going to have to get acclimated to the league. There's going to be that adjustment period we always see. Let him force the issue and work his way up, and be able to protect him a little bit in the process."
On giving up draft picks for free agents
Hahn said that having a protected first-round pick makes the analysis of signing free agents "extremely different," and there's a cumulative effect by the time a player only costs a third-round draft pick (like Melky Cabrera, who signed after David Robertson). Hahn did add that while a top-10 pick makes it less daunting to make a high-profile signing, the player's talent still has to be unique to compel the Sox to go that route.
On the first fifth starter
Asked about whether Chris Sale's replacement for the first week of the season might be a guy who can then shift to the bullpen, Hahn said it's not a given that Sale will need a placeholder in the first week.
"We're still not to the point where we're committed that one of those guys [Brad Penny, Scott Carroll, etc.] will have to jump in for Chris," Hahn said. "He's progressing nicely. We've got a pretty specific schedule laid out that frankly we haven't shared publicly, but thus far, he's hit each of the thresholds we've been looking for on any given day. With the off day the first week, we've got the ability to do some things with the rotation that may well mean that ultimately we may not need somebody to jump in for Chris' turn."
If you're wondering why Erik Johnson has only thrown 2⅓ innings, it's because he had what Hahn described as "a little side strain" that "is not an oblique." Hahn said Johnson's on a throwing program and should be back in action within the next several days.
On Courtney Hawkins
Bell said the keys to Hawkins' success are balance and direction, and they like what they're seeing from him besides gaudy spring stats.
"You can actually see him getting better on a daily basis, as opposed to every once in a while," Bell said.
"One of the advantages of a player like Courtney coming to big league camp is to actually be up close and personal with big-league players who do what we're asking Courtney to do."
Hawkins will start the season in Birmingham, and Bell said there's a sizable transition from March to April for Hawkins, who will be facing Southern League pitchers who are attacking hitters with all their pitches and increased heat.
On the timing of cuts
Hawkins is still with the big leaguers, while other outfielders who are on the doorstep of the majors -- Trayce Thompson, for one -- have already been reassigned to other camps.
Part of the roster-cutting process is administrative in nature. A guy like Hawkins isn't on the 40-man roster, while a player like Thompson has to be optioned to Charlotte's camp.
The other part is more tailored to the individual player, regardless of how crowded a particular area of the depth chart may be.
Bell said that in case of Thompson, they had a Charlotte assignment in mind all along, so it was best for him to be with the Knights before the start of minor-league games last week. For somebody like Matt Davidson, who was also in the first round of cuts, he gets a chance to play every day after the stress reaction in his shoulder messed up the start to his spring. (Bell said Davidson is in good shape now, and his approach to the ball is simpler than it has been, for what it's worth.)
"As far as Courtney is concerned," Bell said, "I think it was key to stay around [Todd] Steverson as much as he possibly could. Trick and Courtney have developed a great relationship."
And then there's the matter of a reward: "Courtney didn't go down today because, basically, he was doing really well, and we wanted to play that out. "
On breakout candidates
Asked about players who might be able to make leaps this year, Bell pointed to Spencer Adams and Jace Fry from last year's draft, and Micker Adolfo, Amado Nunez and Jhoandro Alfaro from the international signing group. Of the more established players, he said they have hopes for Thompson to complete his climb.
Bell raved about Adams in particular. While the second-round pick from 2014 faces the standard development issues -- learning the craft, increasing workload, tightening up the breaking ball -- Bell said that Adams "is like no other high school guy I've ever been around" in terms of zoning in on a catcher's target.
With Adrian Nieto, Kevan Smith and Rob Brantly all having cases to start behind the plate in Charlotte, Bell said that playing time is the subject of daily discussion. "We do have a little bit of a plan," Bell said. "I'm not really ready to say what that is, because it affects guys and how they approach every day."
"I will give you a little bit of a hint: Smith really did a good job at Birmingham. That's about the best I can do."
On Tim Anderson
"One thing we'd like for Timmy to do is to run a little bit more," Bell said. "He's going to be at the top fo the lineup. Jacob May and Tim are going to flip-flop every week to 10 days [in the top two spots.]
Bell also wants Anderson to spend the year getting to know the strike zone better. That might mean taking more pitches than he's been comfortable doing thus far, although Bell said that some players learn their own strike zones by swinging the bat.
On the meaning of good springs
Bell reiterated the danger of getting too comfortable with spring success, and he wasn't speaking only of Hawkins. Davidson serves as an example the year before, and Bell said that even during his own playing days, a good spring didn't mean much.
"Sometimes these kids have success in spring training, and they sort of forget how hard it really is," Bell said. For a guy like Davidson, where a great Cactus League makes him one phone call away from the majors, it's especially easy to lose his place in the process.
"I was always hoping that I had a bad spring," Bell said. "If I had a bad spring, I'd get off to a good start. If I had a good spring ... [laughs]."
"Especially with minor-league guys who come out and do well, they sort of forget that it's still a hard game to play, and you gotta continue to make adjustments and bear down every pitch."