Earlier this week, Birmingham Barons first baseman Gavin Sheets — South Side Sox’s No. 11 White Sox prospect for 2019 — sat for a long interview with us, which we’re running today in two parts. (Read Part 1 here.)
The second and longer part of our conversation covers his playing days in the White Sox organization, from playing under future Hall-of-Famer Omar Vizquel, to hitting analytics, goals for the season on offense and defense, and the bond that’s forged among the #NextSox making their way up to Chicago.
South Side Sox: The past two seasons now, you’ve had a pretty good manager to talk to about a major-league playing career. How is Omar Vizquel’s managerial style, and how has your experience been with him so far?
Gavin Sheets: He’s been tremendous. I love playing for Omar. He keeps it light. He has a lot of fun with the game. You can see why he played for 22 years, because his love for the game is so evident. He has so much fun on the field, and keeps the clubhouse really light. But then, it’s great to go out and take ground balls with him and learn from his experience, to have conversations about guys he played with, and what he saw in people. It is a pretty cool opportunity to play with, hopefully, a future Hall-of-Famer. Just to be able to pick his brain and talk to him, hear stories ... it’s just pretty cool to go back and listen to his career from his words.
Hitting analytics instructor Matt Lisle was hired by the White Sox this offseason. Have you had any interactions with him, or are there other coaches you’ve clung to over others?
Matt actually came out to Baltimore to work with me for a day. He brings the new-style approach to hitting and analytics to the table. Testing your body out, the way your body moves during your swing ... it is very cool to see and use those numbers to try to incorporate to your swing. Matt brings us a lot with what he does.
The coaches I have clung to the most has probably been Charles Poe (who was our hitting coach in Winston, and now Birmingham) and Ben Broussard. We brought [Broussard] in, he was a big leaguer. He has kind of a leadership role in the White Sox organization. Those two guys have been two guys I have really clung to. Another guy is Wes Helms, who we just added this year in Birmingham, as our bench coach. He is another great guy, I mean, he played 12 years in the big leagues. The White Sox have done a really good job of bringing guys that have great professional experience, and can share that info with us and make us better players as well.
You did mention analytics, is that something you were privy to before being drafted? Are you more open to it as you rise in the organization?
It’s definitely making its way in this game, so I feel like you will kind of be left behind if you don’t incorporate it, or at least try to have an open mind to it. I’m new to all this stuff. I’ve never been a huge analytics guy in the past. But there are a lot of things you can pull from it that can be really beneficial. If you don’t, and try to ignore it completely, you’re going to be left behind. It’s a great tool that the White Sox have started to add to our system, and I’m trying to incorporate it as much as possible. But there’s a balance; you also need to have a feel for the game and your swing, without running to the numbers. There is a way to balance between the two.
We usually only get the pitching side of analytics, like @PitchingNinja on Twitter. Are there any aspects of analytics that are specific to just hitting?
We have things called K-vests, which you hook up to your body [K-vests in action]. You swing, and you can see where your swing is deficient, like if it’s your lower half, hips, shoulders. Using stuff like that is really cool, just to be able to see where your swing is deficient and how you can add stuff to get your swing to work as powerfully and efficiently as possible. It’s a huge help. With scouting reports nowadays — having scouting reports on pitches thrown, on which counts, and where in the zone — incorporating all of that to our preparation is really beneficial.
Since you’ve been drafted, or maybe even this past offseason, has Chris Getz, Nick Hostetler, or any of the coaches told you what you need to work on the most to get to the highest level?
Without question, it is having the power play a little more in the games. I think they’re thrilled with the season I had last year, and just the way that I hit in general. But that next step is getting power to incorporate into the swing a little bit more, having that play and having [the power] numbers rise. Really, the message has been to continue to be the same hitter I am, but add that power aspect into the game, and I’ll be in a really good place.
Is there anything you can change to see that power rise, because there were multiple times I would see your videos of a double to the opposite field, and another double to the opposite field. You had about 30 non-home run extra-base hits — which is a lot — it’s just only six of them went out. Is it just a matter of pulling the ball more and getting the bat out in front?
Once again, it’s a balance, because you don’t want to lose being a good hitter and try to sacrifice that for power. Really, what I am trying to do is maybe be a little more aggressive earlier in the count. I’d love to get that ball out over the middle and pull, get the ball in right field a little more. There is definitely a balance of being a good hitter and trying to hit for power. So I am going to work on finding that balance, and change things in my swing a little bit to get more power out of it. We’ll see what happens.
One of the things that was great about your 2018 season was a BB/K rate that was Top 20 in all of A+, which is incredible. You know, thinking of a power-hitting first baseman it’s usually an Adam Dunn or Chris Davis, and they strike out a ton as well. You don’t. Are you one of those old-schoolers towards Ks, where you kind of hate them?
Honestly, yes, growing up with my dad, just that old-school mentality that it’s not OK to strikeout. I try to take a lot of pride in not doing that, trying to put the ball in play and put as much pressure on the defense as possible. If I can do that and hit with power, I think I’ll be in a great spot. Yeah, honestly, I try to put the ball in play as much as possible to make the defense work.
You just came off of your second offseason as a pro. Did you take anything from your first offseason (after 2017) and try to incorporate it to this past one a little bit better?
I did. I think the biggest thing I learned over the first offseason was how long it actually is. In my first offseason, I wanted to get in the weight room and start hitting and try to push as hard as I could. But then you realize that that there are five or six months in an offseason, and you need to give your body some time to rest and need to work into things, work on your flexibility. It’s not always about getting in there and just pounding the weights and trying to hit right away.
The biggest thing for me this past offseason was doing some yoga. Just getting my body feeling good again, and getting in a good spot going forward so that when I was ready to start pressing forward with the weights and hitting, my body is in the best spot possible.
That was the biggest adjustment, just understanding how long the offseason was and how it wasn’t necessarily a sprint but kind of a marathon to get your body ready for Game 1.
Speaking of that marathon, how do you continue to keep your body right in-season? Especially when you might have a chance to play two doubleheaders in three days, or you might go seven games in seven days. How do you keep your body intact for all of that?
The biggest thing is picking your days to push it in the weight room, depending on how your body feels, or being able to lay back a little bit. You really need to understand how your body works and what your body needs on that specific day. You have to pick days when you’re feeling good to go in the weight room and try to keep your strength steady the whole season. The days you’re really not feeling good, make sure you go in and stretch and try to get yourself ready to go at 7 p.m. best as possible. I wish you could say every day you’re going to feel 100%, but you won’t, and you have to learn how to get yourself as close to 100% every single day.
When Eloy Jiménez got his extension earlier this year, a lot was made about nutrition because Rick Hahn came out and said that the White Sox really wanted to see him eat better. You have a professional baseball father, which probably helps in that department, knowing what to do each and every day. Is there any kind of nutritionist that you have, or a nutritional plan that the organization implemented?
I wouldn’t say a nutritional plan, but you have to be conscious of what you eat, especially playing every night at 7 p.m. and getting done late at night. It is really important to watch what you eat and have a plan set. The White Sox do a really good job in terms of giving us food that we can eat before and after the games that can fuel our bodies but fuel them in the right ways. It’s really important to stay on top of; the biggest thing for minor league players is get up early and get a breakfast in them, try to get your day started early. You know, it is very easy to wake up at noon and head straight to the ballpark. That’s the tough part of the game, just the schedule we have. You definitely need to stay on top of it. If not, it is really easy to lose or gain a lot of weight, depending on your schedule.
I saw a tweet by ex-minor leaguer Eric Sim @esim3400, and he was kind of confused as to why you play only day games in Arizona during the spring, then go straight into the minor league season when you’re playing at night all the time. Can you adjust quickly to that?
I mean honestly, that’s a good point. I would definitely like to play some night games before we get out here [in-season] because there is an adjustment to seeing the pitching and the way the pitches look [at night], not having natural light; there is a difference. There is an adjustment period, and [a transition] would be beneficial. I know some organizations do play at night in spring training. I wouldn’t be opposed to doing some of that. There definitely is an adjustment, but I don’t think it takes too long; maybe after the first week, you should be acclimated back to playing at night. But in the first couple games, there’s definitely an adjustment.
For 2019, has the organization given you any specific goals or thresholds that you need to get to? Or do you come up with your own goals to achieve by season’s end?
The organization hasn’t given me any goals. But in terms of myself the biggest goal is to be the same complete hitter I was last year but have the power numbers rise a little bit, and have the home run numbers rise as well. Increase the power, but keep the [batting] average and every part of that from last year the same. If I can do that, it puts me in a really good spot going forward. It can just make me an all-around good hitter, and at the end of the day that’s my goal: To be an all-around pure hitter, not just a power guy, and not just an average hitter.
Is there anything about fielding at first base you were looking to improve on this upcoming season, or anything the organization wanted you to do specifically?
Defense, especially for first basemen, is very underrated, and I take a lot of pride in it. If I could go the whole season without making an error, that would definitely be my goal. I think I had three or four last year, and to be able to cut that number down in half would be a tremendous season. I take a lot of pride in the way I play first base, and if I’m not swinging it well I still want to be an asset defensively. In terms of how many errors or whatever, I’m not sure I have a goal there. If I could go the whole season without making an error, that would be tremendous. It is just to be an asset on defense even when I’m not swinging the bat well, a guy who makes the other infielders better just because they have that confidence that wherever they throw it to me, I’ll pick it for them or pick them up in any way possible.
First base is unique thing in White Sox history, especially over the past couple of decades. The White Sox have gone from Frank Thomas, a Hall-of-Famer, to Paul Konerko and now Jose Abreu, both franchise greats. Obviously, José is still here, but, you’re next in line for that spot. Has that ever crossed your mind, that there’s a lot of pressure to live up to, or have you been able to collect your thoughts and just be the guy you want to be?
Obviously, I know the great history we have at first base. To be able to hopefully replace Jose Abreu one day would be incredible. I mean, he’s such an incredible player. I love going out and watching him hit in spring training, and just watching the way he attacks every day. He has a plan, and the way he attacks the cages and the tee work, it’s fun to watch.
But in terms of feeling pressure, I don’t really feel pressure from it. I just kind of want to be Gavin Sheets, and whatever happens from there happens. The last three first basemen the White Sox have had are pretty incredible. To hopefully be able to follow up that, and have half the careers those guys have had, would be tremendous. But I don’t put too much pressure on myself about replacing those guys.
Do you ever think, wow, I kind of want to be better than my dad at this?
Absolutely. That would be a dream come true, to be able to do that, and obviously I would like to rag on him a little bit if I got to the point. But we have a great relationship, so we have a lot of fun with it. To even be able to play eight years in the big leagues like he did would be a dream come true. If I could have his career, or better, that would be awesome. But if I had a better career than him, I would definitely have to let him know.
Whether it’s over spring training, or anything on a rehab assignment, have you had any notable experiences with the current major league guys?
Honestly, I haven’t. I got to go to Sox Fest in 2018 and it was a blast being around those guys, being around Bo Jackson and getting to meet Frank Thomas and all those guys. In terms of being around them in a playing aspect, I really haven’t had that opportunity as much. I know some of the guys off the field, and what a great group of guys we have at the big-league level.
I think that everybody in this organization feels the excitement for the team and for our prospects. It’s exciting to see the relationships that we have with those big-league guys off the field, and how relatable and young they are. It is a really exciting time for Chicago.
Because you have gone up the ranks with a few guys at the same time, do you have somebody that you room with all the time, or a really good friend so far?
Blake Rutherford and I have been roommates all the way. I was roommates with [Jake] Burger, but since Winston-Salem, and even on road trips, Blake and I have been roommates. We’ve gotten extremely close over time. In spring training, my roommates were Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins, and Blake. We have a really close bond.
That’s something the White Sox have done really well, the relationships that they help form. The guys that they’ve brought in, I don’t think there’s a closer minor league system than the White Sox, and props to the White Sox for the way they’ve run everything and the people they’ve brought in.
Whether somebody in the White Sox organization or any pitcher in general, is there someone you’ve come across where you thought, wow, I can’t hit this right now?
That’s a really easy question: Dylan Cease. The stuff he has is big-league stuff, and I can’t wait to see him get in the big leagues and see what he will do against the best hitters in the game. His stuff is incredible, and I’d love for him to win a Cy Young here soon because I think he has that kind of stuff.
You have frequented Twitch before, have you had any kind of notable interactions with fans either on Twitch, Twitter, or other social media?
None that I can remember, but Jake Burger does a really good job of getting on the Twitch and using social media to reach out to people. I’m close with Jake, and he’s brought me on a couple times for video games. We’ve had a blast going on there and playing, whether it’s Fortnite or NHL it’s always fun to go out and do that, interact with the fans any way possible. To let them get inside and see what we’re like off the field, you know, just having fun and playing video games. That’s always fun, and Jake does a really good job with that, especially through his rehab process, to still have fun with the fans and let them into our lives off the field. I’m always down for social media interactions and just having fun. I have a blast with that, and I always enjoy it.
Follow Gavin Sheets on Twitter @cleansheets24