As part of our tour of the minor league affiliates, we've been interviewing prospects and coaches along the way. I was in Kannapolis on August 23rd, and you can read that game report article as well, which includes some videos and analysis.
But before the game, I had the privilege of speaking with several White Sox prospects currently playing for the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators, as well as their manager, Tommy Thompson. Below are some of the highlights...
***UPDATE: The FutureSox interview lucky charm strikes again! Just hours after interviewing RHP Brad Goldberg, he was promoted to A+ Winston-Salem. He joins Marcus Semien and Micah Johnson as prospects who were promoted within a few days of us interviewing them for the site this year. Coincidence? I think not.
Jacob May, OF (2013 3rd round pick)
Q: When you were drafted, many of the scouting reports focused on your athleticism, speed and defense, but so far this year you’ve shown some power at the plate as well. Is that something you are working on adding to your game?
A: Not really, I still think my athleticism and speed is the main part of my game, like I’ve been showing here. With solid contact you’re going to run into a few, and get some extra base hits. I think I’m physical enough that I can develop a little bit of power, but that’s not something I’m going to focus on. I’m a top of the lineup type of guy, table-setter, that’s going to steal bags. Doubles, triples, home runs they come and go. But that will help the team for sure.
Q: Speaking of speed, you’ve already got 18 stolen bases. Do you have a specific technique you use, and has that changed from what you did in college?
A: I don’t think its really changed. We really beared down on it in college. Its about paying attention to the game. Even when you’re in the dugout, a lot of times pitchers will fall into tendencies in terms of their tempo, when they deliver, what might be moving before they go the plate. You just have to focus on the pitcher, and try to pick up any key things that you can use as an advantage to get a good jump.
Q: Playing in the outfield, is there a specific position there you prefer to play, or feel most comfortable with?
A: I definitely like center, there’s a lot of room to cover out there. Through the years that’s where I’ve been playing most of my games at. But I’m not opposed to left or right either, it comes to where the team needs me. I feel I can impact the team in any of those positions, but right now I do feel pretty comfortable in center.
Brad Goldberg, RHP (2013 10th round pick)
Q: When you were drafted, the phrase “power pitcher” was used to describe your stuff. But one thing that has stood out with your performance thus far, is that your control has been very good. Are you doing anything differently than you were in college?
A: I feel real healthy for the first time in a while. I feel really good, just attacking guys, getting ahead. Curt Hasler, the pitching coordinator, said get ahead. So I’ve just been trying to abide.
Q: So what are you throwing now in your current bullpen role?
A: I’m going to work off my fastball for sure, try to get ahead. Then from there, if people will chase, that’s great. If not, I’ll just continue to attack you. I use my velocity to my advantage, but I have confidence in my secondary stuff as well.
Q: Do you have a preference between starting and relieving, or is there one role you feel more comfortable in than another?
A: Wherever they put me, I’ll adapt. Its all pitching to me.
Tim Anderson, SS (2013 1st round pick)
Q: When the White Sox drafted you, was that a surprise, or did you know ahead of time who was likely to pick you?
A: It was exciting. I didn’t really know where I was gonna go when it happened. When my agent texted me, I was excited about it. I really didn’t know where I would land.
Q: How has the transition to pro ball been? What are some of the challenging aspects of going from school to pro ball?
A: One of the first things is, I don’t have to worry about classes anymore. I heard about it, it’s a grind, which it really is. I’m just getting used to playing every day, and being out in the heat every day.
Q: Fans read the box scores, and one of the things people have noticed is that on the defensive end of the ball, the errors have dropped off noticeably as you’ve played more. Are there any specific things you’ve been doing to improve? Any coaches you have been working with on it?
A: I work with our infield instructor, and just really focused on defense.
Tyler Danish, RHP (2013 2nd round pick)
Q: What are some of the changes you've made to your approach since coming into pro ball?
A: The strike zone. Its plate to plate, not two balls off the plate, that’s something big. Also you can’t miss spots here, you’re going to get hit hard if you miss your spot. So that’s something I’m working on, just hitting spots.
Q: You are on a limited innings regimen, because you’ve been throwing since the spring. Are there any specific things they have you focused on in those limited innings, beyond the hitting spots you mentioned? Any adjustments?
A: Right now they’re just getting me used to everything, used to the starting role. Next year they want me to start, so, just me doing the starting on my turn, sidelines on day two… so I think its just getting used to pro ball instead of high school and not throwing every day. And just getting used to the atmosphere.
Q: Were you surprised when you were promoted to A-ball, or was that something you knew about ahead of time?
A: When I was first drafted, the guy who drafted me told me it was a possibility if I threw well. But once it got to two weeks left, I was thinking, I’m close to my innings here. But I feel great to have the opportunity to come to class A, soak everything in. I was surprised, but if feels really good to be up here.
Q: Could you tell me, from your perspective, how you look at your repertoire of pitches? What’s your bread and butter?
A: Its definitely my fastball. I mean, the ball moves so much, there are so many different reactions from hitters. It gets me ground balls, everything counts, its just my go-to pitch. Even in those pressure situations.
Keon Barnum, 1B (2012 1st round supplemental pick)
Q: You’ve missed some time last year and this year due to injuries, which can be tough to work through. Is there anything in particular you were doing to stay sharp while you weren’t on the field?
A: Just try to watch a lot of games, watch a lot of what’s going on. Then did my rehab, and just try to get back out there. The rehab can be pretty tough.
Q: Now you’re back to playing, and you’ve been hitting well lately and making solid contact. Are you doing anything differently?
A: Just trying to stay patient and look for a good pitch to hit. You only get one, so you just have to be patient with it, and wait for that one good one to hit.
Adam Lopez, RHP (2012 21st round pick)
Q: You’ve recently transitioned to starting, which seems to suit you well so far. Do you enjoy starting, as opposed to relieving? Do you feel more comfortable with one role or the other?
A: When you get down to it, it’s the exact same job, to get guys out. Either way you look at it, it’s the same thing, one is just doing it for longer. Whatever gets you to the top fastest is what matters to me.
Q: Can you give us a run-down of your pitches, what you like to throw, what you like to lean on?
A: Out of the of the pen I was mostly a fastball-slider guy, but now that I’m starting, I’ve started to use a change-up a lot more. I throw it a lot to righties, but I can throw it to pretty much any guy. It helps me get through games.
Q: Is there any specific guidance you’ve gotten on going from relieving to starting? Any changes you’ve made beyond adding the change-up?
A: A lot more fastballs and early contact outs. Because out of the pen you can spin sliders all you want, to strike a guy out. But you can’t really do that as a starter, you’ve got to keep the pitch count low so you can go deeper in games. That’s the only difference really.
Stew Brase, RHP (NDFA signee, 2011)
Q: So last night, you made a nifty defensive play to close out a win. As a pitcher, how much focus do you put on the defensive end of your game?
A: We do pitchers’ fielding practice, about once every two weeks. We just go over every situation that might come up, whether its pickoffs, bunt defense, making plays on ground balls, covering first. So we do work on it, its really important. Like last night, I could have botched that play, and it could have been a tie game. You think about it, but not as much as the command on your fastball or anything like that.
Q: As a side-armer, your pitch action is going to be a little different than what other pitchers might throw. How would you describe the difference, in the bounds of what you throw?
A: I would say, I’m a sinker-slider guy, but the slider’s more of a Frisbee type, where its more straight across and a little bigger. I had a change up, but, this is my first year really with the sidearm stuff. Last year it was over the top, but now it’s a work in progress from the side. They want me to stick with the same sidearm slot, to learn it.
Q: What do you think are the most important things to teach the younger players?
A: One, that we’re all blessed to be here. God has blessed you with talent, the skills. We’re doing things we enjoy doing, or should enjoy, and possibly to make a living out of it. Anybody can be a doctor or a lawyer, not everybody can be a professional baseball player. I think one of the biggest things here is, respect the game of baseball. Respect your teammates. Be a good teammate. One of the first things when a new guys comes, is respect the game, play the game hard, be a good teammate, be on time. If you have any problem, don’t hesitate to call 24/7. If we can help you in anyway, things that happen in life off the field, your family, your girlfriend, your lifestyle, things like that.
Being coachable is very important. A lot of these kids in this locker room were the best where they came from, and a lot of coaches didn’t coach. They just let these guys play. But now the level of competition continually gets better, and they have to make adjustments. As instructors, managers, its our job to help them through those, talk to them about the speed of the game, how it continually gets better. Defense, pitching, they begin to scout you, have a book on you. What your strengths and weaknesses are.
It’s a process. It starts a lot more than from rookie ball, where they’re just learning to be a professional athlete. Here they plan a hundred and forty games for the first time ever. They’re away from home, they have to eat right, sleep right. I can’t say its babysitting, but its watching over them in a way to help them. You don’t go home to your own bed, you don’t go home to a home-cooked meal. You have to be more responsible and more accountable. Some of them just haven’t been there, no matter where they come from. And they come from everywhere.
Q: Some of the players pursue their education here too, right?
A: Definitely. We always… your degree, education, you can always lean back on that. This career is temporary. It can last as long as, hopefully, you can last. Everybody in that locker room will be released eventually; by the White Sox, another team, you release yourself, or an injury, your age, or the speed of the game just passes you by. Happens to everyone.
Q: As a minor league manager, you have both the prototypical manager's role of trying to win, and the role of developing players for the majors. Do these priorities sometimes conflict? How do you balance them?
A: Well it is a balance. But the White Sox are a development-first organization, so that has to take priority every time. I do think you can develop players, and win games along the way, and have fun with it.
Q: Trying to paint a picture of what it is like here in a minor league club house… do you have a funny story about something that happens here, that maybe you wouldn’t see somewhere else?
A: One of my jobs is to want them to come back the next day, and have fun. Part of that, more in baseball than anything else, the camaraderie of joking, getting on each other, is a big part of the game. We have a Kangaroo Court here. One someone does something silly or stupid, we put them in the “box”, we have a court, a judicial system, and they are fined accordingly. For me that is one of the funnest thing, is to go out and listen to what these guys are doing. Most of these things happen in the clubhouse or on the field. I don’t want to get too detailed, I’ll be honest.
But these guys are 18 to 24, and this is their first time away from home, first full season. Its amazing, the things that can happen in that room [locker room], over the course of 6-7 months.
Q: From your career in baseball, are there any particular people, other coaches or players, that you draw some influence from?
A: Definitely. Jonny Sain, when I was with the Braves. Tremendous person, coach, pitching instructor. Bobby Dews and Leo Mazzone , with the Braves. Life lessons, on and off the field: never forget you once played the game, as a manager and a coach. Remember that it is just a game, life is life. Things happen, and you need to be there for these guys 24/7.
Big thanks to Josh Feldman, Tommy Thompson and the rest of the players and staff with the Kannapolis Intimidators for taking the time to talk with FutureSox!