As part of our tour of the minor league affiliates, we've been interviewing prospects and coaches along the way. I was in Winston-Salem on August 24th, and you can read that game report article as well, which includes several videos and some analysis.
But before the game, I had the privilege of speaking with several White Sox prospects currently playing for the Class A Advanced Winston-Salem Dash, as well as their manager, Ryan Newman. Here are some of the highlights...
Micah Johnson, 2B (2012 9th round pick)
Q: You were promoted not long ago to Advanced A. What differences do you see between the leagues, in terms of pitchers you face?
A: Not much difference. They throw the same pitches, have the same stuff. Guys throw more strikes, that’s really the main difference. A little more refined.
Q: Your lead-off and base-stealing technique was brought up in some articles earlier this year, particularly your walking lead. Have you made any changes to that since going up a level?
A: Pretty much doing the same thing. I’m not sure what happened but, at one point in the season, my leads started getting shorter at first, which sometimes made for closer plays at second. Umpires aren’t always the best at this level. Sometimes you get caught, or you just get thrown out, my leads got so short. So, more lately now since I got here, catchers, guys are a lot better here. So you’ve got to get a big lead, and that’s what I’ve been working on. Just getting a bigger lead. Still doing the walking lead.
Q: Any goals as you finish out the year?
A: Just having good at-bats, I think I’ve been having some really got at-bats lately. I know I haven’t been hitting it as well as I had been. But at the same time, I’ve had good approaches, seeing pitches, laying off bad pitches. I haven’t been striking out much. I haven’t been hitting everything I want to, which just happens. But as long as my approach to finish the season, that’s what I’m mainly concerned about.
Q: Are you going to Arizona in the fall, for AFL or instructs?
A: I think AFL, I’m pretty sure. That’s what they said the other day.
Courtney Hawkins, OF (2012 1st round pick)
Q: So, since it doesn’t involve back flips anymore, what do you like to do when you aren’t at the field?
A: Basically just relax. That’s it, just relax. Get my head ready for the next day.
Q: When you think about your future, do you have a picture in mind of where you want to be in a year, or two years?
A: Yeah, I used to. Used to. I mean, the goal is to get to the big leagues. But at the same time, just kind of taking stuff day by day now. Not worrying about everything else. One at bat at a time, play by play, pitch by pitch. Just trying to take stuff day by day, instead of getting ahead of myself.
Q; Is there anything specific they have you working on, or focused on, right now? Any certain coaches you’ve been working with?
A: No, its just kind of been the same thing. I’ve been putting the bat on the ball lately, and just keep doing what I’ve been doing. Nothing’s really been changing too much.
Kevan Smith, C (2011 7th round pick)
Q: Being a catcher, do you find the defensive and pitcher-handling aspects of the game more challenging than the hitting?
A: I think that’s one of the biggest challenges being a catcher, is being able to separate the two. Not allowing your at-bats go into defense. If I go o-for-four with three strike-outs, I can’t let that effect my pitch calling, or how I handle the players on the field. I’m pretty much the captain out there, and its my job to control what’s going on, control the tempo. Its hard to say which one is harder. I think hitting is one of the hardest things to do in sports. I mean, so many people don’t want to be catchers, but everybody wants to hit. If was that easy, everybody would do it.
Q: There was a quote I saw recently, about a catcher in the MLB All Star Game, saying that catching all these great pitchers was like test-driving different expensive sports cars. In that vein, is there a particular pitcher you catch or have caught that is especially fun for you to catch?
A: There’s all sorts of guys. Guys that are fun, guys that are difficult, there’s guys who think they’re throwing one pitch and it’s a different pitch. I really enjoyed catching Chris Beck, who just got up to Birmingham. Him and I, we communicated well, we always knew what the other was thinking. He had four really great pitches, where we knew when all four were on, he was dominating. I think he was only the second guy to throw a complete game here in Winston-Salem. So, I felt great when he got moved up, because you kind of feel like part of it. Its always great to see those pitchers move up, and I take pride in that.
Q: So that sounds almost like a coaching type relationship.
A: Exactly. Its my job to keep them calm, keep them confident out there. Whatever I have to do to get them through those tough innings that they hit every once in a while, that’s what I take pride in. That’s what the White Sox like to see us do. To see how we can handle a pitching staff, even though guys are moving up and down, and we’re always getting new guys every week. So, like you said, its kind of like trying out a new car. Just have to get a feel for them, see how they handle. If you need to yell at them, or be nice to them, or pump them up a certain way. They’re all different in their own special way.
Joey DeMichele, INF (2012 3rd round pick)
Q: So, you’ve been red-hot in August. Are there any adjustments you’ve made that you feel got you to that point?
A: I think, going throughout the year, there’s a ton of little adjustments you should make. One team’s pitching you a certain way. But it’s a matter of being consistent. Its important to be the same player, every game, especially when you play the game every day like we do.
Q: You’ve been moved over to shortstop, at least for the time being. How has the transition been to short from second?
A: It’s been difficult, it’s a brand new position. Totally different angles and different throws. But for the most part, it’s a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say shortstop is my big league position, but you know, I’m happy to do that for the team.
Q: Where do you want to be a year from now?
A: Obviously you’d like to move up the ladder, up the minor leagues. Next year hopefully Double A, the year after that Triple A. That’s the way it usually progresses. But if you start looking too far into the future, you might get in trouble in the present. So, just taking it day by day, trying to get better.
Mike Recchia, RHP (NDFA, signed this year)
Q: Do you feel like your background, coming in out of Indy ball as opposed to the draft, changes your approach or gives you any extra motivation?
A: Basically it feels all the same. Pitching is pitching. You got out there, just got to do it, have fun with it. If you can execute pitches, then you can pitch wherever you need to pitch. That’s just how I feel about it. As long as you’re out there getting the job done, then anything can happen.
Q: Being new to the organization, people want to know what you throw. How would you describe your pitch set?
A: I like to see myself as a bulldog. I throw four pitches, I like to attack hitters. I don’t like to beat around the bush. I’m going to come right at you with my best stuff. I get a reputation for hard, hard, harder. I just want to get out there and break your bat, strike you out. I hate getting hit, hate giving up runs. Its fastball, curveball, slider, change-up for my pitches. Change-up, like for everybody, you can have a dominant one, or a work-in-progress one. I’m still working on mine, getting comfortable with it. My curveball, that’s one of my solid pitches. My slider gets me over for strikes. My fastball isn’t super-overpowering, but I think I can get it up there a little bit. As long as you’re comfortable with those pitches, then just go out there and execute.
Q: Back to the indy ball, and the signing process. How did all that work? It is a process a lot of fans aren’t familiar with.
A: So, my coach told me, said he got an email from the White Sox, that they were going to come out and see me. I think he had to wait for like 8 hours, because we had one of those suspended games to finish, and we went like 18 innings. So I’m sitting in the clubhouse, then went out there the second game, and I threw really well. The next day I got a call, saying the White Sox were going to purchase the contract. Its not like getting drafted, its not one of those things. I never thought it was going to happen. After getting release by the Orioles, I figured… I’ll go play Indy ball, my kid just got born, this will be my last year. But then you know, it clicked again, changed a couple things in my delivery and the way I grip some pitches. I felt like I got a little stronger. And at work that day, my agent called, they said they were going to purchase it. You know, I grew up a White Sox fan, from the south side, Orland Park area. 15 minutes from the field.
Myles Jaye, RHP (17th round pick 2010, joined Sox 2012)
Q: You had a very strong performance in Kannapolis to start the year, were promoted up here to Winston-Salem, and you seem to be settling in here now as well. What changes did you make, if any, versus last season?
A: The big change I made from last year to this year is my arm angle. I dropped it down to a more ¾ slot, to get a little more sink on my fastball. I got hit around a lot last year. I hade the same stuff, its not like my stuff is better this year, its just that little arm angle change. That and the mental aspect of it. I try not to beat myself up as much up here.
Q: You came over from the Blue Jays organization. What differences do you see between the two systems?
A: On the field, its almost exactly the same. The only difference really is, the White Sox let you get after it in the weight room. The Blue Jays kind of monitored how much weight you were doing, and this and that. Other than that its pretty much the same.
Q: How do you go about using your pitches? How do you like to work?
A: I like to get ahead with my sinker, obviously. Throw change ups to keep them off my fastball. Then really put away with my slider, to righties and lefties. Mainly I just like to get early contact, so I can get deeper into games. I don’t care how many I strike out or how many I walk, its just all about getting to that sixth, seventh inning, eighth inning. Just quality starts.
Jake Cose, RHP (2011 27th round pick)
Q: You’ve put together a huge month, with one of the lowest ERA’s of any starter in the minors. Have you been doing anything differently?
A: I feel like my change-up was non-existent for a while. At the beginning of August I found that, got a pretty good feel for it. Overall, its just been throwing more strikes. Less walks than earlier on in the season with the Dash. I haven’t been worrying much about velocity, and just hitting corners, more than throwing hard. Just more strikes. Getting people to put the ball in play, just getting themselves out.
Q: How would you describe the difference in the hitters you are facing, in Advanced A versus A ball?
A: There’s not that much of a difference. Once people get drafted, everyone has that much power. Even in rookie ball, there are people just hitting tanks. So its not a difference of power, its just that the hitters have a better eye. They’re more patient. They’re better in hitters counts.
Q: Now I’ll ask you the standard question we’ve asked most of the pitchers… can you give us a run-down of your pitch repertoire?
A: OK, four-seam, two-seam, change-up, slider, and cutter. I’ve been kind of changing my slider into a little more of a loopy slider, almost like a slurve. Transitioning more to the curve, because I developed the cutter, and its been pretty good.
Q: On that topic, I know you changed your arm angle last year. But is it always the same, or do you change it pitch to pitch?
A: It kind of depends on the count. Every once in a while, I’ll try to come way up top. Or when I want to get a little more action on my slider, especially with a righty, I’ll drop down even more. So I still use a broad range of motions.
Chris Curley, INF (NDFA, signed with Sox 2012)
Q: As one of the more experienced players on the team, do you feel like you take on more of a leadership or mentorship type role? And do you enjoy being in that position?
A: Yeah, I’d say to some extent I do. We have a little bit older team, so they know what they’re doing. But to a certain extent, yes. I do like doing that. I had guys who taught me when I was younger, and I’m trying to do the same.
Q: Staying on that topic, were there any particular players who had that kind of influence on you, especially when you were younger?
A: You know, Jeremy Farrell, on this team. I’ve learned a ton from him this year. He’s done a lot for me.
Q: You’ve played all over the infield, played all the skill positions. Do you have a position you prefer to play, or are more comfortable with?
A: I enjoy short the most, just because you’re in every play. I’m more comfortable at third, but I’d say I like short the best.
Mark Haddow, OF (2011 24th round pick)
Q: You missed some time this season after getting hit in the hand with a pitch. What was rehab like, and what did you do to try to stay sharp?
A: It was more, finding a way to not go crazy, being on the DL. I was on there for seven weeks. A lot of cardio, trying to stay in shape, worked out a lot. I did as much as I could, which wasn’t a lot of stuff, because of creating pressure on my hand. A lot of leg stuff. Just wanted to be able to be in a position [where] when I did come back, there wasn’t a lot of lag time. So it was come back and go. Because I wasn’t waiting for a muscle to do anything, I was just waiting for the bone to fuse back together. So I just wanted to hit the ground running when I came back.
Q: Looking at your game, in terms of offense versus defense. Is there one aspect or the other you take particular pride in, or spend more time focusing on?
A: I take pride in both, to be honest. Obviously, hitting is the thing everybody is watching at all times. But at the same time, you have to be sound defensively. That’s the team position; you’re protecting you’re protecting your pitcher, you’re protecting everybody else. So that’s just as important.
Q: As a minor league manager, your job has a certain duality. There is the standard managerial role of winning games, and then there is the job of developing future major leaguers. How do you handle the balance, and potentially the conflict, between those two things?
A: There’s definitely a balance. The White Sox are a development-first organization. We’re here to help these players get to the next level and eventually to Chicago where they can help the team up there. But, if we do it the right way, if we play the game fundamentally sound, if we teach these kids the right way to go about their business, that will translate on the field to wins. In a way it goes hand in hand, but there are decisions made in the game where, say, if you’re trying to win a game you may try something different such as bunting a guy over. But we like to let these guys learn how to hit in certain situations, drive in runs and hit with guys in scoring position. That’s what we’re here for, we’re here to get these guys to the next level, and eventually to Chicago.
Q: What are some things you do, to try to keep the guys in the clubhouse loose?
A: I try to keep a pretty relaxed clubhouse. I tell them at the beginning of the year, you know, this is their clubhouse, their home for the next five and a half months. So, that family that we are in there, we’re going to get tired of each other at times. But we like to keep it exciting and loose. There are games being played, we have a playstation in there, we even set up soccer tournaments. Really its their home, their clubhouse, and they finds all kids of ways to be competitive in there.
Q: What are some of the important lessons you feel that you and your coaches can impart on your players, both on and off the field?
A: Be prepared. Show up every day ready to compete. Handle your business. These guys, we talk to them a lot, [saying] a lot of people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. In a long season like this it’s a grind, especially here in August – this is the tough part of the season. You’ve got to come out here, do the work and finish strong. Not only on the field, but in life, in the offseason too. If for some reason you’re not able to do this the rest of your career, you take that from here into some other job. Just show up every day ready to work.
Many thanks to Mr. Newman, all the players we interviewed, Brian Boesch and everyone else who helped us with these interviews in Winston-Salem!