As part of our in-person visits to the White Sox affiliates, we've been interviewing players and managers along the way. I was at CMC-Northeast Stadium in Kannapolis with the Intimidators on May 3rd, and you can read our in-depth game and scouting report here. I had the opportunity to chat with seven prospects, and got some great first-person views from these players.
Q: The White Sox talked about being "careful" with you this year, given your youth and being in full season ball. Can you tell us what that means specifically, as you've seen it so far?
A: They [White Sox] didnt detail it too much to me. Everyone said they were going to limit... kind of keep me slow right now. I don't think I've thrown over 65 pitches all year. They said they're trying to build my arm up because it's a long season, and it's going to be a wear and tear on my body. They're just trying to keep my arm stronger, that way I won't have any injuries. They haven't said I'm on an inning limit. Right now I'm just trying to throw as many strikes as I can, and last as long as I can in the game.
Q: Is there anything specific, such as certain pitches or approach, that the team wants you to focus on right now?
A: Right now I'm just trying to work on staying tall and staying back, and keeping the ball down in the zone. I think that's been a problem right now, is I've been leaving the ball up a little bit too much, and that's when I start to get in trouble. That's usually when anybody gets hit hard.
Q: On the flip side, what do you think your greatest strength is right now as a pitcher?
A: I guess being young always helps. They [youth] have more time to mature. That's going to give me more time to get better, and help me in the long run. And the team here is going to support me.
Q: You're having a lot of success this year so far. Is there anything you feel you're doing differently, compared to last year?
A: Oh yeah, a lot. Keeping the ball down, throwing more strikes, staying back over the rubber, and staying tall. Not leaning and falling back like I was last year. Those were all things I worked on last year and in spring training this year, and they're working a lot better this year.
Q: We've read reports that your fastball velocity is up a couple ticks from last year. Do you feel that is a mechanical change, or strength and conditioning, or some other factor?
A: Yeah definitely. I feel a lot healthier than I was last year. My arm is a lot stronger, all the stuff I did in the offseason to get stronger. They've said I've been a couple clicks faster.
Q: What are you working on right now primarily, development-wise?
A: Hitting my spots mostly. When I've given up hits, the ball was on the middle instead of inside, or outside.
Q: You and Andre Wheeler were in a tandem starting arrangement last year, which is unusual in the White Sox organization. Can you tell us how you felt about that, and if you felt it worked for you?
A: It helped with the getting strength going. It was kind of weird starting one day and then coming out of the bullpen my next start. My mindset was a little different. But they did that because I was hurt in 2013, so they were trying to build my innings up, and get me used to being a starter for this season. I had shoulder problems in 2013, just overuse, not taking care of it, but not too bad. I feel a lot better now, and healthier.
Q: Which do you feel is harder as a catcher - developing at the catching position, or hitting progressively tougher pro pitching?
A: Probably putting the two together. The more you catch, the more worn down you can get. I got a little taste of that last year in my first season. Got here and felt good for the first month, then towards the end it really hit me. It's a little different now, you're sleeping on air mattresses and you're sleeping five in a three-bedroom. It was a little different in college. The physical demands behind the plate are tough.
Q: Have you gotten to spend any time with some of the more experienced catchers in the organization, like the MLB guys or even more higher level minor league guys? Learned anything from them?
A: It was actually pretty cool. In spring training, we were just waiting around, and Geovany Soto came over. We had a Q&A with him for about 15 minutes. We picked his brain on his setup, what he does when he's blocking pitches, a little bit of the game-calling aspect. He's a really intelligent guy and we learned a lot from him.
Q: Most draftees don't go straight to full season ball out of college, but you were one of the them last year. How dramatic is the difference in the quality of the pitching you're facing?
A: I would say the best guys in the ACC were just as good if not better than some of the guys we face here. But they guys you see from the bullpen are hands-down, ten times better than what you see in college. On a consistent basis everybody is good, everybody throws hard. So that was a big adjustment, was learning how to hit velocity. The pitchers here are better more consistently.
Q: A lot of fans don’t know much about you yet. Can you tell us about your pitch repertoire?
A: I like to attack the zone with my fastball. So far this season my change-up has been working better than any time before in my career. That’s my second best pitch. Right now that’s my one-two pitch[es], my fastball and change-up.
Q: How is the transition to life in the United States so far?
A: It’s very calming, I feel welcome. I’m very happy living here and love how I feel here in this atmosphere.
Q: What are you focusing most on improving right now?
A: One thing I definitely want to improve is attacking the bottom of the zone. Most of my issues happen when I leave the ball up in the zone. That’s where I get into trouble.
Q: How much difference do you see between the hitters in rookie league (AZL and Great Falls) and full-season ball (Kannapolis)?
A: Definitely the discipline is a lot from rookie league to here. There are a lot of free swingers in the rookie league. Here they are a lot more disciplined at the plate. They are out there to hit. So I have to attack the zone.
Q: Last fall in Instructs, we saw multiple reports of increased velocity, possibly due to some mechanical changes. Can you tell us a little about that?
A: Not really a mechanical change, I think there was just some physical maturity. I went into my senior year throwing a little bit harder than I was the year before, and it just kept going based on that. I was able to be more consistently firm with my pitches. I think also, after I was drafted, I was just coming out of the pen solely so there were less pitches per outing. So I was just able to maintain those higher velocities.
Q: Speaking of starting versus relieving, are you aware of any sort of plan regarding if you’ll be starting again in the future or staying in the bullpen?
A: I don’t really know. Last year at Instructs, it was mentioned briefly, possibly being a starter. They just needed to see what fit in where, and where I fit into all that. Right now I’m enjoying the pen.
Q: Have you worked with Don Cooper at all? Because he mentioned you over the offseason.
A: No, not really. The last week of Instructs last fall he was there and saw a bunch of us throw. He had some brief comments here and there, but as far as actual work with him goes.
Q: Any goals for this year?
A: Just want to keep seeing improvements. The way I see it, if I can finish the year at High A [Winston-Salem], being a first year guy I feel like that would be a pretty good accomplishment.
Louie Lechich, OF
Q: As you’re new to the system, is there a particular outfield position you prefer playing?
A: Well I came up playing center field in my college career. The first time I’d played right field, in a long time, was last year when I started playing for Great Falls. I’m actually getting pretty comfortable out there. In college I used to think I couldn’t play left and right. It was just the angle of the ball and the spin on it. But like anything, once you play it and work out there for a while it becomes a little more routine. So I’ve been pretty comfortable out in right.
Q: You were at Cal for a year at the same time with Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien. Are you still in touch with those two at all?
A: I’ll occasionally shoot a text to both of them. When I got drafted I talked with both of them. I actually hung out with Puma – that’s what we called him [Johnson] back at Cal – a little bit in spring training because he was there. And obviously keeping tabs on Marcus over in Oakland.
Q: Is there anything specific you’re working on right now development-wise?
A: Everything. I want to work on all facets of the game. Hitting-wise, all facets of that. And just getting used to the routine. Everyone says you’re going to hit a wall, it’s going to be a grind. I don’t tell them ‘no’, but in the back of my head I’m thinking, I wake up every day with the same feeling. I’m excited to go to the ballpark. It’s fun. I enjoy going out there and doing all the pre-game stuff, and then getting into the game and playing. Hopefully that continues to be my mindset for the next, oh, 15 years.
Q: What are you most proud of, in terms of your baseball skills at this point?
A: I take a lot of pride in my defense. That started in college. Playing in center field, you’re kind of the admiral of the outfield. You can control a lot out there. I take pride in being able to make catches. If a guy makes good contact and I can save a run, or save a double, or throwing a guy out at a base is always fun. I’ve told people, I’d rather rob a home run than hit a home run.
Brad Salgado, RHP
Q: What is the back story with you making the transition from position player to pitcher? And whose idea was it?
A: It started as a suggestion. Leading up to it, I’d played for 3-plus years. And because of what was happening, with some struggles as a hitter, we just decided that it might be a good idea to try. I was onboard with it, and I was excited.
Q: Has anything changed from last year to this year, being back at Class A but with more pitching under your belt?
A: Last year I came in and wanted to just throw a lot of strikes. I wanted to have command of every pitch, and just be aggressive. This year I’m starting to feel more like a pitcher. I’m feeling all my pitches, I can place them differently, and feel like I can get more outs than I could just putting the ball over the plate and letting guys hit it.
Q: Being still fairly new to pitching, what are you throwing regularly right now in terms of types of pitches?
A: I have a 4-seam fastball, a 2-seam fastball, a change-up and a slider. This year I’ve been throwing mostly 2-seams. Last year, like I said earlier, I just wanted to throw a lot of strikes, just get the 4-seam over and let guys put the ball in play. Just to give myself a chance and give the team a chance. Now I’ve been working all offseason and this year with the 2-seams with a little more depth, try to get more ground balls, and it’s been working. It’s always a work in progress.
Q: Do you ever missing hitting at all?
A: Some days when they’re out there banging and hitting it over the fence, yeah. Certainly. I sure do, even infield stuff. Guys are out there running around taking ground balls.
Q: That leads to my last question, which is, do you think that having been an infielder before helps your defense while pitching, and adds value to your presence on the mound?
A: Definitely. Even when I follow through naturally in my pitching motion, my position is ready as a fielder. So I feel like I’m an extra, fifth infielder. And I have made some plays out there, that maybe some other pitchers wouldn’t get to. I do feel confident with the timing of a play developing, with just fielding the ball and making good throws. Being an infielder definitely helped me there.
***Thanks to the players for taking the time, Josh Feldman for setting these up, and Eddy Alvarez for the translation help!
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