Friday afternoon, us blogger scum got the chance to talk with White Sox Vice President and Director of Player Development, Buddy Bell. If there is a better guy to talk about White Sox prospects with than Bell...well, then he really should promote himself better.
Naturally, the conversation between Bell and the White Sox blogosphere was transcribed by Mark Primiano of South Side Sox, who is a pillar of his community and a credit to his race. His transcription should be read and digested.
Still, even hours and hours later, I thought it would be appropriate to offer some thoughts on the answers given by Bell. Once again, this will rely heavily on the transcription work of Mark.
On the subject of Baseball America's recent ranking of the White Sox as 20th in terms of developing talent over the past three years.
"To be honest with you, I'm really not sure how they come up with those things. I kind of feel the same way about the other rankings. I think you could put our record up with just about anyone for candidates for our major league club. I think we all feel good about where we're at in terms of development and things like that. I don't really have an answer for you except that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me."
This isn't a surprising reaction, and this honestly wasn't a format that lent itself to a detailed conversation about the criteria of the rankings. Like he did with a question about the Royals farm system later on, Bell could certainly point to draft position and free agent compensation as to why the Sox have had a weaker minor league crop. It doesn't really serve any purpose for Bell to concern himself with these types of rankings, so he doesn't.
On Jared Mitchell:
Quite frankly, we needed to see him being more aggressive. I think he's probably taking that to a different level than what we wanted, but we really wanted him to be more aggressive early in the count. He got himself in a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 situations last year and basically he was just being a little too sensitive about the strikezone.
He's coming into camp with a much better set-up. He's using his legs to help and he's done a lot of really good things. He's just about where we want him to be at this point in spring training. Now we're trying to decide where he belongs to start the season.
He wasn't ever 100% healthy last year. Is he better off going to Winston and going through that again or going to Birmingham to figure it out there. Jared is such a mentally tough kid and maybe the most competitive kid we have here right now and people don't understand how big of a deal that is to us. This kid cares so much and plays as hard as anyone. In some regards, he doesn't deserve to go to Birmingham. But at the same time, the way he came into camp this year, he does deserve it.
Bell has remained very positive on Mitchell throughout his struggles. It seems like the White Sox are split in their thinking between wanting to see a performance level warranting a promotion on Mitchell and their tremendous regard for him. Bell leans toward the latter, and said "numbers make absolutely zero matter to me", which isn't as worrisome as it sounds coming from a developmental guy.
Mitchell certainly seems to be in a better place this Spring, and the assessment of his health would seem to offer some optimism. Bell's attitude toward the emphasis placed on plate discipline for younger players shows a bit of how the White Sox get a reputation for being against advanced stats, but his assessments seem rooted in what he feels would lead to success for that particular individual, not discouraging of walks in general.
When it came to Viciedo, Bell agreed with Jim Margalus' assessment that Dayan was "late or just underneath pitches; fouling back pitches that he would normally turn around":
He was sort of inbetween last year for whatever reason and it happens to a lot of players going up. With Dayan, he's better when he's being aggressive. What makes him laugh is what makes him cry in a lot of ways. Sometimes he's too aggressive which makes him a little bit out of control. He was probably more inbetween just because of that.
If yesterday was any indication as to what kind of stroke Dayan is going to have, hitting three homeruns for us in minor league camp yesterday, hopefully that's a pretty good indication for how he's going to get started. His bat looks extremely quick and his balance is good.
This assessment would seem to mirror that of Mitchell, where an increased emphasis on plate discipline might not offer the most effective version of Viciedo. There was enough of a successful merge of aggression and patience for Viciedo in AAA last season to suggest there's a happy medium to be reached. Cclearly the Thursday afternoon storm of dingers was just as exciting for the organization as it was for all of us.
I understand from watching him here in spring training and in the Dominican: he has great arm strength and had great numbers. His makeup is off the charts. We felt like there were some mechanical things we think we can do. We think we can get his balance a little better and his direction cleaned up a little bit. He told us it wasn't anything San Diego did with him, it just kind of evolved into something. We're just trying to get him back to where he was before and hopefully we can do that.
The idea that Castro was a big power arm that the White Sox thought they could fix was kind of the only real justification for the trade, so it's no surprise to hear that echoed. It's nice to hear that his makeup is great.
Trayce's name always comes up and rightly so. He's an athletic kid who can play center. He's got a lot of power. For me, with all young kids, they give up way too many at bats. Trayce seems to be better when the game's on the line, he seems to have more of a specific approach. I would say he gave up over 100-120 at bats last year just trying to hit homeruns which is why he hit .240 or .235 or whatever he hit (Thompson hit .241). He's a great kid. I don't want to put a label on him, but his body is similar to Jermaine Dye's when he was a young kid. Same body type, same swing. We would like to see him turn out like Jermaine. He's developing very well. It seems like younger outfielders take a little longer sometimes because you're hoping so badly that they can get to the big leagues quicker because they provide a power for you.
Thompson being able to play centerfield would seem to be an assessment of where he's at now, and the Jermaine Dye comparison is a more down-the-line projection. I stipulate this because I thought of Jermaine Dye playing center right away, and it was troubling. The "trying to hit homeruns" comment also has a twinge of old-school thinking to it, but seeing as he's assessing a guy who had a nearly 30% K-rate at Low A Kannapolis last-season, he probably has a point.
Bell seems to be trying to temper any delusions of grandeur regarding Thompson's developmental timeline.
On Terry Doyle:
He'll be in the rotation in Charlotte. He just flew in a couple nights ago.
The brevity of this answer was hysterical to me. It wasn't remotely mean-spirited, but given how much Bell typically pontificates on things (which makes him a great interview) it was an intense break in the rhythm of the conversation. You had to be there.
The organization's feelings on Doyle have already been made pretty obvious.
On Hector Santiago's rapid rise:
He didn't really have great command or throw 93-94 until we put him in the rotation. For whatever reason, his velocity then jumped up a couple notches. The main thing is a lot of times kids just get stronger and start to understand their mechanics and things fall into place. In some cases, we move aggressively with kids just based on their mental makeup. We saw a kid who was very athletic, but his mechanics weren't great so we didn't have the opportunity to move him like a college junior or senior. Towards the end of the year, he came in and pitched three or four innings in middle relief. In the third inning of that appearance, his velocity jumped up to 94-95. The length of the appearance helped his mechanics click into place. After that outing I talked to Kirk Champion and Hassler about putting him in the rotation for the rest of the year and seeing what happened. He wound up in the big leagues a year later.
Often the narrative around Santiago's turnaround is centered around his development of a screwball. Instead, Bell crafts it around improved mechanics increasing his velocity rather suddenly. Obviously Santiago has been effective in shorter stints this Spring, and was last year in Chicago, but one wonders if Bell's comments are restricted to how Santiago came into his own, or if he feels that Hector will need a larger role long-term to maintain his effectiveness.
Thanks again to Bell for his time, Marty Maloney of the White Sox PR Department for setting it up, and Mark for the transcription.