Meeting the Bristol Sox

As our tour of the minors continues, I spent some time in Bristol.  You can see the initial game story here.  Thanks to the assistance of the Bristol White Sox press team Jordan & Lucas, I also had a chance to meet with several of the players on the team for interviews.  Here I’ll combine my game reports and interviews for the 3 players I did get to meet: Trey Michalczewski, Thaddius Lowry, and Sammy Ayala.

Interviewing and meeting these guys was an interesting challenge from my part, not only because I hadn’t done this before, but also because they’re at such an interesting place in their careers. Most of the guys in Bristol are recent draftees and are in their first or at most their second season of professional baseball out of high school, so they haven’t done this for long yet. On top of that, this team has a number of signings from the Dominican Summer League on it; I asked if any of them would be able to handle an English interview but, they thought those players weren’t quite ready for that yet, as you could probably guess.

So, Let’s start with Trey. He’s a switch hitting 3rd baseman, drafted in the 9th round in 2013 but signed over-slot for 3rd round money. Meet Trey:

In the game Monday night he went 2/5, including legging out an infield single. Here’s video of him, one from each side of the plate. Looked good I guess. Pretty good running hard down to first, decent speed, again he’s another guy with a good approach, he made the pitcher pitch to him but wasn’t above swinging early if he saw something.

And one more for good measure:

I asked Trey first what the draft experience was like for him. He said “it’s always been a dream ever since I was little, it was kind of a surreal moment when it happened, I was very excited, really ready to get going, start playing, start learning more about the game”. Was an interesting answer since he was signed over-slot, he didn’t really know for sure that he’d sign until the draft, but when the Sox called and made him a good offer, he described signing as a “no-brainer”.

I asked Trey what his approach was like when he walked up to the plate. He said that he “just tries to see the ball and hit it, try to keep it simple, don’t think too much, ’cause then you kinda get in a bad spot when you start thinking and guessing, so I just try to keep it simple”. Also asked him if there was anything specific he was working on, and his response was “just staying through the baseball, they haven’t really said too much other than that, just go up there and hit”.

One of the more interesting things to talk about with these guys was this being their first experience with longer seasons. I asked Trey how he was feeling, he said he was “a little tired, but getting used to playing every day so it’s not bad”. He works out a couple times a week with their strength and conditioning coach in Bristol, in general he’s sort of dealing with nutrition issues and developing a solid diet on his own currently.

Oh, and after much practice, it’s pronounced “Me – hai – chev – sky”. I’m still working on it too.

Second interview target was pitcher Thaddius Lowry. He’s another 2013 White Sox draftee out of high school, signed over-slot again. He’s a converted catcher who is at the end of his first year as a pitcher. I didn’t get to see him pitch, but the next night he threw 6 scoreless innings, didn’t walk anybody, and recorded 4 strikeouts.

Here’s Thaddius:

I don’t know if you can tell from the photo, but this guy is, let’s say, solidly built. Both he and Trey are about the same height, probably 5-6 inches taller than me, but I’d guess Lowry has 20 pounds on him. He lives up to his twitter handle, @BiGBadTHadd.

Asked him to start off what he throws, he said “Fastball, splitter, changeup, and a slider”. Asked what his out pitch was, he said it was the fastball, and he says he’s started going to a 2-seamer recently that has helped him get more ground balls. I really do like the 2 seamer for him just based on his frame; he’s a tall, strong guy so he’ll probably be able to get on top of that pitch pretty well from a standard motion. He also said he’s been getting away from the splitter a bit and throwing the changeup more lately.

His draft experience sounded like Trey’s. Said that they didn’t show much interest beforehand, getting drafted by the Sox was sort of out of the blue, but he’s friends with Hawkins and he told him a fair amount about the organization.

His season has been an interesting one, which he described by saying “I started out as a reliever, one of the starters went down and they pretty much threw me into the role, and I’ve been starting now since, about 10 games, and I kinda just fell into the role and I’m doing pretty well with it”.

Asked how he feels at the end of the season or once he’s gotten deep into a game, he says he still feels pretty good, that he’s well conditioned thanks to working with Tomball Sports Medicine in the offseason (figured I’d plug them since he referenced the place). He’s on a normal throwing schedule, every 5th day, then throws on day 2 in the bullpen, and does the usual conditioning work with running, Cardio, bands & such to keep up his strength, but doesn’t do too much weight work during the season to avoid breaking down muscle.

Seems like he has a good plan, he’s got an excellent physical start already, and I think he’s going to be a promising starter to watch next year.

Final guy on the list was Sammy Ayala, left handed hitting catcher. Sammy was inserted into the game late, but I got to see 2 of his at bats. He successfully got down a sacrifice in the first at bat, the 3rd baseman tried to get the out at 2nd but the Sox’s runner was safe on the play, and so Sammy made it to first on the fielder’s choice. He also had another at bat later in the game. Here’s Sammy and video of his at bats.

Sammy was a real interesting interview target because this is his 2nd year in Bristol, he’s had a full offseason with the organization already, and he’s a catcher so he’s having to deal with a lot more learning about the flow of the game than the other guys.

I asked Sammy how he liked the organization since he’s been in it longer, he said it was “definitely a good organization to play for, definitely like if you succeed, they’re going to give you a lot more opportunities obviously.” Despite being down in Bristol, he’s clearly noticed that the Sox are aggressive with guys and if he does what is expected of him he knows they’ll continue to challenge him. He’s definitely hoping to move up to one of the full-season teams next year; whether that’s in the org’s plan for him we’ll see.

Asked about his hitting approach, he said “I haven’t had a whole bunch of teaching in my life, hitting-wise, but my whole approach is pretty much just staying square to the pitcher, seeing the ball all the way, and just think up the middle. That’s really all I think when I’m up there, everything just goes blank other than that.”

Some of the more interesting stuff to hear from Sammy was regarding his time with the org this year. He didn’t do a whole lot with the organization last offseason, he felt playing every day, throwing everyday was a challenge for him coming out of high school.

“It wasn’t just physically, but mentally too, because every single pitch, especially as a catcher, every out, every at bat you know, there’s a situation and its going to take time for me to learn all those situations, little by little I feel like I’m getting it, and mainly during the offseason I just got ready for the 6-7 month season to get ready. I made a lifestyle change, I changed the way I eat, changed the way I acted, everything was committed solely on baseball. I felt like I came prepared this year.”

Outside of the occasional call with a runner at first, Sammy calls the game when he’s in there. “Every situation is different, with runners on, can he run or can he not run, where are my middle infielders playing, where is everybody playing, there is a game within a game within another game, especially as a catcher.”

One thing I learned from this interview was how things work in extended spring training. Sammy reported on March 3rd with pitchers and catchers, and he stayed in extended spring out in Arizona for several months. According to Sammy they played probably 50 or 60 games in extended spring training, so they’ve really been working him for the full season, playing everyday or almost every day. Some people out there have noted that he hasn’t gotten an extreme amount of playing time in Bristol this year since they’re carrying several catchers, but it sounds like he’s definitely gotten a lot of work in this year if you count extended spring.

Finally, asked about his goals for the near future, he said he’s shooting for “consistency first of all, to get stronger, be a good teammate, and just play everyday just to win”.

That’s it for this article which is nice and long. I’ll cover one last interview with the manager and some final thoughts in my last piece.

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