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 BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte with the Knights on May 2nd, and you can read our in-depth game and scouting report here. I had the opportunity to chat with four prospects and the team’s manager, and learned quite a bit.
Q: Is there a particular slot in the outfield that you prefer playing, or that you’re more comfortable with?
A: I’m definitely most comfortable in center. As you know, our outfield in the majors is pretty solidified right now, so I’m going to play wherever they tell me to play of course. Anything I can do to help the team. I’m sure if you asked Doug Sisson or Daryl Boston they’d probably tell you the same thing, that I’m mostly a center fielder but can go wherever. I played a lot of left field last year, so I got pretty comfortable with that. I don’t think left and right is too much of a difference [between them]. Center I feel like is where my home is.
Q: Digging back a bit, you played winter ball in Venezuela the previous offseason to this one. What was that experience like?
A: It was interesting. The different culture and world, it was definitely a change. The baseball was great. To be able to partake in some of those games. Here we want to win the game obviously, but down there, it’s the major leagues. The crowds, the pressure to perform is much deeper than in the minor leagues. It was definitely a great experience for me. I personally didn’t play very well, and I actually got sick, so I didn’t play as many games as I was going to. But it was definitely worth going, and to experience that atmosphere, the crowd noise, everything. It was awesome. You see guys like Carlos Sanchez from those countries, they’re so poised and don’t let big moments phase them up here. Because down there they’ve been doing it for a long time. It was definitely fun.
Q: With your season opening so well this year, I have to ask if your offseason was different this year?
A: Well it was my first season in a long time that I didn’t have any winter ball or anything like that. I took some time off to rest. In September I did go to Arizona to work with Vance Law, Jim Thome and Rob Sasser. It was to work on my swing, and to give me a springboard to know what I needed to work on in the offseason. So that helped a lot. I was also hitting a lot earlier in the offseason this year. I took some time off to rest, but I also worked really hard when I got going. I started my workouts and got to Arizona a little earlier than usual [for spring training] just to make sure I was ready to go. Everything’s been going well so far, but the going is still early so I’ve just got to keep going.
Q: Those are some big names to talk with.
A: Yeah, that was great. Vance is awesome, ‘Sass’ is one of the great guys I’ve had in my life. Jim Thome is just the most approachable guy you’d ever meet, especially for a guy who is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. He’s awesome. All the hitting guys are great. Andy Tomberlin is one of the best coaches I’ve had too. I couldn’t ask for better guys in the organization.
Q: Is there anything specific you are focused on trying to improve this year?
A: Just focusing every day. When I was younger in my career, if you talked with Nick Capra or Buddy Bell, they’d tell you I gave away some at bats over the course of a season. I’m still going to have some bad at bats here and there, but I’m really just trying to stay focused on having the best at bat I can every time. Take one at bat at a time, not try to do too much, and just go out and compete and battle, and be the best player I can be.
Q: Is the improved Erik Johnson of 2015, going back to where you were in 2013, or is this an entirely new approach or set of changes?
A: Obviously it’s still me, my capabilities and my physical being. As far as training, and what I do on the field, in the weight room, off the field… I think each year you need to start progressing. Little tweaks to your routine or who you talk to, or the feedback you’re getting, you need to be progressive in what you’re doing. You need to try to keep getting better each day during the season, and the offseason is huge. Huge for learning and really molding your craft, to where you come in here, its only April, and see what you can maintain throughout the season.
Q: Speaking of the offseason, did you do anything differently than you did in previous ones?
Yeah I did, I tried some new things. I looked at film, I analyzed what I was doing well, and I kind of dissected what I wasn’t doing well. As far as being efficient, through your mechanics, your every day catch… again that routine needs to be shifted or molded to where you can maintain it during the season and really be consistent.
Q: The struggles you had last year, do you think those were more mental, or mechanical or physical, or something else?
A: I’d have to say they were mechanical. Obviously when you go out there and you can’t repeat your delivery, and you have to string a couple great ones together. You’re not going to feel the best each day. But as far as work ethic and all that, I take care of business. But when you get down into it, are you doing the right work? That’s a huge question. For me, I think you have to answer that each day. What’s your body feeling like, what kind of throwing do you want to do today? You really have to listen to how you’re feeling each day and mold your workout around that as well.
Q: So here’s a completely different question. How’s your hitting? Do you guys take BP?
A: Hitter? I mean, I got 3 AB’s against Colorado last year. But other than that, I haven’t really hit since high school. Where did that question come from? [FS: Honestly just to throw something a little different in there] OK. When I was in high school I loved to hit.
Q: Do you feel like you’re in a place now, where if you get the call tomorrow, you’re ready to go?
A: Yeah. I mean, I think you always have to be prepared for that. It’s nothing that I really take into account. I gotta take are of business where I’m at now, the next day, the next throw, the next catch. I’m looking towards my next throw and my next outing in Columbus right now. What happens down the road is down the road.
Q: You seem to be going more to center and right field this year in games, and I watched you do the same in BP, even in your last sessions. Is that new for you?
A: I think it’s something that was in my game before, but last year I got away from it. So now I’m just getting back to it, and trying to get squared to the baseball.
Q: Is there anything you did differently this past offseason, particularly around your defense?
A: No, but I had a kid. I think I was just kind of mentally refreshing. Last year was pretty rough mentally for me. I just wanted to get back focused again. I do think I’m getting better jumps on the ball, and just more focused this year overall.
Q: Anything different in terms of workouts, or the hitting side?
A: You know what, I guess I did take a little more time off this offseason. I started my baseball stuff a little later. But I was working out just as early. Nothing dramatic. I really wanted to not think about how bad last year was, and just try to get back to who I was before last season.
Q: Do you have any specific goals for this year? Anything you are trying to focus on?
A: I really just want to enjoy every day. Last year wasn’t enjoyable, and that made it hard to come out here every day. So first and foremost I just want to have fun, enjoy baseball when I come to the field every day, which I’ve been doing this year.
Q: Congratulations on your promotion to AAA. How has the transition gone so far?
A: Thanks. It’s a little different, the pitching is a little bit better, better control of their pitches. I’m getting a little more comfortable up here. I think I pressed a little bit early on, and now I’m getting a little more comfortable, more relaxed and staying within myself. Trying to stick with my approach now.
Q: What’s the difference between the pitchers at the two levels, aside from control?
A: Not so much difference. The stuff is probably about the same, but their command is a little bit better. The majority of them can throw or spin their slider or change or any other pitch up there where they want. If they’re behind in the count they don’t have to always go to their fastball to get it over. So they mix it up a little better up here.
Q: I’ve spotted a trend, where it seems when you first get promoted to new level, you hit for more contact, then add the power and walks later. Is that something you do intentionally, or just coincidence?
A: I don’t really try to do it, I think it just happens. I think I just get a little more relaxed after a while, stay with my swings and just let it come to me. Especially in AA [Birmingham] last year, I think I was pressing. I was trying to do too much, instead of just trusting my swing and my approach. It will come eventually.
Q: Do you have any preference for specific slots in the outfield? Ones you’re more comfortable with?
A: It doesn’t really matter. The last couple years I’ve been in right field a lot and have gotten used to that. I sprinkled in a little bit in center before too. But I’m more of a corner guy. In college I played left field, so the transition back to left [in Charlotte] hasn’t been difficult. I played it at least those four years in college. I think it’s good that I’ve gotten reps in all the positions, especially both corner positions, so I’m real comfortable out there.
Joel Skinner, Manager (and former White Sox player)
Q: While you were a player, did you imagine becoming a coach or a manager later?
A: Not really. When you’re playing, you’re in the midst of it. You’re trying to make your way through the minor leagues, to make your career, to make the major leagues. You’re engaged in what you are doing there. Towards the end of my career, I was injured and on the major league DL, and you start to contemplate things like that later on. But that was after I was well into my 30’s. The Indians made that opportunity available to me my last year in 1994. I went to major league camp with the understanding I would go to AAA and see how it went and how I felt physically. Then if something came up on the player development side, I was interested. So that’s how all that went down.
Q: One of the interesting aspects of managing in the minor leagues is balancing between winning and creating a winning environment, and player development, as they are sometimes conflicting goals. How do you handle that balance?
A: Well I think from a player development standpoint, there could be some things you do differently in a game. Maybe you’re asking a kid to bunt so he can work on those types of things. Or how you make sure you use your whole bullpen over the course of a week or however that goes. But once the game starts, we’re out here competing. They’re trying to win ball games. Any time you’re in a winning situation it’s a positive atmosphere, so that’s conducive to the development side also.
Q: What do you think your specific strengths are, as a manager or a teacher?
A: I think from a standpoint of foundation, I think I’m grounded in the sense of having grown up in the game. My dad was a major league ballplayer in the course of his career. Just being around the game my whole life. The game is the game. So from that standpoint, being an ex-catcher, where while you’re playing you’re in contact with all aspects of the game. Whether its working with your pitching staff, your pitching coach, as a player. A catcher at the major league level is an extension of his manager on the field so I always try to take that into consideration. All those things come into play.
Q: How do you keep the clubhouse, to where the players are having fun, despite the pressures at this level?
A: You know, they’re human beings, and it’s just a matter of understanding that they’re professionals. They come here to get a job done. But there is some dead time in baseball, where you just want to make sure that these guys understand when to maintain their focus and when to maybe be good teammates to each other. That’s one thing we do around here, we talk about respecting the game and being a good teammate. I think that falls into that category.
Q: Are there any plans for Carlos Sanchez to play positions other than second this year?
A: Yeah, we keep track of that. Over the years he’s played a lot of shortstop. We move him around, do it in spurts at times. Maybe he’ll get a week at one position or whatever. He played shortstop the last road trip a couple times. He’s played them in the past, and at third. These guys understand they’ll need to work out at other positions as well.
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