FutureSox recently had the opportunity to chat with one of the newest White Sox prospects, Nolan Sanburn. Sanburn, a Kokomo, Indiana native, was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in exchange from slugger Adam Dunn on August 31st last year. Sanburn debuted at 18th on the FutureSox 2015 preseason prospect rankings and at the time of this publication, has a 4.38 ERA with 13 strikeouts over 12.1 innings working mostly as a reliever with the Birmingham Barons. Sanburn was kind enough to talk with me about growing up a Cubs fan (gasp), some of his goals, and what it’s like being a prospect traded in August after the July 31st trade deadline.
FutureSox (FS): Being from Kokomo, Indiana, which is only a few hours from Chicago, did you grow up a White Sox fan?
Nolan Sanburn (NS): I actually grew up watching the Cubs to the honest, just because they were on TV way more and they were a little bit bigger national brand. But to be honest with you I don’t really care who I am playing for and am just excited to a part of this organization. The White Sox stadium is a two and a half hour drive from my friends and family which is night and day compared to a five hour flight to Oakland.
FS: How long has it been your goal to be a professional pitcher?
NS: Ever since I grew up, I feel like a lot kids my age dreamed of being professional athletes and baseball was just something I’ve excelled in and I’ve been pretty blessed and fortunate to have the great support cast of friends and family to push me to be the best I can be. I am focused on my goal to make the major leagues, but that is just a desire of mine. To achieve that desire I try to break it down, to have a good season you have to have a good first half, to have first half you have to have a good month, then a week, then a day, then a inning, then a good hitter, then a good pitch. So you have to break it down to each pitch, but the major leagues are definitely something I aspire to achieve.
FS: What were some of the biggest moments of your career so far?
NS: Being drafted is a very cool eye-opening experience, it’s like hey this is your dream you are realizing right now and this is something you wanted to do and become. But I would say the first real eye-opening experience was being in big league camp this spring where I got to be around the major league guys and the coaching staff. I was open to all the knowledge and wisdom and being able to mesh with those guys and have an opportunity to listen to what they have to say and learn. A lot of guys were really awesome and really open to talk to me and give me as much information as possible so I am really thankful for that.
FS: How big a shock was it to be traded from the organization that drafted you and you started your career with? Could you take us through that process?
NS: One thing for sure is I definitely was unaware of anything that was going on. Funny thing was that I assumed the trade deadline was over July 31st and it had passed. Well, I get a phone call from my manager at 7:30 AM and I’m like, it’s 7:30 AM what do you want? He said hey you just got traded to the White Sox for Adam Dunn! I originally thought it was a joke because I was unaware of the trade deadline. I told my roommate I got traded and he told me to go back to bed and because the trade deadline had passed. But then I started getting all these phone calls from the White Sox and A’s and I realized wow this is really happening. But getting traded means somebody wants you and that feeling rejuvenated me. It puts a whole new perspective on things that you have a brand new fresh start with a new group of guys and you can be whoever you want to be. I was just really excited to pursue my dreams with a new organization.
FS: What has been your initial impression of your new teammates, coaches, and the White Sox organization?
NS: Obviously just going to big league camp was a huge, awesome opportunity and I was really thankful for that. But so far with the coaching staff and players I’ve gotten along with everybody, I haven’t had one issue with anyone. The entire Barons team is great and we mesh so well and the coaching staff has been awesome too, Julio Vinas (Barons Manager) and Britt Burns (Barons Pitching Coach) and those guys have totally taken me under their wing. One thing I appreciate about Coach Burns is that everything he does, he does it for you, he does it for the players, there is no hidden agenda where he wants to move up or anything, he wants whats best for you. I really appreciate that from him because I know I am getting a genuine, caring person in his coaching.
FS: I’ve read scouting reports on your pitches, but how would you describe your repertoire?
NS: I would say right now that my fastball is my main pitch, then my curveball, slider, and then my change-up. My change-up is something I would definitely want to bring along and add into my repertoire and something where I can throw even when I am behind in the count. Specifically, 1-0 where guys are looking fastball and I can throw it down and get an easy pop fly or roll-over. But I would say one thing for sure is to work downhill and then put guys away with my curveball. I am just learning as much I can, it’s a fun process trying to learn something everyday and getting better.
FS: Through your college and professional career, you’ve been primarily a bullpen guy. But on Tuesday you had your first start since 2013, was that a big surprise?
NS: Well, we knew we had to piece that one together that night but I didn’t know I would be getting the ball until I walked in the clubhouse that afternoon. But at the same time, no excuses, I needed to make more pitches and I had some things mechanically I had to clean up that I’ve been working with (Pitching Coach) Burns on. I definitely have been out of the bullpen for the better part of my career but I have talked to the coaching staff and eventually I would love to start. I think I have four pitches and it would be an awesome opportunity to keep hitters off balance and not let them guess. However, most of the time getting to the big leagues is much faster as a reliever than a starter so at the end of the day I just want to be in the game and make it the big leagues.
FS: What would you describe as your strengths as a pitcher?
NS: I would say my fastball and my curveball are my put-away pitches. Those two pitches are the two that I can definitely rely on ahead or behind in the count I can throw for strikes. So I know that once I piece together that slider and the change-up too, it doesn’t allow hitters to be able to cross off pitches or where they know hey he can’t throw this for a strike. So when I am able to throw all four pitches for strikes and don’t allow hitters to be able to guess or anticipate pitches, that is when I can be really successful.
FS: Is there anything the White Sox have asked you to focus on improving?
NS: Other than my secondary pitches, just getting consistent throwing downhill and knowing where down is, and understand that down is a location that I can get guys out and I don’t have to necessarily hit the corners. But one thing for sure is to just learn and that is one thing they told me when I left camp is that they are excited about me and you have an opportunity to get better whether it’s in the pen or as a starter and just to get better every single day.
FS: When you were in Spring Training, did you have a chance to work with White Sox Pitching Coach Don Cooper?
NS: Yeah! That’s one thing I was so appreciative of, Coop was at every single bullpen session, even when we were just playing catch beforehand, he was always in the mix when I was around. He was really interactive, I had a chance to have some one-on-ones with him, he is a really smart man who really knows pitching. Similar to what I said about Burns earlier, he wants the best for you and I tried to soak it all in.
FS: Is there anything you would like to say to the White Sox fans or anything you would like them to know about you?
NS: I am just excited to be here and this is a awesome opportunity for me. I am thankful to the A’s organization for what they did for me but I am so excited to be with the White Sox and I am looking forward to being in Chicago soon.
Thanks to Nolan, and the Barons, for the time and help getting this set up!
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