I visited Birmingham from August 15th through the 17th, where I took in three games and interviewed some players along the way. What follows are interviews with Tim Anderson, Tyler Danish, Nick Delmonico, Peter Tago, and Danny Hayes. Enjoy, and expect some more scouting-centric pieces in the coming days.
Q: When people talk about you, it’s often noted that you are relatively new to baseball (relative to your teammates and other players in the Southern League), having started your junior year in high school. Were you a baseball fan before you started playing? Do you model your game, offensively or defensively, after a big leaguer?
A: “I was a baseball fan. I watched it a lot when I was little, and then I kind of stopped watching it once I started playing basketball. I got back into it my junior year – then I played it through my senior year, then going off to college. I like offense a lot. I love to hit – and I don’t role myself after anybody in the big leagues because I am my own person and like to do my own thing.”
Q: If you were telling a high schooler who’s making the switch, like you did from basketball to baseball, what would be one thing you’d tell that person?
A: “Stay focused. Believe – it’s tough; it’s a grind. You gotta continue to fight through it. It only gets harder – don’t ease up, just keep going. “
Q: Do you think plate discipline and approach is something that can be taught or do you think it’s more instinctive?
A: “It’s just something that happens along the way as you get more reps, get older. You know your strike zone, see more – and take more – pitches and see how pitchers are pitching you. It’s something that grows as you grow. “
Q: Can you talk to me about the rigors of being a shortstop and your continued development there?
A: “I find myself getting better each and every day. I do stuff [now] that I didn’t do a while back, as I make certain plays. I feel comfortable and things are getting better as I play. I’m learning a lot. “
Q: What happened [Sunday night] with that ejection? It looked like a slider that backed up and was a little out of the zone. I know you’re usually not one to argue balls and strikes. You didn’t show up the ump there. What happened and what’d you take away from it?
A: “I just felt that it wasn’t a strike. It just got out of hand and I said a couple words and that was it. It had been a rough series.”
Q: What have you been working on with Jamie [Dismuke, hitting coach]?
A: “Staying through the ball. Middle away is my approach and I just react to the ball in. I think I’ve been successful this year. I’m continuing to grow and learn a lot.”
Q: What are you most proud of so far this season?
A: “My hitting, and also my defense. I’ve grown a lot since last year. I’m making a lot of plays and squaring up a lot of balls. I think my overall game has been a lot better.”
Q: Most challenging pitcher in the Southern League?
A: “I don’t know. Can’t even remember. None of them [laughs], I’m hitting .300. I don’t know. There was a pitcher from Mobile [Baybears], faced him earlier in the year, but I’m not good with names so I forget.”
Q: You’ve recently become a father – that’s amazing. Congratulations. You must be looking forward to the offseason.
A: “Thank you. Yeah, I’m looking forward to the offseason. I’m moving to Atlanta – just getting away from Tuscaloosa. I’m excited to have a baby and continue to get better on and off the field in the offseason and staying focused.”
Q: This may be the first season you’ve experience adversity (in terms of performance). You dominated high school, and the levels before AA. What’s the adjustment been like for you here and what do you notice from the hitters?
A: “I notice a big jump. Guys don’t chase balls that are an inch off the plate – they just take them. What I’ve had to learn is that mentally I have to be stronger than I was before. I’ve never failed, and I needed to fail to understand what to do. Other than that, I’ve just learned so much this year. People might see this as a failed year – a terrible year for me – but I’ve learned so much to take into next year and future years. It’s a positive year for me in my eyes.”
Q: You’ve matched up a few times against that tough Chattanooga lineup this season, and you’ve had success against them on two occasions. Does it encourage you to know that you’ve faced a guy like (Miguel) Sano who’s pretty much dominating for the Twins right now? What’s it like knowing that you can match up with these guys?
A: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind that I can get these guys out – the guys that go up and succeed up there. I saw a bunch of them there. Sano went up there, Schwarber as well – so I’ve faced big leaguers this year that are succeeding at the big league level. It’s a little accomplishment in my eyes that I can still get guys out that go succeed up there.”
Q: “Who’s been the toughest out, if you can recall?”
A: “Sano – he’s taken me deep a couple times. Adam Brett Walker has gotten me a couple times. The biggest one to me has been (Jesse) Winker. You throw the ball in, he’s got power to right field and can pull it. With me running sinkers away, he’s gotten a lot better sitting on the ball and going the other way. You know, it’s difficult for a righty on lefty sinker-baller to get the ball in on him. He’s probably the toughest out in my eyes all year.”
Q: “As a 20-year-old, what’s this lifestyle been like for you – being in the minor leagues. How do you balance everything?”
A: “Day-by-day. You can’t look forward – when I was getting ready for Spring Training I couldn’t look forward to May or June, because you just have to take it day-by-day because it’s a grind. Early on you’re excited to be back. You always love to play the game, but it gets to the point where you’re taking 10 hour bus trips and you gotta play the next day. Whenever we have off days, I make sure to get off the field and do some non-baseball activities and keep my mind off baseball and get a mental break.”
Q: “On a night when you have your stuff, what’s going right for you? Do you like to pitch inside? I know all your pitches have really good life – cut, sink, run..
A: “Usually it’s sinkers down and in to both right-handers and left-handers –– changeups too, and sliders getting ahead early with them. Now I’m throwing a harder slider at 88mph, which is more of a cutter, so if everything is going good: cutters on the outer part, in to lefties, sinkers to both sides of the plate and down, and changeups falling off the table.”
Q: What’s one thing you’ve been working on with Britt Burns (pitching coach)?
A: “Beginning of the year it was getting more angle. When I get side-to-side, I get the ball up. Now it’s getting more angle and getting used to – I raised my arm angle just a tad – and that’s another new thing people don’t know about. I’m working on a new delivery and changing my delivery up to be smoother. Guys don’t understand that and people don’t see that, but other than that – getting angle and downward plane and working on that harder cutter/slider.”
Q: Are you looking forward to the offseason? Any big plans going home?
A: “Yeah, I turn 21 four days after the season ends. So you know, I’ll go get dinner with some family and friends. I know I’m also going on a cruise in December. Other than that, working out and getting ready for next year.”
Q: What position do you see yourself playing going forward? I know you played 2B with the Orioles. Is third base where you see yourself?
A: “Yeah, I finally got comfortable over there at third. I feel like I’ve matured as a third baseman. And going forward I see myself as a third baseman. “
Q: This is your first time in AA. What have you noticed from the pitchers and who have you faced on a couple of occasions that’s been most challenging?
A: “Coming back around, I haven’t really faced that many because I’ve only been here since the first half. The biggest difference is just the level of competition. You get a lot of players that are hungry to make it. Everyone’s playing better and it’s better talent, so it’s more fun in my eyes.”
Q: What’s your favorite movie to watch on a long bus ride?
A: “Longest bus ride was from Tennessee to Jacksonville. Favorite movie would probably be that Will Ferrell movie with Kevin Hart – “Get Hard.”
Q: One thing I want to ask you, and you don’t have to answer this if you’re not comfortable with it. Is how did you get with the White Sox and the process of being let go by the Brewers? I’d love to hear your side of the story.
A: “Well, I just didn’t see eye-to-eye with the Brewers. They couldn’t get in contact with me. I was not willing to go back and play with them. After they released me, the next day the White Sox called me and I was willing to go back and get a fighting chance to play. I felt comfortable. It felt like I created family here.”
Q: You were a first round pick for a reason, obviously. What’s it like now to see your talent translate into some big time success?
A: “(laughs) I just stuck with it – continued to work hard and really focus on what I needed to do to succeed on the baseball field. I actually thought about giving it up, just because I wasn’t having any success and I didn’t know the reason why. But I called my dad and called my mom, and they just told me that I would regret it. I feel like that was one of the smartest moves I could have made.”
Q: Now, as a reliever, what changes for you? Do you not save any bullets out there?
A: “It’s a different mentality for sure. I don’t have a lot of time to make adjustments. I just go out there and let it go.”
Q: What’s this year been like on the whole for you – being at three different levels and a new organization to begin with?
A: “It was one of my goals, before the season started, to be in AA this year. The White Sox have been awesome. Just talking with the front office guys. They pretty much just shoot me straight. They don’t sugar-coat anything. They’ve really given me a clear path on what I need to do and especially with my off-speed stuff. I talked to Curt Hasler about making [my slider] harder and tighter when I was in Kannapolis. A week later they promoted me to Winston-Salem. We had another talk when I got to Winston about throwing more fastballs, especially because I’m a late inning guy and throw 96-99. And then a couple days later I’m up here in Birmingham. The work never stops.”
Q: What’s the development of your slider been like? How have the White Sox helped you develop that?
A: “Well, I’ve always had a curveball. And when I was in high school, I had two plus pitches, the fastball and the breaking ball. It was kind of a slurve; it wasn’t hard, but it was a breaking ball. I didn’t know what my role was going to be coming to the White Sox, so I prepared as a starter. I started to develop a slider and I came into Spring Training with a below average slider. It was something that I could just command for strikes early in the count. What happened with my curveball: I started working with J.R. [Perdew] and he kind of helped me make a hybrid of a cutter/slider pitch – something that was just harder and tighter. We took some steps moving forward with that. When I went to Low-A, I was throwing that slider and, like I said, I talked to Curt Hasler when we were in Hickory and in that outing I threw 30 straight fastballs. They were telling me [then] that if I wanted to move to the next level, I have to throw my breaking ball. [Hasler] told me that the plan was to work with Jose Bautista (Kannapolis) to get my slider tight and hard. He’s awesome. In his big league career, he had one of the best sliders at the time. So we got to work and about a week later when my slider was harder and tighter I was getting a bunch of strikeouts and I got promoted to Winston. I just continued to throw my slider and J.R. Perdew continued to help me with my approach. He fine-tuned some things in my delivery, nothing major, just small things as far as my release point for my slider – when to throw it, when not to throw it. And then I’m here.”
Q: Have you noticed any difference between the Rockies and the White Sox? As we discussed before, there seems to be some clear plan insofar as pitching development, which the White Sox have always succeed at. Did it encourage you to see that they wanted to bring you aboard and did you know of that reputation?
A: “The M.O. with the White Sox is that they sign guys that haven’t had a lot of success with other organizations, bring them here, and – I don’t know what it is – but they turn the corner. I’ve experienced it first-hand here. I get to Spring Training and Hasler said just go out there and compete; do what you do. And so basically took the gloves off and wasn’t really too hands-on with my delivery. They liked my delivery; they liked my arm slot and the way that my fastball was coming out, my changeup and my slider. They just basically let me go. I went out there and I was throwing strikes and the rest is history. But as far as the Rockies, you know, some people say that they’re cookie-cutter and certain things. You know what, everyone’s going to like a different organization better than another. The Rockies were nothing but good to me and they gave me all the opportunities to succeed and have all the right people in place. I can’t really say anything bad about the Rockies. They’re one of the 30 organizations in the MLB and they’re there for a reason. I can’t really say that they’re doing something wrong, or that they’re doing something the White Sox aren’t doing. It’s baseball. It’s the same game.”
Q: You’ve only been here for a few weeks, but do you have a favorite spot in Birmingham at the moment? Restaurant or bar?
A: “I don’t really go out too much. I just turned 23 early last month and I have a wife and son, so nightlife really isn’t my scene. As far as restaurants, actually last night we went to a southern barbeque place in Five Points right in downtown. It’s an awesome barbeque place, actually Devon Davis told me to go there. They have these awesome cheese biscuits and ribs.”
Q: You’ve had a really impressive series. I got here on Saturday – of course the grand slam, a multi-homer game, and then the homer last night to go along with some nice defensive snags at first. What’s going well for you this series? Are you making an effort to be more aggressive early in the count?
A: “Yeah, well, trying to not miss pitches I need to hit. If I get a pitch early in the count, I’m going to swing at it. If I gotta wait for later in the count, I’ll swing at it then. But I’ve been fortunate enough to get some good pitches to hit in this series.”
Q: Do you think that plate discipline and approach is something that can be taught? Or is it something that’s instinctive? You’ve taken your walks both at Oregon State and in the pros.
A: “It’s just something that I’ve done my whole life. It can hurt me at times, but sometimes you can get too picky on the pitch you want to hit. But pretty much my whole baseball career I’ve racked up a lot of walks. It’s just been part of my game and it’s probably going to be there for the rest of my career.”
Q: Do you model your game after anyone currently in the majors?
A: “I try to model my game after a lot of guys. You watch them on TV and you try to do what those guys do. I mean, guys in the big leagues, you watch whatever those guys do … Not just one person but a lot of the guys up there.”
Q: Which coach of yours has been most crucial to your success now?
A: “My grandfather, he used to coach at U-C Davis for 37 years and has been a big impact –– my dad too, and also my college coach. When I got to school, he really basically turned me into man and got me to grow up and be ready for this lifestyle.”
Q: What’s one thing you’ve been working on with Jamie Dismuke?
A: “Staying the course, basically. He tells me to keep hitting the ball hard and square pitches up. That’s all you can do. His big thing is squaring it up as often as you can and hopefully that brings you hits.”
Q: What’s been the favorite moment of the season for you?
A: “Right now. Our team is playing well and we’re making our playoff push and hopefully we do make that push and make it to the postseason. I’d love to play extra baseball with all these guys in the clubhouse.”
Q: Favorite off-the-field spot here in Birmingham?
A: “Favorite food joint has been Gianmarco’s. It’s a little Italian joint I found in Homewood that I like to hit up for dinner.”
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