I was fortunate enough to visit the Winston-Salem Dash and speak with several of their players and their pitching coach. Some of these players we’ve spoken with before and went back for deeper info, others are new interviews for us. I would like to thank Brian Boesch, Winston-Salem’s Director of Media Relations, for the hospitality and setting these interviews up. Let’s get started…
Q: Could you take me through the whole draft experience for you going 8th overall in the first round?
A: At the time we [Vanderbilt] were in the Super Regional Series against Illinois and we were able to clinch that and go to the College World Series for the second time in my [college career] which was so exciting. That whole day, we were able to win that second game, and my roommate and best friend Dansby Swanson was drafted first overall then I was drafted and Walker Buehler. So were the other guys. It was a very exciting 24 hours and my family was able to be in town so it was definitely a day I’ll remember.
Q: Who was the first member of the White Sox to give you a call?
A: It was Rick Hahn who called me and I didn’t know until 3-4 minutes beforehand. I am very fortunate to be a part of an organization like this and so happy the way it worked out. You dream about being a professional baseball player your whole life and when Rick Hahn gives you a call and welcomes you to the organization it’s special. I was happy. I was glad I was able to spend it with my family and teammates too. Having my teammates there, guys you go through so much with, it meant a lot to me.
Q: Going from college and now being in A+ ball, what has the been the biggest transition for you personally?
A: I feel like being in college prepares you for a lot of that. I feel like some high school guys get uptight and get anxious with the money that’s in front of them because it is life-changing money. I have been through that [Fulmer was drafted out of high school in the 15th round] and I wasn’t ready to get into professional baseball. I needed to learn some things and mature, both on and off the field, and established a routine. Going to school prepared me in so many different ways and has made this transition easy for me.
Q: How would you describe your pitching repertoire?
A: Well first and foremost, my best pitch is my fastball. I love working off my fastball, both the four-seam and the two-seam and I’ll throw it in any counts. My breaking ball is my out pitch and I’ll throw that in any count too, the pitch I am really working a lot now and throwing a lot is my change-up. I feel comfortable with all four of those pitches but be able to face good hitters here who have good approaches has been a great challenge. It forces you to throw any pitch in any count, where in college you could work off your fastball really easy and your out pitch anytime. So I’ll really had to work on those four pitches and stay ahead with those.
Q: Is there anything you have been working on with J.R. (pitching coach J.R. Perdew)?
A: They haven’t messed with mechanics at all, I know I am bit different, I am not a traditional big-stature guy or have traditional mechanics. However, I go right after guys and I am very quick to the plate. I think the biggest thing he (J.R.) has helped with me is the mental side of things and he has been very beneficial to me with the knowledge he has. That is the only way to survive out there is to be mentally strong and battle, battle, battle. I’ve faced challenge and faced adversity but I have really learned from it which I think benefits me.
Q: The Dash are cruising toward a playoff spot and the White Sox have been limiting your innings thus far. Have you been told of any limit or plan that is in place for the rest of the year?
A: I don’t know, I think it’s one of those things where I might get told the day of that I might get extended a little longer. But I feel good, I feel healthy, I have no complaints. I just gotta stick with their plan and I know that they have one in mind and I just have to trust that. It’s out of my control and all I can do is come to the field and get ready for my next start.
Q: Congratulations on the win. How did you feel tonight? (This interview was conducted post-game after Spencer just threw 6 IP, allowing 2 R, 8 H, 0 BB, and 4 K)
A: Honestly I wasn’t feeling my best tonight. I think it was the day off yesterday (Spencer was scheduled to start the previous day, but it was rained out), I feel like I haven’t done anything for two days and just been sitting around. When I finally got out here, I started to loosen up and I felt better as the game went along.
Q: Your walk rate has been unbelievable since the beginning of your career, what helps with your excellent control?
A: I feel like I’ve had pretty good control through my career and that’s just something I take a lot of pride in. I try to pound the strike zone and try to keep my strikeout to walk ratio as good as it can be. I know last year it ended up pretty good for me. I hate walking people and I’d rather give up a hit than walk somebody. When I get behind I just go right after them and it’s paid off for me.
Q: Is there any particular pitch you are working on right now?
A: Not really any pitch, but I am working on something with my delivery. I am coming across my body some, which closes myself off when I land. But J.R. and I have been working on that since I have been up here.
Q: You’ve been a versatile guy this year for the Dash, you’ve worked out of the bullpen, started some games, and recently been appearing in long relief or tandem. How has that been for you to have so many different roles this season?
A: I’ll admit it’s been kind of crazy, I haven’t really settled into a certain role. But I just try to go out there with the same mentality every single time if I am starting or throwing behind a guy like Nate Jones (Jones was on a rehab assignment with Dash recently). But yeah, just trying to roll with the punches and do anything they need me to do and do my best.
Q: Your numbers have been good coming out of the bullpen but you have been especially excellent when you start or work long innings. Is starting something you have been enjoying?
A: Yeah! I like getting out and getting into a grove, I talked to Matt Heidenreich, who is now in AA, but he was a guy I got a lot of advice from. I had a lot of trouble with walks out of the pen, but I like having a couple innings to settle in rather than trying to get hot and blowing it all out in one inning. But I do like both, but starting seems to be working out a little bit better.
Q: How would you describe your pitching repertoire?
A: I try to attack and get ahead with my fastball, then definitely kill them with the slider whether it’s burying it or throwing it back door trying to surprise them. I have been trying to flash a change-up to give them a different look. It’s not quite where I want it to be yet, but I definitely think I can polish it off and have it as a third offering. I make sure that I throw it everyday.
Q: Last year you pitched in Great Falls but this year they assigned to you Winston-Salem, skipping Low A Kannapolis. How has that transition been going from rookie ball to an A+ affiliate?
A: I was shocked when I found out that I was going to come to Winston-Salem. I was definitely happy, it means a lot that they would send me here. But I just try to keep the same mentality of throwing it to the catcher and not worrying about who is stepping in the batters box. It was a big confidence boost too to jump a level like that. I had a rough April, but I worked with J.R. and he was huge with keeping me consistent and instead of being flat I pitch more downhill and instead of trying to throw 95+ I just throw normal with that downhill plane.
Q: Could you tell me what you throw and your pitching mentality?
A: I try to keep things as simple as possible, getting ahead in the count, throwing all my pitches for strikes. Obviously the higher I go the more quality those strikes have to be or else they are going to get hit and that is just the way the game is. I throw a fastball, a curve, a slider, and a change-up as well. I haven’t been throwing my change-up a ton, but since I have been here I have been using it more.
Q: After being a starter in college, how has the transition been to the bullpen?
A: You never know when you are going to go in and you just always gotta be ready. I try to take things one day at a time and that kind of goes along with my philosophy of keeping things simple. If you just focus on that day and be ready that day you will be OK. In Kannapolis I was a end of the game guy and sometimes the score would change really fast and I would be in the game and you gotta be ready for those moments and seize those opportunities when you get them.
Q: Is there any pitch that has been especially feeling great recently?
A: Can’t really pinpoint one to be honest, they are all feeling pretty good right now. Some days I have some things working and that is just the way pitching goes you have to feel it out. Especially in the bullpen you have to feel it out real fast. But I just try to throw strikes with all my pitches and when I do that I know I have a better chance of being successful.
Q: How would you describe playing for the University of Hawaii and being apart of that culture?
A: It was unbelievable! Coming from the Northwest it was a little foreign to me at first but once I got to know people there it was the most warm-hearted awesome people you’ll ever meet. It was a great college experience and looking back on it I can’t see myself going to any other school. It was a perfect fit for me, the weather, the baseball program, the school, everything about it. I try to go back when I can and some day I wouldn’t mind moving back there.
Q: The White Sox organization has a great reputation for developing pitchers, could you talk about how you guys excel at that as a whole across the affiliates?
A: Well I think we have a great group of guys and it all starts with Coop (White Sox Pitching Coach Don Cooper). When I first got here twenty years ago Coop hired me when he was the pitching coordinator and he took all of us under his wing and taught us things that we should be doing here and what to look for. All of us have been together a long time and I think we are all on the same page. There is no doubt we all have differences in opinions which is great because you see from different view points, but we try to check the egos and we are all here to help the players. We do a great deal of communicating during the season too, I call guys for advice and we share ideas often.
Q: FutureSox spoke with Kannapolis Pitching Coach Jose Bautista earlier in the year and said some guys had been fighting him on some changes and that he lets them struggle a bit before they are ready to make the adjustments. Is that something you’ve experienced in your coaching as well?
A: I think you always try to nip something in the butt before it gets bad, but everybody has different personalities. Some guys take to instruction really quickly and they run with it and some guys fight it. I’ve got guys back this year who fought the process and that’s common. Some guys just need to go through failure before they are willing to buy into it. It’s a tough struggle when that failure happens but what I try to do is teach what I know is the right thing. Maybe one or two guys out of ten don’t want the info and have their own philosophies, which is OK, we like guys that are independent. But sometimes they have to go through the bad to learn the good.
Q: What are some of your pitching philosophies you try to impart on these guys?
A: I think the whole idea is to throw downhill and work down in the zone. The players sometimes get caught up throwing in and throwing out and as coaches we try to preach down. You can miss your outside corner and be down the middle but if it’s down it is still a ground ball. So absolutely it’s the most important thing. As a pitching coach from the dugout perspective you can’t see what the ball is doing other than the angle and if they are throwing with a downhill angle and not flat, that is the goal and it’s that simple.
Q: Could you talk about what you have seen from Spencer Adams so far?
A: He’s a young kid and he has his own ideas about things and we encourage them. We want these guys to have their own routines and their own philosophies. He’s got a good arm and a major league slider and a major league change-up. At his age he needs to learn how to handle the bad when it happens during a ballgame. I was real proud of him in his last game because he got into the 5th inning after struggling in the first couple innings. For a 19 year-old that really showed me something, it’s important that if you ever want to pitch in the big leagues you gotta be mentally tough and he showed that the last game. For him, I think the biggest thing is coming down to consistency, he will show you flashes of major league slider and change-up, fastball angled at 93, but it’s how in a row you can throw. If you throw 100 pitches can you execute 75? If he does that then he is going to dominant games.
Q: A lot of experts have their doubts about Carson Fulmer and his mechanics holding up as a starter, what is your impression of Carson thus far?
A: Everything about him is impressive. He brings a lot, obviously he was a #1 (draft pick) for a reason. He impressed me before he even threw a ball, he conducts himself a way that is professional at all times. His work ethic is through the roof, he is a great fielder, holds runners well, and I think he’s got great mechanics. I have no concern over his arm slot at all. I think if you wanted to nitpick, he gets a little low on his legs, which all pitchers do at times. Two outings ago he was absolutely lights out, he was big on his legs, he threw every pitch downward, he was unhittable. In his last ballgame, I thought he got a little too quick and got a little low in his legs and that pushed the ball up. But the intangible part came through and he battled three innings and showed you how tough he can be.
Q: You have played almost all your games at shortstop this year, how are you feeling defensively?
A: Shortstop is where I want my home to be and I’ve been learning a lot this year. I’ve been making a lot of stupid mental mistakes but I’ve worked a lot with the defensive coordinator Ever Magallanes and we just kind of brought everything together and in the second half I started feeling a lot more comfortable.
Q: You were tearing Kannapolis up offensively all year, but only recently were promoted to Winston-Salem. I am assuming that you were working on your defense and that’s why you might be on a slower track?
A: I definitely understand why I haven’t been pushed as fast as I thought I might be, but it’s incredible now I have clear understanding of what the expectations are. For me not having a full season under my belt, starting in Kannapolis was perfect for me because I got to play every single day and I got to learn what the grind is really like. Mentally I’ve grown as a player because I didn’t understand it meant to be present for every inning, every at bat, every single pitch. I’ve been caught on my heels for a lot of my errors, I thought I could take a couple plays off here and there but those are the times the ball finds you. But I’ve learned that and I am definitely looking forward to getting better in the off-season because know I know things where I can improve a lot. Stolen bases, for example, I think I have 40 something, but I should be at 60. I have been trying to find a comfort zone with base running, I am still not comfortable, believe it or not.
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