Exclusive Interview with White Sox Assistant GM Buddy Bell

Here at Future Sox we try to speak one-on-one with White Sox personnel on a regular basis, to provide an avenue to contextualize what’s going on in the minds of decision makers. Yesterday, White Sox Vice President and Assistant General Manager Buddy Bell was kind enough to speak with me over the phone, and gave an elaborate and informative interview. Bell spent a good deal of the time talking about the team’s top prospects in Carson Fulmer and Tim Anderson as well as providing us with some updates on some injured prospects.

Brian Bilek: In one of our recent conversations, you had brought up the fact that the Sox don’t make mechanical changes right away. Is that a policy with new draftees in particular?

Buddy Bell: Yeah, as a practice we don’t, but obviously if we have someone in our system that needs something right away – it’s usually a balance issue or sometimes a blatant mechanical flaw. Very seldom do we get anyone in the first ten, twenty rounds that we’ll really mess with in the first year or so.

In Carson’s case, we really haven’t done anything, out mantra is really “stay closed, stay tall” so if anything we’ve just talked to him about staying a little bit taller to get a little more angle but other than that it’s nothing that he hasn’t heard before.

Bilek: We actually had received reports that Fulmer has made some changes to his mechanics this year. It’s probably safe to assume this is something he has taken on himself?

Bell: Anything he’s done up to this point, he’s doing on his own. Just like a hitter would. We might point that out to them if things are a little bit different. Sometimes his tempo with his hands are a little slower or quicker or he might have some pause that before he didn’t. But it’s nothing we had done. Sometimes he’ll get in a little funk and start yanking balls and that might be just a feel factor within him.

Bilek: Fulmer, much like Tyler Danish last year, I am assuming this is the first time he’s ever really struggled while playing baseball before. Given his struggles, albeit it is early, how do the folks in baseball ops deal with a fierce competitor like Fulmer going through his first struggles?

Bell: Both Carson and Tyler are so similar in the way they compete. Carson’s a little bit more flamboyant, maybe, but they’re both athletic and very competitive.

First of all, one of the issues with a guy like this is they really, really, really try too hard and I always say, “There’s absolutely no way you can try too hard,” but the problem with guys that are like that is it tends to get in the way early because they want to do good so bad that it gets in their way early on. Eventually, that kind of attitude will play off.

That’s sort of what Carson’s going through as well as Tyler last year and even a little bit this year because he is getting so close to the big leagues. I think all guys that have attitude go through that period. It’s nice to have that Griffey type attitude where everything you do is so relaxed but very few people can have that outlook and go about the game that way.

But with Carson, I don’t want to change him I don’t want him to shrug bad games off, I want him to learn from it. I want him to understand what’s not acceptable but at the same this is a hard game to play and he has to continue to understand his attitude is what we want. We don’t want him to back off. Pro ball just brings so much failure and players who think, “that’s just the way it is” – we don’t subscribe to that here.

Pro ball just brings so much failure and players who think, “that’s just the way it is” – we don’t subscribe to that here.

Bilek: That’s a good point, and I know Danish talked about having that issue himself when I interviewed him and I remember you saying something of the same with Courtney Hawkins when he was in Winston-Salem for his first full year.

Bell: Courtney still struggles with it. Courtney’s deal is he just hasn’t been healthy. We haven’t been able to keep him healthy. He gets close and he gets close and then he’ll get hurt. We have to get him over that hump.

Bilek: We do get so many questions on Hawkins at Future Sox and we’re kind of left saying, “Well we need some sustained playing time from him with him on the field everyday.” But getting back to Fulmer, when he went to Winston-Salem last year he worked with J.R. Perdew and he’s really built up quite the reputation around the organization but given his move from Winston-Salem to Birmingham, how do you position your coaching assets and what does he bring to the development team as a pitching coach?

Bell: He obviously does a great job. Most of us in the industry consider our pitching right up there at the top. There are a lot of organizations that have great pitching coaches and a great system but really the sign of a great system is continuity.

We don’t really mess with our guys much in terms of where we put them according to where the prospects are. I will tell you this: I truly believe we have the two best pitching coordinators in all of baseball in Curt Hasler and Kirk Champion who is the field coordinator but still dabbles in the pitching with Has’. I leave it up to them and a lot of our pitching coaches are pretty similar so a lot of our decisions are based on what’s best for the coach. Whether they’re close to home, or it’s their kids, if he needs to get home…the minor leagues is such a grind it’s nice that we are able to do that some of the time.

In JR’s case, Winston-Salem is a really important developmental step and JR lives close to Winston-Salem so that’s pretty much why he was there. We moved him to Birmingham so he wouldn’t get stale. We really believe all of our guys are as good as the rest.

Bilek: Switching gears, Tim Anderson has really turned it on at the plate the last couple weeks. What have you been hearing on his defense right now?

Bell: It’s really good. Watch the game last night. Just a terrific game he played last night.

I think he’s going to make some errors just because his range is a little more advance than other shortstops so he’s going to get to more balls, he’s going to throw off balance, he’s going to make some bad throws just because of that. I’d still like to see him stay on his feet a little more. His base gets a little narrow but really, he’s so damn athletic it’s really hard to tell him too much.

[Ever] Magallanes has done a great job with him as well as other guys but Timmy just gets in trouble because he’s so athletic so he thinks he can kind of do anything from any position so he’s finding out that’s not the case. So he’s really working hard on keeping his legs underneath him when he throws and keeping his base but he’s been really good. I could care less about errors at this point. I just really want to get him off the ball and keep his legs underneath him and I’m sure he’ll keep getting better.

Bilek: So would you agree with the assessment that his errors are more routine when throwing rather than any physical limitation?

Bell: No, I mean he has some routine, but the majority of his errors are balls he throws off balance or trying to do too much but what do you want? You want a guy not the finish the play or a guy who can try and catch the ball and make the play? I know I would prefer the latter.

Bilek: Definitely, and it’s good to hear about the aggression about him but I think it would safe to assume he’s going to stay at shortstop for the foreseeable future, right?

Bell: Absolutely. With any of the scouts that I’ve talked to, they talk about him being able to play short and they’re really positive about where he is defensively as opposed to where they thought he might be today, coming out of the draft.

I talked to Robin the other day in New York and we were talking about Anderson and I said I’d like to see Timmy play fast all the and not fall into that AAA trap where you get bitter guys and he brought up Jeter’s name. It was interesting. He talked about Jeter coming to the ballpark everyday and setting the standard with the he planned his day, how he worked his routine, obviously the way he played, but that’s what he want from Timmy. He’s gotta understand that he has the potential to set the standard for any team that he plays on. He has to believe that. It may take some time and it may take some prodding. Maybe some conversation from me at times even but he’s gotta get better at that.

He’s such a great kid and great competitor but sometimes he can get let the game get him down but that’s a typical way a young kid will handle it.

Bilek: Well I do know, at almost every affiliate stop from Kannapolis up to Charlotte, the media has let us know: Tim Anderson is one of the first, if not the first guys out on the field and that really goes right along with that sentiment on Jeter. But looking at a long-time teammate of Anderson’s in Jacob May, he just hit the DL with an oblique strain, what is his timetable? Is it still pretty unclear?

Bell: It’s not sure just yet. I don’t think it’s as bad as we initially thought. He is another kid that has really done well but fluky injuries. I mean this one is an oblique, but last year with the concussion…we’d like to get the guys at a level where they consistently learn rather than be set back by injuries.  A lot of it is just luck, but dealing with some of these injuries is just unfortunate.

Bilek: To stay on the topic of injuries, Danny Hayes came out of the season with some serious struggles and I think he struck out something like ten times in his first fifteen at bats, but after that, he was like the Babe Ruth of AAA then he got hurt and hasn’t played since May 12th. So I guess my question would be, when is he going to return, and to follow up, what kind of track record would the front office need to see from him to give him a shot in Chicago as a left-handed bat?

Bell: He’s available tonight. I talked to Rick (Hahn) a lot about this over the winter. We talk about six year free agents and try to get insurance for our major league club and we got lucky and signed Ishikawa. Then we were talking about some other guys, and I said to Rick (Hahn), “We really need to get Hayes to Charlotte. We need to keep a spot for Danny in Charlotte to see what he can do.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the ballpark in Birmingham, and it’s a beautiful park and we love it there, but it’s not a great place to hit. I really get impatient with guys getting to Charlotte to get them in a better offensive ballpark just to see what they could do. When Danny got off to the bad start, I was like “Come on Danny” because you wait so long and he’s been as good as anyone in baseball in terms of production, plus he’s walking and not striking out as much.

I think the fifteen at bats and ten strikeouts was kind. I think he was eighteen strikeouts in twenty-two at bats. They did some mechanical changes with him. Danny came to camp with a bigger leg kick that he needed and he found out early on that the leg kick ain’t happening. He calmed that down. He still has a little bit but it’s more of a gather than it is kick now.

Well to your point with Birmingham, even if it did suppress his power, I think he was still able to keep his walk rate up at 15% so he did a really nice job of taking his pitches so it is good to see someone with that discipline.

He was a good college hitter who really hit like a college player. He was taking his pitches and he was calm with confidence and he came into our system like that. So we really didn’t have to do a whole lot with him. As you know in the past, we haven’t drafted a whole lot of really good college hitters. We’ve pretty much leaned towards the college pitching. I think that’s changing a little bit but he’s going to play in the big leagues. If he continues to hit like this, he’s going to get a lot of at bats in the big leagues.

Bilek: Then just to close, kind of lesser known name, Yosmer Solorzano is one of the few pitchers the Sox have taken out of the Dominican Republic in recent years and he really had a strong showing last year in Arizona League. When I heard Kanny was taking some pitchers from extended ball, I was surprised he wasn’t one of those guys. Is he healthy right now?

Bell: He’s still rehabbing. He has a bit of a shoulder issue and we didn’t want to rush him. It’s not significant. It’s just something we want to be careful with because he’s a younger kid. 

Thanks to Buddy for taking the time to speak with Future Sox.

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