White Sox Announce 2017 Player Development Staff

It’s the time of year again where every major league baseball team vomits forth one million new minor league coaching and player development assignments, and we get to sift through it and pull out the interesting parts. There are about 160 minor league teams, depending on how you feel about independent and short/off-season leagues, and each of them has at least five coaching staff members, in addition to minor league player development administration, roving coordinators, etc, etc. Since there’s an incredible amount of bodies needed, these lists are always an interesting mix of recognizable name, groomed-for-coaching lifer, newly retired minor leaguer, guy you remember only once you read his name, and “THAT Jose Bautista?!”

One great thing about the minors is that there are so many levels, you can experiment with just about anything. This can include coaching. Lower levels are a relatively simple first way to see if someone is cut out to manage, in case you just traded your manager to Florida and need someone quick.

PLAYER DEVELOPMENT INSTRUCTORS

Director of Player Development: Chris Getz 

This news broke a few weeks ago, and at first glance it seems like a typical White Sox move of Doing What You Know, but it turns out that Getz is actually somehwat highly-regarded as a player development guy (to be fair, that news came from Rick Hahn in a statement, so take it how you will). To recap, since his retirement during the 2014 season, Getz had been working with the Royals as a baseball ops assistant in player development. His inexperience is not without precedent, although quotes like “I got a little bit of a feel for the system. I don’t have a great feel for it. I know I will learn a lot more at the organizational meetings,” (from this Daily Herald story) don’t exactly inspire confidence. Give a guy time to learn, but I’d still rather listen to someone who has at least some working knowledge of the system.

In any case, he’s the guy for 2017 replacing Nick Capra, so let’s hope for “refreshing difference” rather than “more of the same” on the Mired In Mediocrity scale.

You can read more about Getz’s appointment here.

Director of Minor League Instruction: Kirk Champion

An org guy. Champion was fielding coordinator from 2012-2016, so this will be his first year in this role.

Pitching Coordinator: Richard Dotson

Dotson was previously the pitching coach for Charlotte since 2008, and before that coached in the lower levels, so he’s very familiar with the more major-league ready arms in the Sox system. He also spent a few months in 2016 as Sox bullpen coach, so he’s experienced with the current team as well. He’s a valuable resource to pitching coach Don Cooper. We interviewed him in 2015, here.

Hitting Coordinator: Mike Gellinger

Gellinger has been with the White Sox in some capacity for over 25 years, and has plenty of experience with the big-club league; in addition to just coaching, he took over the bench coach position for two games in 2011 in Joey Cora’s stead after the whole “let’s trade our manager to Miami” thing, and was the Sox assistant hitting coach in 2012.

Catching Coordinator: John Orton

Orton has been around for a while, nothing new here. He has a strong history with Tyler Flowers – who, say what you will, did end his tenure with the Sox a much better defensive catcher than he started. Orton has been coaching in the White Sox system since 2001, first managing, then becoming a roving instructor (as opposed to a raving instructor).

Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator: Aaron Rowand

This is fun! Rowand just finished up his first season of managing in the Arizona Fall League, guiding the Glendale Desert Dogs to a 17-15 record. Part of the Sox World Series championship behind-the-scenes footage on the DVD has Rowand mic’d up during drills, hunkering down and saying “Time to play some fundamentally sound baseball.” I quote it with his exaggerated accent at least once a season, and honestly, even though it was over ten years ago it makes me feel better than “I don’t have a great feel for [the system].” I like this. Aaron Rowand is about to teach a whole new generation how to run face-first into a wall without flinching. This is Rowand’s second full year with the Sox as a coach and I hope he sticks (not to the wall). he is going to build the wall and make Sox prospects pay for it. Oh man, please give me the length of this offseason to think of as many Aaron Rowand wall jokes as I can.

Infield Coordinator: Vance Law

Vance Law left Brigham Young University, where he was head coach from 2000-2012, for the White Sox and has been coaching in their system since then. But now, he has risen to Infield Coordinator. Law has been bouncing around the system for a while in a variety of capacities, from working with hitters to managing teams in Spring Training to even calling a Salt Lake Bees game once in 2013. No word on the status of his voice re: angel.

Camp Coordinator/Assistant, Player Development: Tommy Thompson

Thompson’s story is actually very fascinating and a well-worth it read, and I can’t do it full justice here, but he’s a man who’s been through a lot and has come out stronger and wiser. He managed Marcus Semien in 2011 and 2012 for Kannapolis and Winston-Salem, and this is what Semien had to say in a well-worth it article: “Funniest manager I’ve ever played for … There’s a reason we won so many games down there — because we had fun, but he also held us accountable when we weren’t doing things right.” That’s what you want in a coach and I’m glad Thompson has overcome his demons.

Pitching Assistant: J.R. Perdew 

J.R. Perdew is, kind of like Tommy Thompson, what I consider a Minor League Dad. Minor League Dads are lifers, they’ve been coaching as long as most people have been alive, and they’ve worked with more young arms than we can even imagine. Perdew has pitching coach experience at pretty much every level of the White sox minors, and it’s interesting to see him transcend that and lose the team specificity, especially given his love for the cutter. You can read an interview with Perdew here.

Assistant, Player Development: Rafael Santana

Santana has been with the Sox since the early 2000s, like many of these guys, and also like many of them, is being shifted around for 2017. After a stint as Dominican Republic scouting director, he will now spend 2017 as a player development assistant.

Conditioning Coordinator: Dale Torborg

Torborg has, bar none, the most interesting wikipedia article of anyone on this list. The name “Torborg” sounds familiar to many longtime baseball fans, as his father Jeff caught, managed, and broadcast for a number of major leagues from the 1960s onward. Dale is an org guy who has been with the Sox since 2004, but he also had a professional wrestling career with WCW, AWF, and TNA that spanned 12 years. Notably, he even teamed up with beloved former Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in that strange realm of the sporting world. Anyway, Torborg has been in this position basically forever, but I just wanted to make sure everyone knew about the wrestling thing.

Latin/Cultural Development Coordinator: Anthony Santiago

This is cool! This is a new job, or at least, a new job title. Anthony is the younger brother of Hector Santiago, former White Sox and current Twins screwballer, and was signed by the Sox in 2012. While his pitching career didn’t last, the Sox clearly saw something in him and retained him as a coach. He’s only 27 years old, but the players that come out of Latin America are often much younger than that, so he’ll be able to relate to them well. It’s nice to see the Sox try to take a more involved role with this.

CLASS AAA CHARLOTTE

Manager: Mark Grudzielanek      

Grudzie! I didn’t start working for the Kane County Cougars until the year after he managed them (2015), but I did run into him in the dugout tunnel before a game this season (he spent the year as a roving infield coordinator for the Diamondbacks). My in-person impressions are that he seems smart, articulate, and ready to do whatever job is in front of him. This is from a three-minute interaction, but there’s probably truth there. Grudz killed the White Sox for years when he was on the Royals, so I see we’re really embracing the “if you can’t beat them, join them” thing. Honestly, I love this; the Diamondbacks don’t have a strong farm system and he still helped guide the low-A Cougars to a record-setting second-half in 2015 and a playoff appearance. He seems like the kind of veteran, level-headed but not too passive (cough) manager that players need at that level.

Pitching Coach: Steve McCatty       

McCatty was a pretty decent pitcher in the ‘70s-‘80s and spent six years as the pitching coach for the Nationals. I’m noticing a huge depth of coaching wisdom here; there’s a lot of experience, both in the Sox organization and outside of it. The Nationals are notorious for their great pitching, and it’s interesting to see McCatty (who lost his job in the Nationals Coaching Purge of 2015) in AAA. I think McCatty will be a great help to Grudzielanek in Grudzie’s first year in the high minors, and who knows? He could see himself with the big league club if he’s lucky and a couple other people aren’t. Between McCatty, Perdew, and Dotson, there’s a vast amount of knowledge at the ready if, say, Renteria doesn’t work out and Cooper steps in. Or if Cooper, god forbid, leaves and they need a replacement. (Coop, if you’re reading this, plz don’t leave)

CLASS AA BIRMINGHAM

Manager: Julio Vinas       

The Sox do this kind of organizational shuffling all the time. Sometimes it’s to keep things fresh, sometimes it’s to keep teams that click together. Vinas has managed in the Sox system since 2011, and spent last year with the Knights. He managed the Barons from 2013-15 and guided them to a league championship in 2013 (and minor league championships are always indicative of future major league success, right?!).

A Fleer Card of Pitching Coach Jose Bautista

A Fleer Card of Pitching Coach Jose Bautista

Pitching Coach: Jose Bautista 

This IS that Jose Bautista, if the Jose Bautista you’re thinking of is the one that makes you go, “That isn’t THAT Jose Bautista, is it?” He worked in the same capacity for Winston-Salem in 2016. Prior to that, he was a roving instructor who worked with Latin players, so having him as a full-time coach for two years is hopefully a sign of more and continued Latin integration within the system. Here’s our most recent interview with Jose.

Hitting Coach: Cole Armstrong

Armstrong is, like Bautista, one of a handful of relatively recent (2010 is still recent to me) Sox minor leaguers turned Sox coaches. It’s an interesting strategy and honestly I’m not sure how common it is throughout baseball. Armstrong spent 2016 managing the Intimidators. I hate to use the word “incestuous” on a family blog, but that’s the nature of the game? Here’s an interview with him, if you want to get to know Cole a little better.

CLASS A WINSTON-SALEM

Manager: Willie Harris    

Willie Harris has a Lifetime Gold Pass in my book, so he could literally not win a single game as manager of the Dash and I’d be like, that’s fine. Harris was the hitting coach for Great Falls last year and I was all about it, and now he’s managing for the Dash and I remain all about it. This is a pretty quick promotion for someone with not a lot of experience and, as expected, I am all about it. Thanks for the run, Willie. You do you.

Pitching Coach: Brian Drahman

Drahman is entering his tenth year coaching in the Sox organization. There’s not a lot to say. He is a good pitching coach who has done his job well for a long time.

Hitting Coach: Charlie Poe

Poe, who was drafted by the Sox in 1990 but never played for the major league club, returned to them as a coach for Kannapolis in 2011 and has coached in the system every year since then, managing Great Falls in 2014. This will be his third year with the Dash. We interviewed him in 2015 as well, within.

CLASS A KANNAPOLIS

Manager: Justin Jirschele

You’ve heard about Justin Jirschele! Dude is a lil baby, by which I mean dude is only a couple years older than me (I am still a thought my parents are having). He’s the son of Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele, and transitioned directly from playing to coaching in 2015. In 2016, he was promoted from Great Falls to Kannapolis, where he was also hitting coach. Now, four years after playing for them, he’s managing them. It shows the faith the White Sox have in him. Jirschele will turn 27 shortly after Opening Day in April. It’s cool though, we’re all also doing things with our lives.

Matt Zaleski (via MiLB.com profile page)

Matt Zaleski (via MiLB.com profile page)

Pitching Coach: Matt Zaleski

Zaleski, yet another Sox minor leaguer turned coach. His last year pitching was 2014 for Charlotte, and his first year coaching was 2016 for Great Falls. You can read an interview with Zaleski the Coach here, and you’ll notice he mentions as heavy influences several of the names mentioned above. He’s already built a strong reputation within the organization as a coach. As a player, he spent 11 seasons in one organization without every reaching the majors or going to another club – something that, as far as we can tell, is true of no other baseball player in the modern era.

Hitting Coach: Jamie Dismuke

Dismuke has bounced around the minors a bit as a coach, but joined the White Sox in 2015 and spent 2015-16 with the Barons.

ADVANCED ROOKIE GREAT FALLS

Manager: Tim Esmay

Esmay was the longtime head coach for Arizona State University before moving to the Sox system to manage the Dash in 2015. In 2016, he was an assistant coach for the Knights.

Pitching Coach: John Ely

Ely is an interesting hire. The Sox traded him to the Dodgers for Juan Pierre after the 2009 season, and Ely’s last year in baseball was only 2015. This will be his first season back with the Sox in a coaching capacity. Can he be another Zaleski?

Hitting Coach: Eric Richardson

Richardson is also a former farmhand, although his career was in the 1990s.

ARIZONA ROOKIE LEAGUE

Manager: Ryan Newman

Newman’s father is Jeff Newman, who managed the Oakland A’s for 10 entire games in 1986. Ryan has been managing in the Sox system since 2009 with Bristol, and won a league championship with the Voyagers in 2011. We interviewed him during his first managerial job in Winston-Salem in 2013.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ACADEMY

Academy Supervisor: Ever Magallanes 

This is a new assignment for Magallenes, who was the infield coordinator. He’s coached Mexico twice in the World Baseball Classic and managed in the Sox minors sporadically, including the AZL Sox in 2016. This is a very important gig and the Sox are only a few years removed from the whole David Wilder scandal that we don’t like to talk about, so a lot of eyes will be on Magallenes and the Academy in general.

Overall, there’s a lot of new faces joining a lot of dudes who have basically lived in their Sox uniforms for decades. There are some big changes and exciting moves, especially in the mid-and-lower levels, and let’s face it, more of the same probably won’t fly given the un-storied history of the White Sox farm system (thought experiment: who was the last Sox homegrown position player who stuck in the bigs with the team?). I’m optimistic with the new faces, but, my proposed motto for 2017, “We’ll see.”

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    Whatever happened to Adrien Nieto? The Sox claimed him through the Rule 5 draft and kept him all season. Then he went back to AA, didn't have a great year, and then I lost track of him. He doesn't come up in the MILB.com search.

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