Last week was the Winter Meetings and the White Sox stole the headlines with their trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. Both Sale and Eaton brought back multiple impressive prospects and we reached out to the Scouting Director Nick Hostetler to learn more about the team’s new top prospects as well as some of his recent draft picks.
Brian Bilek: Well you guys acquired seven players in the two trades and five of them were right-handed pitchers. Did you expect it to go that way or was it just a matter of getting the absolute best prospects you could?
Nick Hostetler: The whole time the goal was to get the best prospects and that’s when Rick decides to pull the trigger. I even asked him and he said, “We’re getting the best guys right now.” Bottom line is, and we can try and sugar coat it all we want, but until last year’s draft the system was bare and really thin. Last year’s draft definitely helped and we added some depth to it with Collins, Hansen, Burdi as some guys you can dream on but at the same time, I think Rick Hahn accomplished not only quantity but he also got quality with it. Being able to do that and hit on both of those that’s all you could ask for from a General Manager who’s put in that spot to rebuild because we’re pretty much rebuilding the whole organization.
Bilek: I saw you speak on a YouTube program and you spoke on Moncada a bit and it seemed you have some good experience seeing him play. How much of your scouting duties expand past the amateurs and the Rule 4 Draft?
Hostetler: It’s increased a lot more recently with the Fall League stuff and working with Marco to see some of the Latin kids but just seeing our own clubs too I had the chance to see Boston’s Greenville team, Boston’s Salem team and Boston’s Pawtucket team and it wasn’t by design, it just kind of happened when I was seeing our clubs.
I am very detailed person and organized so I have the notes and some background on those guys and now with the capabilities of all the video we have at our finger tips I am able to pull up anybody at any point in time and watch ABs or watch them throw. So it’s definitely expanded a bit, but at the same time it’s kind of in the context of what I am doing amateur wise as well. I definitely don’t lose focus on the amateur guys but I have fun seeing these guys once they’re professionals.
Bilek: You touched on going out to the Arizona Fall League and while I am just following along on Twitter, it was clear to me this year that Michael Kopech was one of the most impressive guys out there this year. Scouts and executives absolutely raved about the 21-year-old. Were you thinking at that time that the Sox could turn around and acquire such a player just a short time later?
Hostetler: In regards to Michael or Moncada or whoever it may be, you look at what we had with Chris Sale and Adam Eaton and their contracts are so team-friendly, but their production is so high. I thought the returns were going to be around where they were for this group and where they’re going to be if we continue this process. The one thing Rick said from the start and stuck by this was that he wasn’t going to compromise what he thought the value of those players were and he didn’t. It shows in the first two moves and any move that happens later will likely show the same thing.
Bilek: Giolito is a guy that was in the Sale trade talks and he’s obviously someone you’ve been following since at least 2012 or so. He found the majors for the first time last year and things could have definitely gone better for him but you guys were definitely targeting him. Could we expect some tweaks with Giolito or was that more of growing pains coming to the Major Leagues?
Hostetler: You know what Brian, I think there’s a few things with him. My history with him goes back to the summer of 2011 or somewhere back there. He’s always been a premium talent and he’s always been in the limelight. Everyone in his family is mostly, if not all of them, in show business, so he’s had the spotlight on him and I think he’s handled it very well. He’s had some adversity to deal with. I can’t even imagine to be considered a top five pick and blowing your arm out – what that’s going to do mentally and having to come back from it. We know that with Tommy John [surgery] while the timeframe says 12 months to get back on the mound but we don’t see the full guy until 24 months removed and their second full season of accumulating innings.
There’s some tweaks that we saw and it’s no different than the draft process. Coop (Don Cooper) will watch video, Has (Curt Hasler) will watch video, Kenny (Williams), Dot (Richard Dotson) and Buddy (Bell). We’ll all get our looks on him and throw out our ideas on what we think can help. There are a couple things mechanically to increase a little bit more angle on his fastball and that could help with command as well. But yeah, things didn’t go the way he wanted but I think the physical tools and the stuff are still there and it’s just matter of a young kid getting some experience. For us, there’s no reason to rush him up to the big leagues and have him come up in the early part of 2017. We have an opportunity to let him season and let him develop. It’s a positive for us but also a positive for Lucas.
Bilek: Another guy who went through some adversity, and I am sure you may have seen him in Greenville, is Victor Diaz. He gave up three runs on July 8th and didn’t give another run up for the rest of the year. Did something change with him? Did he find his command? Could you speak to his dominance down the stretch?
Hostetler: This kid has a big, big arm. It’s a 100 MPH arm. But like a lot of Latin kids, he was raw so I think it’s a matter of experience and getting innings. I try to remind everyone that these kids come over at 17-18 years old and not only do they have to adjust to the game of baseball, they have to adjust to living a different lifestyle in a different country. That’s tough on these guys.
But to your question, I don’t know if it’s one thing we can attribute it to but he was a guy that our pro scout John Tumminia fought really, really hard for. Dan Fabian deserves a ton of credit on that young man as well because he just kept pounding Rick on including him in the deal because Dan and John really liked him. I never had the chance to see him but everyone who has and everyone we heard from outside the organization was extremely positive about the upside and ceiling to this kid.
Bilek: So going to your specialty with the draft, you guys acquired a first rounder from last June’s draft. He was drafted just a few picks after you guys selected Zack Burdi and he pitched with AJ Puk and Logan Shore and others at Florida, so I am sure you guys saw him a decent amount. What can you tell us about Dane Dunning and what does he need to do to stick as a starter?
Hostetler: Dane was a guy targeted in our draft process as a guy I really wanted. We met with him in the fall prior to the season and I came away really impressed with not only him as a pitcher but I fell in love with the makeup and character of the kid. He’s extremely intelligent and he’s a great teammate. Everyone who talks about him says the same even when I was talking to some of his professors for a background check. It was just glowing reports. His coaches love him too.
But to the way they used him at Florida, he’d pitch in relief on the weekends and start midweek. If he didn’t throw much on the weekends you could see him pitch for 3-4-5 innings on a Tuesday or Wednesday and some of his better outings with higher strikeouts were starts that he had midweek. We identified him as a guy who can start and there was no question in my mind he could do so. It was a power, heavy, sinking fastball, which will play extremely well in our ballpark. Then the breaking ball is really devastating when he’s on top of it.
Dane was in a hard role there because he could never get in routine with his side days and all that but he never complained. He just kept asking coach O’Sullivan and the coaches at Florida for the ball. We even called them late [Wednesday] morning just to get their opinions one more time. They were adamant on the kid on and off the field. The change-up is still a bit of a development but that’s because he didn’t really have to throw it much.
Dane has an uncanny ability to get ground balls and he just battles and competes. It sounds a bit crazy because of how long I am talking on him but I really don’t have a negative on Dane. He’s a guy we focused on the whole time and when his name came up in this process with Washington, John Tumminia hit the minor leagues and identified him. Dan Fabian loved the analytics of it and I was head-over-heels on the kid. I think all of the stars aligned on this one. It almost felt like draft day again when he was included with all the excitement in me.
Bilek: And it has to be nice to have three first-rounders from the draft last year, and another one of those first rounders is Zack Burdi. Burdi was a reliever in college and a reliever with the Sox in the minors as well but you’ve flirted with the idea that Burdi has the three-pitch mix to be a starter. How does this rebuild affect the way that he’s going to be brought through the system? Should we still expect him to be in Chicago by May?
Hostetler: One of the things about rebuilds like this is the players will dictate to you when they’re ready rather than us having to push them along a little quicker than need be. It’s hard for the fans, and hard for even me to hear, but patience is the key with this whole rebuild and it’s hard to be patient. But with Zack’s situation, maybe if we were going for it and making a push to win to be a contender in ’17 we may have seen Burdi in the majors quicker than we expected and maybe even quicker than he was ready.
This situation that we’re in now, we’re going to be able to slow down the process with a lot of these guys. Not just Zack Burdi but even guys like Zack Collins. We have a history of pushing guys and getting them to the big leagues quick but in this situation we’re in now, we’re not going to have to do that. That’s a benefit for our organization and the depth of our system for Getzy (Chris Getz) and Buddy and the guys running the development staff because now they have time to make some corrections and make some adjustments but at the same time it’s benefit for these young men because they’re going to be physically and mentally ready when they get to the big leagues. You can’t replace that development time with anything. It’s a win-win for us. I think the fruits of the labor are going to be very exciting. You can’t replace that development time with anything.
Bilek: Well I want to continue on the draft but you touched on Chris Getz and he was in Kansas City working for friends of yours in JJ Piccolo and Dayton Moore. Was this as simple as Rick Hahn getting a Michigan guy to fill a position or did you weigh in on this one as well?
Hostetler: I am an Ohio State guy so I would have not recommended Getzy at any time for this job. But really, I did not know Chris at all. I wasn’t around the club and I was even in Atlanta most the time Chris was here but getting to know Chris the last few months I am really excited to get to work hand-in-hand with him. I think the one thing that gets dismissed with our titles saying whatever they are but I am going to get Chris out there to see some players and he’s going to ask me opinions on guys and where they should go so we truly do work hand-in-hand.
But I do have a lot of close friends in Kansas City and a lot of teammates. Dayton obviously hired me and Lonnie Goldberg and I were area scouts together. I’ve talked to each of them when Getz got the job and they were all really excited for him and for me because I guess we’re both smart mouths so we hit it off really well. We have a good relationship already it’s open and it’s honest. I wasn’t a part of the interview process at all though as Rick and Buddy handled all that. I’ll say it’s hard for me to say I am extremely happy in a Michigan guy hiring a Michigan guy but I can promise you for the Chicago White Sox this is a great hire.
Bilek: Getting back to draft, the biggest story for White Sox fans has been Alec Hansen. You went on Chicago radio on draft night and said you guys had a couple changes in mind for Hansen and you really thought he could find that 1-1 potential that was put next to his name but I’d guess he even outperformed your wildest imagination. What changed from him?
Hostetler: There were two things. One, from the mechanical side: where he broke his hands. We felt he carried his hands a little too long and he was late getting out of his glove and it causes his arm to drag and it caused an inconsistency in arm slot. We saw that, but really Brian, that was it – at least mechanically. His hands got deep sometimes and got behind him but not much. It wasn’t a hard fix. Coop (Don Cooper) saw the video, Has (Curt Hasler) and we came up with a plan.
These trades and these prospects were acquiring, it’s pro scouting and amateur scouting working together. That right there is the epitome of what player development and scouting working together can do in Alec Hansen.
The other thing was pure mental. He was never put in a position at Oklahoma where he’d get the ball and he was comfortable that he could get out of jams. His head was looking over his shoulder at who was warming up in the pen. The first time he pitched for us he walked a guy and looked at the pen and saw nobody was warming up. He could take a deep breath and realize we have confidence in him and we believe in him. That started from day one. It started with our area scout Clay Overcash convincing Alec that this was the right place for him.
Once he got to Arizona and got around the guys he really bought in. He let his guard down. He’s very confident, he didn’t show it much in college but he is and it shows through. Once he got to Great Falls with Z…Matt Zaleski has an uncanny ability to related to these kids and he did a great job with him and he carried that up to Kannapolis. Even there, in his first start there were a couple mishaps out of his control and his numbers didn’t look as great but he came back, dialed it in and threw really well.
To comment on your question, yes, I’d be lying to you if I said I knew it went this well but the exciting part with Alec is there’s so much ceiling with kid and he hasn’t even scratched the surface of it. If this continues to trend we’re going to be talking about him with Giolito, Kopech and Lopez and all these other guys and hopefully winning a lot of games for us.
Bilek: And when you list the names there, I almost feel bad for guys like Hansen, Spencer Adams and Jordan Stephens because you guys brought in these big righties and Jordan Stephens never got the credit he deserves already and now there’s a line in front of him.
Hostetler: Oh yeah. He’s going to pitch in the big leagues. Jordan Stephens has some of the best on-field toughness and grit that I’ve ever seen. This kid gets after it. There’s a lot of Jake Peavy in this kid. You feel bad for these kids but he’s going to pitch in the big leagues. They go on their Twitter accounts today and they’re seeing the top ten lists and they’ve moved out. I even said this to one prospect drinker yesterday with a publication. He sent me the list and I said, “I agree with you, I see it, I get it, but you guys are selling a few other guys that have been here short.” It’s a flavor of the day type thing but he sent me a text at about 11:30 last night and he was like, “Yeah, you’re right.”
Bilek: And it goes all the way back to way the guys you were able to draft him in the fourth round. If he never gets hurt at Rice, you probably don’t get the opportunity to draft him.
Hostetler: Especially losing those two picks that year there was no shot.
Bilek: Then just to close out – on more of a somber note – the Sox traded the guy who’s been their most productive player over the better half of the last decade in Chris Sale. Sale was a guy that you personally recommended and I am sure his success played a part in your prominence in the organization. I am sure you’re happy with the team’s increased emphasis on development, but it had to touch you up a little bit that you lost your most successful recommendation to date?
Hostetler: Not only does it hit from a professional standpoint but even more so on a personal standpoint. He was my five-year-old son’s favorite player. My son’s got a fathead of himself on his wall in a Chris Sale jersey. My son was upset when my wife told him. It didn’t really hit me until about fifteen minutes after the deal was announced and you start to reflect, it was very bittersweet. I have a great relationship with Chris and his representation. They know my son’s admiration for Chris. They know my admiration for Chris. When I would see Chris at the ballpark we’d sit and talk and to think the next time I show up at at the ballpark he’s not going to be there, it’s going to be hard. There was nothing better to watch him take the ball every fifth day with his competitiveness and his drive is something you can’t replicate.
Some of the things that were considered his downfalls were exactly why we took Chris. He pitched with an edge, he pitched with a chip on his shoulder. For years people were saying he was going to break and he couldn’t start and he couldn’t hold up and all Chris kept doing was taking the ball and going after it.
For me personally, it’s really hard because I love the kid. You’re right that he’s my number one and to be quite honest with you, it’s going to be hard to top a five time All-Star. This guy was special and this kid was special. The amount of work we put in with him in the Cape Cod and all the background at Florida Gulf Coast…it’s hard. I am getting windy with it because it’s hard and there is a lot of memories and thoughts that go into it. While I am excited about what we got in return for Chris there will always be a place in my heart and a place in my head that’s going to miss Chris. I am upset that it didn’t work here with Chris because I wanted to be able to celebrate with him in the locker room and know that my recommendation had some sort of a say in winning a championship. It might have to come through a different avenue now but at the same time I’ll always miss him and miss him in a White Sox uniform. Hopefully for his sake he wins, I just hope he doesn’t win when it’s against us.
**As always, we appreciate Nick taking the time to share his insight with everyone so thank you Nick.
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