Q&A with six Charlotte Knights

While visiting the three North Carolina affiliates of the White Sox, in addition to getting video and analyzing the prospects, we conducted interviews with players and coaches. Lots of them, in fact.

Below are some highlights from the conversations we had in Charlotte with the Knights, where we spoke with the team’s pitching coach and five players. Get to know them a little more personally…

Steve McCatty in his playing days with the Athletics (via Baseball Almanac)

Steve McCatty in his playing days with the Athletics (via Baseball Almanac)

Pitching Coach Steve McCatty

FS: What was the process that brought you to the White Sox?

SM: The White Sox asked the Indians for permission to ask me about coming here (Charlotte) and I played with Kenny, Thompson, Capra and all these guys. I know all these guys and felt like would be a good fit. It’s been absolutely great from Buddy (Bell) on down, I go way back with Coop (Don Cooper) and I think the philosophies are a lot alike and I’m willing to give whatever I can to the kids.

FS: What can we expect to see from Reynaldo Lopez tonight?

SM: With Lopy, he’s got overpowering stuff, he’s got a great fastball, real nice curveball, he’s also added in a slider that he’s working on, and he has a nice change-up. For a guy like him he has to go out and focus on commanding the ball and being engaged from the first pitch on. He has been great, I know of him from my time with the Nationals.

FS: Much has been written about Lucas Giolito and the changes that Washington made to his mechanics. What specifically are you working on with Lucas?

SM: Its kind of unfair to say the Nationals have done a lot of stuff to him, we always have a choice as a pitcher if something is suggested to us that we don’t agree we don’t have to use it. I don’t think it was forced on him, but I’m not there either, so not a knock on them or Lucas. He is here now and we want him to get back to throwing the breaking ball for strikes and improve his change-up, which he has done. Still working on fastball command and he is a young guy and its only been a few years since he has been pitching. He still has to learn what he can do and what he can’t do. These guys don’t really know themselves and still need to figure out what their weakness is and what type of pitcher they are. Lucas is on that road. The velocity in the past I know has been higher, but he has no arm problems he just needs to get back and use those legs and trust himself to throw that fastball. He’s making strides with the breaking ball, change-up is developing, and trust that fastball.

FS: Carson Fulmer is having a strong year, what have you been emphasizing with Carson?

SM: The thing that was worked on with Carson last year, I’ve talked to Dot (Richard Dotson) a lot about it, is he is a fairly energetic guy and he likes to get going quick and has to learn how to stay back and not rush through his delivery. The other day (5 BB’s) I don’t know if he was pitching on an extra day’s rest or what, but he’s done a great job. He’s an outstanding competitor, we’ve been working on his curveball and his change-up has been nice. He has plenty enough fastball to pitch well in the big leagues and he is a great kid, works hard, and wants to learn.

White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito at SoxFest 2017. FutureSox/Brian Bilek

White Sox RHP Lucas Giolito at SoxFest 2017. FutureSox/Brian Bilek

Lucas Giolito

FS: I’m sure you’ve been asked this quite a bit, so I apologize in advance. When you were with the Nationals, as you approached the majors, they tinkered with your mechanics and it seemed to cause some struggles. Now with the Sox, it sounds like they are taking you back to a previous version. Can you provide a little more detail on that?

LG: It’s hard to say. There’s so much that I’ve tried to do, and tried to change over the past couple years that it kind of all bubbles up into… nothing. So at this point, it’s not really that hey, I’m focused on mechanics. I’m not trying to do this and this and this. I just want everything to be natural, everything to feel good. So when I am working on my mechanics, it’s just being fluid, being natural, making sure I repeat that. When I was in high school, and I had the talent to get picked in the first round, that’s how my mechanics felt and that’s where I want to be. That’s what I want to get back to, I guess you could say.

FS: On the flip side of that, what do you think your strength is right now? What are you most confident in?

LG: I’d say right now, I throw my curveball very well. That’s definitely a pitch where I’ve been able to get strikeouts, able to throw it earlier in the count. Whereas I used to shy away from throwing curveballs behind or early in the count. But the biggest thing I need to work on right now is definitely commanding the fastball. I’ve been walking too many guys to start the year.

FS: Speaking of pitches, have you added or taken away any specific pitches since joining the White Sox?

LG: Yeah, a cut-slider I worked on in Spring Training. It’s actually turned out to be a really useful pitch. It’s a breaking pitch I feel comfortable throwing in any count, throwing 2-1, 2-0. So the hitter’s not just sitting there 2-0 thinking, ‘here comes the change-up’. Now I can throw something that’s going this way [gestures cut movement], as opposed to my curveball that’s more 12-6. So it’s adding different angles.

FS: You’ve got almost a committee of strong pitching coaches I’m sure you were exposed to in spring and now here – Rich Dotson and JR Perdew as coordinators, Don Cooper of course, and your PC in Charlotte Steve McCatty. Is there any one of those you spent a particularly large amount of time with, or that you connected with?

LG: Oh definitely working with Cat [McCatty] the most, he’s the pitching coach here. He’s been great to work with so far. As far as working in the bullpen, he’s very level-headed, very calm. We’ll have very solid conversations, maybe after a bullpen to kind of run down ‘hey, what’s the game plan for the next game’, what do we need to work on. It’s all about learning, education, everything to be a better pitcher. He wants to see these guys make it up to the big leagues and stay there. It’s been awesome working with him.

FS: Have you spent much time in Chicago yet?

A: My only time in Chicago is when I went to the SoxFest in January. So that was like four or five days. When we weren’t doing all the activities there, I was able to spend a little time with my girlfriend seeing the city and doing stuff like that. It was snowing a little but, but I really loved it there, it’s an awesome city. I can’t wait to be spending more time there, of course.

Photo - Kim Contreras/FutureSox.com

Photo – Kim Contreras/FutureSox.com

Pitcher Carson Fulmer

FS: Any changes this year from last year?

CF: Nothing really changed, I altered my mechanics a little bit last year when I came down from the big leagues. I’ve been there ever since. I had a really good ST and I carried it into the season. I’ve had five starts and four really quality starts and I am pleased both mentally and physically where I am at.

FS: What mechanical changes did you make specifically?

CF: I think I struggled with my angle a bit. I was here (Charlotte) with Richard Dotson and he helped me stay tall and towards home plate. Being able to stay tall and drive towards home and keep my same mechanics. It gave me run on two-seam and throw more strikes. That has been something that I’ve really been focused on.

FS: What can you say about Coach McCatty and whats been your relationship with him been like?

CF: Since day 1. Obviously with his experience and past record you have to respect that. He coached at the level where we want all to be. It’s been very beneficial. He keeps things pretty simple and we work what we need to work on our bullpens and when it’s game time its time to compete. We all have that mindset of throwing the burden over our shoulder and do what it takes to win.

FS: What have you learned from your time in the big leagues?

CF: The experience and the exposure is a big thing. You know, I had some struggles but I also had some successes. My approach is to try to take as many positives as I can. I had some outings where a couple things got away, its a different pace up there. But I also had a couple outings where I threw the ball really well. I think coming back down here and settling in with the competition, I’ll be ready to take that next step, hopefully here soon. When that happens, I’ll be settled in and know what its like. Just mixing it up with the guys in spring training I think the transition will be smooth for when the time comes when I am back up there.

FS: Team chemistry here in Charlotte? Thoughts on being apart of the new core?

CF: We all feed off each other. As a pitching staff we are the motor of the game. We control the pace of the game, we control momentum, control a lot of things. I want to say that the biggest thing we are focusing on winning. We all want to win a championship together and develop together, want to grow together and we’ve gotten really close. When we get up there we want to stay up there and bring a championship back to the city of Chicago. We are ready to go to work together and we have each other’s backs. Its a good culture the White Sox are developing here.

Another thing I think is important is we aren’t scared to fail. You sign up for game of challenges and when we get up there we are going to have our struggles but we have each other’s backs. Rick Renteria and the coaching staff also have our backs. I think we have a really special group. I was a part of some really great teams in college with great winning tradition and we have that going here too.

Tyler Danish warms up, Spring Training 2015 (Daniel Shapiro / Future Sox)

Tyler Danish warms up, Spring Training 2015 (Daniel Shapiro / Future Sox)

Pitcher Tyler Danish

FS: You had knee surgery this past August, what was your off-season like with your recovery and rehab?

TD: Tougher than I thought it would be. I actually didn’t throw a ball or run almost until December. It was a lot of sitting around and go to rehab three times a week. It was about three months of that every day. I couldn’t really drive much, I couldn’t bend my knee past 90 degrees for about two months so it was a long one (off-season). But I see it as a blessing in disguise because I never realized how messed up my knee was until after. It feels great now and I’ve been able to get further down on the mound and the ball is coming out of my hand a lot better than past years.

FS: You were briefly in the big leagues, what did that experience teach you?

TD: It taught me you have to be more consistent in the zone. I didn’t get hit that hard, I just put guys on base and had mistakes and next thing you know its two runs from walking guys. As I mentioned, I feel the surgery was a blessing in disguise because I went home early and sit back for two months and think about baseball and what all last year brought me. I started in AA [in 2016] and I thought I progressed pretty well, I didn’t have the numbers I wanted but got the call to the big leagues. Then I come here [Charlotte] and struggled at first but I figured something out and threw well those last couple starts here and of course got hurt. But it let me realize I have to remember who I am as a person and who I am as a pitcher. I am not going to be that guy that strikes out 7-8 guys a night, that’s just not going to be me. I brought that into this year, to not try to be someone I’m not and that’s helped dramatically. Mentality wise going into a game its not “Let’s try to throw this ball past somebody,” its “lets get an out, three pitches or less, move on and pitch deep into games.”

FS: Your numbers are as good as they have been in years, what is the biggest contributing factor?

TD: I think its just confidence, I am trusting my sinker after in the past running away from it. I’d try to nitpick and when you have a good sinker going you got them in swing mood the off-speed plays off of it and I think that’s whats working for me. I am not walking guys, I’m not putting myself in counts where I have to be perfect. I am just attacking and getting ahead and everything else kind of plays off of that. I also think having a game plan and being more experienced has helped. I have a better mentality and understanding of how my game works and working that sinker down in the zone. If its not, then I need to make adjustments and get the job done. For instance, my past start I had a rough first few innings but I took a lot of pride in the fact that I made it through six innings without my best sinker and helped the team.

Adam Engel starts his swing in an AFL game (Kim Contreras / Future Sox)

Adam Engel starts his swing in an AFL game (Kim Contreras / Future Sox)

Outfielder Adam Engel

FS: You had a bit of a rough start, but have been on fire recently. How do you feel?

AE: It feels good. I was working on some stuff there at the end of Spring Training. Gellinger and I had talked about some changes I wanted to make and made some progress on some things that I think are going to help in the long run. Some of the things ran over from Spring Training to the start of the season and its taken a little bit of time to get comfortable with it. The last few weeks I’ve felt a lot better about it and having a game plan on how to execute and repeat it.

FS: How do you make baseball less mental and let your athleticism play through?

AE: Its funny, you work really hard in college and in the lower levels chasing this concept of the perfect swing and you heard from a lot different people on how you should swing. It’s a lot of information and its hard to quiet things. For me it just took some time to sort through it and what works for you and what doesn’t. You want to give it its due diligence and give it a fair chance to try and work for you. But at some point you have to stick with a core belief or something that you can really make your own. Once you get to that point, then its time to quiet your mind and let your athleticism play.

Hayes gearing up for a fastball in a 2017 Spring Training Game (Brian Bilek / FutureSox)

Hayes gearing up for a fastball in a 2017 Spring Training Game (Brian Bilek / FutureSox)

First Baseman Danny Hayes

FS: Last year, you missed a good chunk of the year with what you called a core muscle injury. Can you tell us a little more about what happened, what the recovery was like, and where you stand today with it?

DH: I was feeling like I had a strain for a couple weeks. Then in a game there was a line drive, and I just kind of reached across my body, and I felt like I just ripped something up in my core region. That put a little damper on the year, I got shut down for the rest of the season. I came back and I was able to get some at-bats in the [Arizona] Fall League, which was nice just to be able to see something after being shut down for 3 or 4 months. But yeah, once I got the surgery, it was an easy one. Six or seven weeks recovery and I was back and ready to go.

FS: Being here in AAA, and at the doorstep of the majors, do you have anything you are working while you wait it out?

DH: Just playing the game, getting better every day, getting at bats. Nothing crazy-specific. Just playing the game and trying to get better. The more at-bats you get, the better you’ll be. That’s a big thing for me because I only had like 180 [plate appearances] last year.

FS: Going back a bit to your history, you jumped straight from Low A to AA at one point, which is a big leap and one very few prospects make. How did that situation come about? Was it planned well ahead of time, or a last minute decision?

DH: I had a pretty good year in Kannapolis. I was there my entire first full season. I showed up for Spring Training, had an OK spring, but they made the jump and I’m happy that they did. It was a big jump, definitely a transition. There’s a lot of power arms in that [Southern] league, kinda gave a feel for what that next level is like. Once you get to Double A, it’s a big talent jump. The arms are just consistently better. I grinded for the beginning of that season, but it ended up OK.

FS: Do you follow the White Sox at all from here? Or do you not pay attention to what’s going on in Chicago?

A: I check to see if we won or not. We’re an organization and trying to strive to win together. We all have that one goal, and are all part of the White Sox organization, trying to get back to the post-season. It’s been a little while since that’s happened. So whatever I can do – here, there – to hopefully bring a championship back one day. If they need me up there, I’ll be up there. If they need me down here, I’ll stay down here.

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