Q&A with Willie Harris, Charlie Poe, Zack Collins and Dane Dunning

While visiting Winston-Salem recently, I had the opportunity to sit with a handful of Dash players to discuss a wide array of topics. Below are Q&A sessions with a pair of key prospects, their manager and their hitting coach, providing a more personal glimpse into player development and their personalities.

RHP Dane Dunning

Rob Young: The White Sox were considering you with their pick, before you were drafted by the Nationals.  Did you have any inclination the Sox were interested?

Dane Dunning: I kind of stayed away from all that when I was going through college. I had my agent mainly handle all that stuff just because I was still in-season and we had Super Regionals coming up and I wanted to be focused on all that. I was told by my agent I would be taken on the first day, I didn’t know if it would be first round or second round, I was just happy to be taken in general. The day of the draft I had a party at my apartment and I just told my agent to let me know whenever a deal is done and what number, other than that I don’t want to really hear anything. I had a couple buddies over, Sean Anderson and Scott Moss, with Sean’s family.

RY: Going into the Winter Meetings, did your agent warn you that you might be part of a deal?

DD: At the start of it, there wasn’t any discussions, but its actually kind of a funny story on how I got traded. So before the actual trade happened, Chris Sale was rumored to go to the Nationals. I was rumored in that trade, one of my buddies told me he saw it on twitter while we were playing PlayStation Live. So he was telling me, “oh dude you might get traded,” so I was messing with him and told him, “I did get traded, trade is done, and I’m a White Sox!” I kept messing with him until I told him it wasn’t true and he got all pissed. But then the Adam Eaton trade came in and my brother comes running into my room and once again, I am playing PlayStation with the same guys who I was messing with. My brother asks if I am on the phone, and I told him I’m just sitting here playing PlayStation, and he said, “you know you just got traded right?” Meanwhile, all my buddies can hear this, so I can hear them saying “oh my God,” so I thought he was messing with me, just like I was messing with my buddies earlier. I didn’t believe him, I was like “ha, thats funny, thats a good one,”  but he said, “no seriously, call your agent.” But I still didn’t believe him, I didn’t think there was a shot, but literally five seconds later my agent calls me and tells me I was traded. My agent didn’t want to say anything until it was finalized, which I respect a lot. Because what if some guy is rumored in a trade, the agent tells him and he is all happy or pissed, then it doesn’t go through? And to add to that story, my agent is also Chris Sale’s agent. So he told me it would have been so much easier if I was traded for Chris Sale.

RY: Moving on to this season, you were just recently promoted to Winston-Salem, but could you talk about Coach Z and the run you were on down in Kannapolis?

DD: Zaleski is a great pitching coach, he is great player’s coach, because he has been there. He has played minor league ball, he just retired two years ago, he knows how it feels and is easy to talk, knew how to explain things, and we just clicked.

RY: Could you describe your plan of attack during one of your starts?

DD: The more we play teams, the more there will be reports on each hitter, so I’ll take a look at it and if my catcher wants to talk a look at it, that’s even better. But mainly I try to attack heavy with fastballs, get ahead in the count, then hopefully get them to roll over early with my sinker, get some nice quick outs for the team. That’s a big thing for me, quick outs, gets your team in the dugout faster, especially on those hot days, team is just baking out there in the sun. I always felt like the team plays better when there are quick innings and they are more on their toes. That’s why I always attack heavy early, and if I have a chance to put out a batter, i’ll spin some, but mostly change-ups, sliders, and curveballs to get them off balance just so they aren’t on-time for my fastball.

RY: Have you seen any video of Mark Buehrle? He was one of the fastest working starting pitchers I’ve ever seen.

DD: I have! Its the same thing with Greg Maddux, I’m also a huge fan of his. He had the same strategy basically the whole time, low and away fastballs, low and inside fastballs, change-ups to keep them off-balance. He also had a wicked curveball, but if you watch his games he dominates with his fastballs/sinkers.

RY: What is your pitch repertoire and are you working on anything with Coach Drahman?

DD: Two seam and four seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve. I am working on slowing down my timing, I think my last two outings I’ve been rushing a little bit, just getting ahead of my body. On my next bullpen I am going to work on slowing down my windup, especially in the lower half, just so I can get my arm to catch back up.

C Zack Collins

RY: I’ve heard great reports of your defense behind the plate. Could you talk about the changes you’ve made?

Zack Collins: It was one day in Spring Training we went out there and threw the bases for about fifteen minutes. I was watching Narvaez, Geovany Soto, all the catchers in big league camp, on a couple things they did differently. I was flying open coming down to second which caused throws to either go off right or left, now I close myself off to second and get it in and out as fast as I can. Its been helping a ton.

RY: You’ve been getting hotter with the bat, is there anything you have been working on with Coach Poe?

ZC: We’ve been working on staying on the ball, staying through it. I don’t know why, but I started off my first game 3-4, two doubles, or three doubles, whatever it was, and they were all to left center. After that, I was pulling off balls every time. I don’t know why I was doing that, but its taken me a little while to get back to normal and now I’m driving the ball to all fields and feel good.

Hitting Coach Charlie Poe

RY: You have been all over the organization, managing, hitting coach, all at different levels. What has the transition been like to hitting coach here in Winston?

Charlie Poe: It’s not much of a transition because I know what it entails and how to get the guys prepared. I love the position because, especially at this level, trying to get these guys on the right path so they can make the adjustment to go to the next level. Its knowing how to keep a routine, having a game plan and getting themselves prepared.

RY: What have you been working on with Zack Collins?

CP: Staying with the basics and staying the course because we all know he got drafted very high because of things he does well. He catches well, he throws guys out, and he has a big time upside to his bat and he keeps getting better. He started off to a slow start but in no way does that mean its disappointing or he can’t hit, everybody goes through those spells. As of right now, he’s figuring it out very well and even when he does get an out he’s hitting it hard and putting it into play. The main thing is getting himself into a good position to hit and that’s something he does very well. The quickness of his bat, the way he sets up, and the way he tracks balls in the strike zone, all those things come to play – he is going to figure it out very soon. That guy is going to be on the move and play in the big leagues.

RY: Similar story with Luis Alexander Basabe, off to a slow start, what can you tell me about Luis?

CP: His approach is getting better, early on he was just swinging at a lot of bad pitches. Most of the time when you get yourself into a slump its because you are not swinging at strikes and you take yourself out of your approach and out of the zone and try to do too much. We got him coming in and looking at some of the film and see some of the strikes and balls he can handle rather than balls he can’t handle. He’s also coming around like Zack is, it takes time, hitting is not easy. We got off to a slow start as a team, but when it starts clicking and the guys stay on course and keep doing the little small things that got you here, things are going to start happening. Those two guys you brought up, things are turning around for them.

RY: We’ve talked about Collins and Basabe, but excluding those two, is there another player who is preforming better than the stats might indicate?

CP: There are a couple guys who got off to a slow start and are hitting much better, Ronald Bueno is one of them. He started off slow, didn’t have much playing time in the beginning, but now this guy comes and watches film, he is asking questions, watching how pitchers pitch him and his teammates, and he has made that adjustment. He has been putting together an incredible week recently. The other one is Danny Mendick, he is kind of a secondary player guy, but he has come into his own now. He has started to drive the ball all over the field and hitting home runs. He didn’t get that many at bats last year and he knows his role on the team, but the improvements he has made with his swing and his approach, it speaks volumes because he is one of the guys who is becoming an everyday guy now.

Manager Willie Harris

RY: This is your second year coaching and your first time managing. How has the experience been?

Willie Harris: Its been great man, a lot of fun. Definitely from a mental standpoint, working two-to-three innings ahead, situations, I see a lot more to the game than I ever did playing. Its totally different.

RY: Do you have a set philosophy the White Sox want you to follow or is it more flexible for your own managing style?

WH: Its a little bit of both. I have guidelines to follow, but I do have the authority to use my feel, if something needs to be done. If I want to hit and run in a certain situation, then I can. But organizational policy requires for us to bunt in some situations, it depends on the hitter. It’s all about development here and understanding that my job is to help these guys get better and make it to the major leagues.

RY: Has it been tough balancing being as competitive as possible and development?

WH: No that hasn’t been tough for me at all, because I understand and know why I am here. I knew that coming in, obviously I do want to win as a manager and I am sure these guys want to win as a team. But at the same time, wins are going to come. We are off to a pretty rough start, but its going to get better and the reason I know that is because I see these guys work. Its all about nerves, get this first month and half out of the way and when it starts warming up, you see bats start. That’s when more people start coming out to the ballgame, you start smelling the popcorn, its a lot of little different attributes that makes it go. It gets overlooked because a lot of times you see a guy struggling you just focus strictly on that and OK, he is hitting .160, why is he hitting .160? He may of lined out seven times, nobody talks about that, they just talk about the .160. They don’t talk about how hard he hits the ball, or how good his at bats are, and a lot of its overlooked.

RY: Following up on that, who are a couple players who that are better than the stats show right now?

WH: Aaron Schnurbusch is #1 for me. This guy does a lot of things right. Its easy to be a good teammate when things are going good, but he’s a good teammate even when things are going bad. He runs the bases hard, he plays great defense for us, backs up bases, he does everything the right way. For him to be hitting .160 or whatever, its a downer for me because I had him last year in Great Falls and we built that relationship. For me, you have to connect before you correct, so we have that relationship where I can pound him with something and he can take it. He knows I love him and I am here for you man, if you have any problems, on the field, off the field, whatever, call me I’m there for you. Hopefully he turns it around here soon, hoping tonight is the night for him, but its definitely in there and he is someone to be excited about. Obviously Zack Collins is the priority guy, he is going to be exciting in the major leagues, he is going to catch for a long time up there in the show. Basabe is going to be great in the big leagues, we also have a few guys who are sleepers. These guys know how to play baseball, just about getting it all together.

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