Interview With Rick Hahn and Buddy Bell - Recap & Analysis Part 2

A continuation from Part One. As in that article, questions and answers are paraphrased as accurately as was possible from my notes.

Question 6.  Kevin of White Sox and Stuff asked if Rodon’s path to the majors had been determined yet - starter in AAA first, breaking in through the bullpen, etc.

Hahn’s Answer: This has yet to be decided, actually. The target is definitely for Rodon to be a major rotation piece. As examples of guys who have successfully transitioned to the majors through the bullpen he cited Chris Sale, Mark Buehrle, and Orioles teams of old.

My Reaction: It makes sense that Hahn doesn’t want to commit to one path or the other at this point. Sale has been the obvious comparison for Rodon ever since he was drafted, and while I understand why that would be - lefty super prospect!! - I think there are a lot of significant differences. I don’t think it’s an accident that Hahn used Buehrle as another example, as it goes further back in the organization and obviously Buehrle was never a flamethrower or a high profile prospect.

The Orioles point is instructive in the sense that pitchers have converted from relief to starting for a long, long time in baseball and it doesn’t necessarily compromise said prospect’s ability to become a starter. Johan Santana is another lefty who did that. I still would prefer he’s in the AAA rotation rather than the bullpen, but I trust Cooper to figure out the best process for him. 

My father has always talked about how Earl Weaver liked to break in pitching prospects via relief. 

Question 7. Rob of Future Sox asked about the status and development of Rodon’s change.

Hahn’s Answer: It’s close. Rodon obviously has to make the general adjustment to the majors that all rookies face, but specifically he needs to 1. Refine his change; and 2. improve his fastball command. The slider is presently plus plus - no issues there. Just needs to refine feel and command. Hahn sees a plus ceiling on Rodon’s change. He said that Rodon actually threw more change ups last August than he has thus far in Spring Training. This Spring they’ve been focusing more on fastball command. 

My reaction: Everybody’s been talking about the fastball command and the change up since before he got drafted. I was glad to hear Hahn say that he sees a plus change there eventually. Fastball command as a priority makes sense at this stage.

Question 8. Jim asked about the relievers in camp and whether there are time pressures to make decisions on guys like Matt Albers, and whether Albers can opt out of the deal.

Hahn’s Answer: This is governed by the CBA. 20B Free Agents (normal FAs) on minor league deals have to be informed what is going to be done with them on March 31st - whether they made the team, whether they’ll be released, or kept in the minors. On June 1st they can then opt for free agency if still in the minors.

Brad Penny, Geovany Soto, and Jesse Crain are all on deals like this.

Question 9. A writer (whose name I missed, terribly sorry!) from Bleacher Report asked about the final rotation spot, and whether candidates for the last spot were being considered for a long relief spot. 

Hahn’s Answer: Whoever replaces Sale, should they need someone to replace Sale, may do a long role. Penny is different from Scott Carroll - Carroll has come out of the bullpen before, and Penny never has. A spot start may not be necessary, as he his progressing nicely. Hahn said there is a private, internal calendar for Sale’s progression and so far he has hit every single piece of the schedule.

My Reaction: Keith Law pointed out that the Giants wound up having an edge in the playoffs last year because of their two long relievers. With guys like Noesi and Danks in the rotation (and just generally for days where the starter goes all wrong) it would be helpful to have someone who could go 3+ innings. There are candidates for it, but I suppose it’s low on the list of priorities. 

Question 10. Jim closed the questioning by basically asking if an APB had been put out for Erik Johnson. 

Hahn’s Answer: He currently has a small side tweak, and he is expected to pitch again before the end of Spring Training. On a throwing program. Hahn added at the end that it was a strained side which is not an oblique. 

My reaction: Distinguishing between a side strain and an oblique was a surprise. I suppose obliques are rather ominous and can linger these days. I interpreted this to mean it’s less serious than that. Credit to Jim for asking - I keep forgetting about Erik Johnson, when this time last year lots of people thought he could be a really solid rotation option. 

On the whole, Hahn came across as extremely competent, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Whether the results are what we hope for, Hahn’s decisions seem very strong to me so far. Front office is looking as good as it has in a long time. 


Question 1. Rob of FutureSox asked if there were any diamonds in the rough or breakout candidates in the system this year.

Bell’s Answer: Spring Training tells us little, but he’s excited to see Jace Frye and Spencer Adams this year. Additionally, Marco Paddy has done a phenomenal job in the Dominican Republic and the international market, citing Micker Adolfo and Nunez as guys from that source that he’s excited to see. 

As far as jumps, Bell hopes to see Trayce Thompson make it to the majors this year, and obviously enjoyed Hawkins’ camp so far. Hawkins needs to make adjustments. 

Bell then came back to the international component, saying that it has supplemented the system, and it has taken lots of pressure off of the domestic system too.

My Reaction: There was a lot here! I learned a lot from this conversation with Bell. It makes sense that Bell would be pumped about the international presence if it is actually finally starting to show fruit. Hearing someone who has been working with the system for years must be so excited to see these new resources pouring in. After all, the White Sox’ Latin America program was essentially non-existent for a decade. 

Question 2. I had the chance to ask if, other than the good results, if he had seen anything specific that Hawkins had done this Spring that he found encouraging.

Bell’s Answer: “Balance and direction” came up several times in his answer, as Bell said that they have been talking about this since the first time they brought Hawkins in. The advantage of having Hawkins in major league camp is that he gets to work up close with big leaguers, so he can see first hand players doing the things that they’re asking him to do. Bell said that other than strikeouts, Hawkins had put up good numbers last year, and that in terms of “balance and direction” they were starting to see daily improvements in those areas as opposed to just sporadic ones.

He also made a point of emphasizing that the majors are not the same thing as Spring Training or AA. There are different arsenals that prospects will see, and that there is more velocity in season than in Spring Training.

Hawkins will start in AA.

My reaction: Well, this seems to make it official that Hawkins will start at AA. I’m not entirely clear on what “balance and direction” means specifically about say, mechanics or approach, but I can guess. 

A good reminder here as to why Spring Training doesn’t really matter or can’t be used reliably whatsoever for any projections for the rest of the season. I mean, if a player has a stable baseline of performance and has health question marks it can be a good way to see if a player has healed, but otherwise even if the level of competition is real (e.g. facing Felix Hernandez as opposed to Brad Penny) you still aren’t seeing them as the real thing. Velocities aren’t even up to normal levels.

Question 3. Jim asked about the timing of cuts, using the example of Trayce Thompson being sent to minor league camp while Courtney Hawkins remained with the big leaguers.

Bell’s Answer: Some of these decisions are made for administrative reasons. Moreover, the plan is what’s best for the individual in question. Trayce is going to Charlotte because they want to start him playing in full games. Hawkins, however, has a great relationship with Todd Steverson, and they want him to keep spending time with that relationship which is working. And, at some level, they also wanted to let Hawkins keep enjoying the success he was having.

My reaction: Anyone who’s listened to the podcast lately knows that we are all too scared to love Hawkins again. Still, last year and this Spring were about as good of an outcome as could reasonably be expected at the end of 2013. 

Question 4. Rob of Future Sox asked about promoting Hawkins.

Bell’s Answer: The point of the minors is to learn what you need to do ultimately to get to the majors. Bell doesn’t believe there’s much of a jump from Low A to High A, and thought that Hawkins needed to be humbled. He suffered with strikeouts.

Bell said that in his own experience as a player, he wanted to be pushed. He wanted to know what his goals were, and as a result they have pushed their own players generally (and he believes they have been successful in doing so). 

Bell reiterated that the jump from Low A to High A is just not a big deal. The jump from AAA to MLB is the biggest one, and it didn’t used to be. AAA is not even close to MLB - the speed of the game is so quick now. Even the A ball to AAA is not as big a jump as it used to be. 

My reaction: I and others have killed the White Sox for the decision to start (and leave) Hawkins at High A for 2013 as he was absolutely annihilated at that level. I don’t recall the phrasing of the question exactly, but I believe Bell could have avoided discussing that portion of Hawkins’ career if he had wanted. Instead he took it head on. 

The comment that Hawkins needed to be humbled yields the inference that he was somehow overconfident, or perhaps didn’t put enough effort in or something along those lines? Hard to know exactly. 

Bell’s take on the relative strength of the different levels was fascinating to me. It certainly explains a lot of their promotion philosophy in the last few years. It’s also very different from how I imagined it, and perhaps that’s my mistake. Buddy Bell has seen a lot more of the minors than I have. They’ve been extremely aggressive with the promotion of position players, and this might be why. 

Question 5. Jim pointed out that with the acquisitions of Soto and Brantly alongside Nieto and Kevan Smith the catching ranks at the AA and AAA levels has gotten quite crowded. 

Bell’s Answer There are only so many innings to go around. Nieto was a Big Leaguer in 2014. There’s a plan now, but the organization isn’t ready to make it public yet, as they want to maintain the atmosphere of a competition for the jobs. The one specific thing he would say was that Kevan Smith was great in AA.

My Reaction: Kevan Smith has been around forever, and frankly I had written him out my plans. I would hope that he was excellent in AA - he was 26 and he’s been in pro ball for four full seasons after playing college ball. 

Question 6. Steven of SouthSide Showdown asked what the plan was for Tim Anderson.

Bell’s Answer: Anderson hasn’t played 1-year of pro ball yet. One big goal is to run more. They’re hoping to lead him off or alternate 1-2 with May. They want him to understand the zone a bit better. He’s competitive. Needs to keep zone control through count. He’s really smart. There’s a bit of a Catch-22 because the more you swing, the more you understand the zone. 

My Reaction: People have gotten very excited about Anderson, and understandably so, but the perspective that he’s only played pro ball for a year provides a healthy dose of perspective. 

Again, I defer to Bell’s vastly superior expertise, but I worry about this approach to teaching hitters zone control. Maybe I’m just skeptical because of the poor results in terms of hitting development in the last 10 years, but I’ll just chalk that up to faulty talent input into the system rather than try to act like I know better than Bell.

Question 7. Jim Margulus - Where is Matt Davidson? Is he injured?

Bell’s Answer: He’s in a great frame of mind. He got ahead of himself last year, he wanted to be in the majors and it snowballed on him. He lost focus in terms of maintaining it through every pitch, every game, etc. He’s in great shape, he has a simpler approach and he’s shorter to the ball. In minor league camp he has the chance to play every day. Davidson is a cautionary tale of spring training success.

Similarly, Hawkins can get ahead of himself.

My reaction: That last bit of candor startled me. Like Erik Johnson, if Davidson returned to his pre-2014 trajectory it could be a tremendous windfall for the organization. Contacts and strikeouts are obviously his biggest problem and he’s supposed to bring most of his value from his bat. If he actually has a simpler approach and is shorter to the ball, he could possibly tap into his once-solid potential. And, given his age and how much time he’s had at AAA, it’s not inconceivable he could help out in 2015 after all. 

Not sure how fair it is to say it’s Hawkins’ fault that he got ahead of himself when the organization promoted him like crazy. 

Question 8. I wrapped up the questioning by asking what Spencer Adams needs to do to move up in the organization.

Bell’s Answer: “Just do what he’s doing.” At this point they’re just trying to protect him. He’s an 18-year old who strikes out lots of hitters and doesn’t walk anybody. He could improve his breaking ball - get it tighter, sometimes it spins on him or he overthrows it. He needs to trust his stuff.

Adams has what Bell referred to as “narrow vision” akin to a jump shooter “Just seeing the basket.” He’s never seen another high school guy like this, and he’s a special athlete.

My reaction: I am way too excited about Spencer Adams. I think if he stays healthy he’ll be a monster. It’s not often you hear that a projectable 18-year old just needs to stay the course. 

In sum I am extremely grateful to the White Sox P.R. Department for setting this up and for both Rick Hahn and Buddy Bell to take time out of their schedule during a really busy time of year to let us get some insight we never could otherwise. Perhaps it’s just me reading way too much into what they’re saying, but I came away feeling like I understand the organization better, and quite optimistic for its future.