SoxFest 2011 Recap — the minor league system

For my first fan girl experience of going to SoxFest, I had a fantastic time. I didn’t do any of the autograph or photograph sessions. Not that I wouldn’t have minded meeting any of the players, but I have just really never been that type of person. Once in a while, I might seek out an autograph (mainly from an author), but otherwise, I can live without getting my favorite players’ pictures or autographs. Nonetheless, spending time in the seminars this past weekend was amazing. I got to learn so many little tidbits about how things work for the White Sox organization and frankly, it made me like them a little more. With the off season moves I must admit I am impressed and am anxiously waiting for opening day 2011 to begin.

The seminar sessions covered all aspects of the team, from what is happening in the minors, things with the front office, coaches and of course, players both past and present.  Saturday’s seminars were: Next Generation 2.0; State of the Sox 2; Strategic Sox; Inside the Sox: From Draft to the Big Leagues; Feet of Fleet: Sox Speedsters; and finally Sox Sluggers: Past and Present. Sunday’s seminars were: Inside the Sox: From Draft to the Big Leagues; In the Dugout: Sox Coachspeak; Picks that Clicked: Sox Memories; Pitch Perfect: Sox on the Mound; and finally Next Generation 2. While some of the seminars were “repeats” there were different questions asked so they were not really repeating information. Lots of interesting tidbits came about.

On the minors: Buddy Bell made it clear he wasn’t a big fan of what Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune thinks of the minor league system or more accurately, care what Rogers thinks. The guys in the minor league system are more concerned with what Kenny Williams, Ozzie Guillen and other top management think of the players and how they are being developed. Something that Buddy mentioned was that when the baseball writers are ranking the players in a team’s minor league system, the writers are getting that information from people like himself. Bell said that when they give that information, they may not necessarily be giving up information they want out there. In other words, it is kind of a game of talking up your players in hopes of getting something you really want. I think the Braves organization has for years been the master of talking up their players, trading them for what they want and need. Of course, the most important thing when it comes to trades is to know your own players better than the other teams know your players.

The discussions of the minors drew a lot of questions and this is mainly because many fans feel that Kenny Williams has pillaged the minor league system as it is consistently ranked fairly low by Baseball America. Rick Hahn stated that the purpose of the minor league system is 2-fold: to help the major league club and to use as assets to get what you need from another team. He also admitted that the minors have had setbacks due to the skimming scandal in the Dominican Republic. Hahn thinks the team is on the right track now to improve. Hahn’s and the organization’s philosophy on how to use the minors is fine as far as I am concerned. There really haven’t been any trades that I feel have come back to hurt the White Sox. The jury is still out on the Peavy deal, however, but overall, no one who has been traded has not netted a great return for the White Sox.

In all the discussion about the minors, one thing that struck me was that in addition to it being a top-down philosophy of making sure the players from low A ball all the way up to Charlotte are doing the things that KW and Ozzie want in Chicago, but that there is an expectation of perfection. Bell repeatedly stated that they ask for it from the players. This made me start to think that while they are preaching a philosophy of fundamentals and playing the game the right way, they really work to get the players to buy into the philosophy. In my mind, it appears that if players come up and aren’t doing things you’d expect (a la comparison to the players that the Twins always seem to have on their field), it is on the players possibly not buying into the philosophy and doing those things necessary to succeed. If this is truly the case, then I would hope those players start to go with the flow rather than thinking they know what is best. After all, they are probably in the minors for a reason and not in the Big Show.

In some of the other sessions, there were questions about whether there was a “White Sox way” like there is the “Orioles Way” or the philosophy that the Twins have. As an aside, there were a tons of questions from fans about the Twins org and comparisons to the White Sox and praise for them (which annoyed other fans, especially when the praise came from White Sox players or coaches). Bell believes that basically everyone has the same philosophy of playing the game the right way. The organization from the top all the way to the bottom is all on the same page. Part of this has to do with the consistency that there has been in the coaching staff. This is helpful because as players move through the system, they know what is expected. The players also get “history” lessons on the team as well, though sometimes, they may not get the stuff right away.

After the minor league chats, I am really excited and Buddy Bell is really excited for fans to see some of the players coming along, such as Escobar and Phegley. He said the with A.J. Pierzynski being back, the team is very deep at the catching position, which is great to hear considering that at the end of the season and A.J. being a free agent, many fans were worried. Of course, the catching situation led to questions of why it is hard to find catchers in general as well as why there seem to be more pitchers coming out of the White System than position players. For the catching, Bell says that the reason for lack of catching in general is that when kids are playing, they get pulled from behind the plate if they are good and put in the middle infield or other positions. As for pitching, the organization sees itself as a power pitching organization. Additionally, it is easier to make tweaks to a guy who pitches 90+ than it is with hitting. With hitting it’s a matter of getting reps. And as Rick Hahn said: the most important thing in the game is pitching.

For all the fans who still think the minor league system is just awful, that may be true in comparison to other organizations, but remember that the information you get is based upon what the organization wants the writers who put those lists together to believe. I admit I have been skeptical of the system as well, but hopefully when we need those guys to fill in for the players currently on the White Sox should they get injured (which they better not), they step right in and do us proud. As always, if you have questions, leave them in the comments and I will do my best to answer. There was a lot of information and I’m sure I don’t have it all here as I tried to hit the highlights and answer some of the questions I got in response to my tweets.

Next report will be on the other seminars and SAVE THE DATE White Sox Fans. To help you get into the itchiness of spring, there will be a Twee Up at The Bob Inn on March 1, 2011. Click here to get details and rsvp. And if you aren’t a White Sox fan, rsvp anyway to come hang out with baseball fans, who happen to enjoy the White Sox. Hope to see you there!

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