White Sox finalize coaching staff for 2013
Thigpen named bullpen coach; Baines assumes post of assistant hitting coach
CHICAGO -- Shortly after news broke Tuesday that Bobby Thigpen would be taking over as White Sox bullpen coach, the career saves leader on the South Side of Chicago started receiving text messages of congratulations from his new charges.
Hector Santiago, Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Jose Quintana and Dylan Axelrod, five of the 10 rookies who pitched for a team that occupied first place in the American League Central for 117 days last season, all grew up under Thigpen's tutelage. Chris Sale, one of the AL's top starting pitchers in 2012, also worked briefly with Thigpen at Class A Winston-Salem after he was drafted in 2010.
Now, they will be refining their craft with the brain trust of pitching coach Don Cooper and Thigpen. Other White Sox coaching moves announced include Daryl Boston becoming first-base coach and Harold Baines moving into the newly-created position of assistant hitting coach. Cooper, hitting coach Jeff Manto, third-base coach Joe McEwing, bench coach Mark Parent and bullpen catcher Mark Salas returning to complete the 2013 staff.
Thigpen, 49, replaces Juan Nieves, the highly respected White Sox bullpen coach, who moved on to become Boston's pitching coach. Having a past working relationship with a number of the pitchers will help Thigpen, although he knows it's a slightly different focus coaching at the big league level.
"In the Minor Leagues, you let them fail a little bit more than the big leagues," said Thigpen during a Tuesday conference call concerning the coaching changes. "It's learning, development and letting them work on pitches to get better to get there. The big leagues is about making adjustments to stay there."
Jones can speak to Thigpen's fine-tuning ability more than anyone else. He pitched for Thigpen during the 2007-08 seasons, when Thigpen returned to the organization to manage Rookie-level Bristol, and then spent parts of the 2009-10 seasons at Class A Winston-Salem, where Thigpen was the pitching coach. In that '10 season, Jones served exclusively as a starter over his 28 appearances.
Although Jones clearly found his niche as a reliever with a 2.35 ERA over 65 games for the White Sox in 2012, he learned about the overall pitching approach from Thigpen as part of the Dash rotation.
"He helped lay the foundation to my simple mechanics. He helped me to learn about pitching with confidence," Jones said. "As a starter, he talked about throwing more strikes, letting the defense work behind me and letting them hit the ball. He helped me understand the whole game and trusting in my stuff."
"I've known Thiggy my entire career," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who played part of five seasons in Chicago with Thigpen, including Thigpen's then record-breaking 57-save effort in 1990. "Once Juan was hired, you go through trying to figure out who was the best fit. With the work he has been doing with players we have right now, and Thiggy being a bullpen guy, he was a natural fit."
Cooper and Thigpen worked together in big league camp during this past Spring Training and have been on the same page for years, with Thigpen serving as a pitching coach for Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham since '09. Manto and Baines now will be working together with the team's offense, but it really won't be a major change.
When Manto was moved from Minor League hitting coordinator to White Sox hitting coach, he talked about picking the brains of the other accomplished hitters on the staff to improve the team. Baines is the most accomplished of the group, with 384 homers and 1,628 RBIs over a 22-year big league career.
Working with the hitters is more of Baines' passion and what he enjoys doing, according to Ventura.
"It kind of evolved a little last year and what Harold was looking to do this year," said Ventura of Baines, who has been part of the White Sox coaching staff for the past nine seasons. "I feel lucky to have him.
"With the way the game is going, a lot of different teams are [using two hitting coaches]. Jeff is excited about it too. In that situation, you have to have guys believe in the same things to work together."
Mike Gellinger, a White Sox Major League coach who has been a valuable contributor in both the Greg Walker and Manto regime, will continue to do his videotape work and help with drills for the hitters. But Ventura said that Gellinger's job could change to allow him to be closer to home.
Boston, who served the past 12 seasons as the organization's Minor League outfield instructor, spent the final month of the 2012 campaign with the White Sox. He will take over defensive instruction of the outfield, an aspect he handles during Spring Training and one he worked on last September, while also adding his input to McEwing with baserunning.
"One of things I noticed sitting in the dugout [last September] is that we need to improve leads at first base," Boston said. "With the exception of maybe [Paul] Konerko, everybody should be able to go first to third or take out a second baseman or shortstop to give us an extra at-bat. Those are some of the things you try to emphasize during Spring Training."
This promotion means Boston moves away from a plethora of Minor League outfield talent in Courtney Hawkins, Trayce Thompson, Keenyn Walker and Jared Mitchell. But Boston said Tuesday he always has time for those up-and-coming players and left them with an early message of inspiration.
"Let's go, I'm here," said Boston, who has talked to those players during the offseason. "No it's your time to get here too."