One of the main concerns with the White Sox hiring of Tony La Russa is his ability to connect with the young core of the roster. This concern highlights the importance of La Russa building a coaching staff that does have a good rapport with the players. La Russa decided last week to move on from third base coach Nick Capra, who reportedly had built a good relationship with the clubhouse and could have served as a liaison between the players and the new regime.
The pitching coach position, specifically, is an especially interesting one. La Russa had arguably the best pitching coach in baseball history in Dave Duncan for all of his previous stops as manager. Duncan served as a pitching consultant for the White Sox last season and has already stated that he does not want to be a pitching coach again, although I am sure his word will carry a lot of weight under the La Russa regime.
As of this morning, the White Sox are reportedly linked to the University of Michigan pitching coach, Chris Fetter, who had spent the prior three seasons as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.
This would be a near-perfect hire as Fetter is just 34 years old and already has a great track record producing top-level arms for the Dodgers organization. He also boasts the analytical approach the White Sox appear to be headed towards as an organization.
But in his postseason press conference, Rick Hahn also referenced some adequate pitching coach candidates from within the organization. Let’s break down the top in-house candidates here and see what they bring to the table.
Zaleski is a 38-year old Addison, Illinois native who was selected in the 30th round of the 2004 MLB Draft by the White Sox. He spent 11 seasons in the minor leagues before making the transition to coaching. In 2016, he worked in Great Falls with the White Sox rookie affiliate and notably tutored current White Sox standouts Aaron Bummer and Matt Foster.
Zaleski spent the last two seasons at Class-A Advanced Winston-Salem where he continued his work with Foster and began working with Codi Heuer as well. He was promoted to the role of Triple-A pitching coach in Charlotte ahead of this past season before the minor-league season was ultimately canceled. This allowed Zaleski to work at the alternate site in Schaumburg, where he coached Garrett Crochet and Dane Dunning among other young White Sox pitchers that contributed this season.
Zaleski is known to utilize a more data-driven approach that appears to be the direction the White Sox want to head in as an organization. His philosophy of a high-spin rate fastball and a sharp breaking ball has already been implemented throughout the White Sox system. We have seen examples of this with the carry on the fastballs from Lucas Giolito and Matt Foster, which forced hitters to consistently swing under their 93-96 MPH fastballs.
As James Fegan of The Athletic wrote, Zaleski is also credited with adding depth and sharpness to Codi Heuer’s slider. It had previously been a big, sweeping slider that can look like a beach ball to a left-handed hitter.
But some of Zaleski’s most impressive work may have come on his pitchers’ changeups, where the goal is actually to reduce spin and allow for more drop on the off-speed delivery. The dominant changeups of Giolito and Foster are the most obvious examples of this, but the changeup is an increasingly utilized weapon for pitchers throughout the organization. Dylan Cease has been trying to fine-tune his changeup ever since joining the White Sox, while Heuer, Zack Burdi, and Dane Dunning are all developing changeups and using them more frequently.
Teaford is just 36 years old and was drafted in the 12th round by the Royals in 2006. He was sent up and down between the Royals big-league roster and Triple-A affiliate between 2011 and 2013 and had a cup of coffee with the Rays in 2015. He joined the White Sox as a quality control coach to help with player development prior to the 2018 season.
Since then, Teaford has worked his way up to minor-league pitching coordinator for the White Sox, the same position that Don Cooper held prior to being named pitching coach for the major-league team. Teaford also spent the 2020 season working at the alternate site in Schaumburg.
Teaford and Zaleski have worked together very closely since Teaford joined the organization, and almost everything that was said about Zaleski can also apply to Teaford. Every young pitcher coming up through the White Sox system raves about the tutelage Teaford has provided for them. And the stable of young power arms that the White Sox weaponized over the 2020 season can undoubtedly be traced back to the work of this duo. Having both of these coaches in the major-league dugout on a daily basis would be very beneficial for the entirety of the staff.
This would be an incredible story, but it’s also a long-shot. Farquhar will always be remembered for his miraculous recovery from a brain hemorrhage on the mound for the White Sox in April of 2018. Not even two months later, he was healthy enough to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the White Sox and even attempted a comeback with the Yankees in 2019, where he made two appearances for their Triple-A affiliate.
Prior to the 2020 season, Farquhar was announced as the pitching coach for the Winston-Salem Advanced-A affiliate, taking Zaleski’s prior role. When the minor-league season was canceled, Farquhar worked at the alternate site in Schaumburg. Farquhar is also known for his data-driven analysis and has even gotten the nickname “Statcast” from those within the organization.
He is a highly respected voice in the development team, and he spent time in Schaumburg working with Crochet as well as Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever. But given this was his first season as a coach and he did not have a normal minor-league season to work through, the team couldn’t be blamed for wanting someone with a little more experience.
Clearly, the White Sox tout intriguing options within the organization who have already made a significant impact on the major-league roster. Whether any of the aforementioned names see promotions or not, they should continue to be assets for the White Sox pitchers.
Choosing an impactful pitching coach is a critical decision, and perhaps it was the secret to La Russa’s success historically. So it is also possible that he ends up going outside the organization to someone that he knows and trusts. But what these candidates offer, beyond their qualifications mentioned above, is their relationships with the players and the ability to bridge the young roster core to a manager that has more than five decades on most of them.