Development No. 1 priority in Minors
Managerial changes at the top of five of club's six affiliates
CHICAGO -- Where the White Sox Minor League system is concerned, player development holds a much higher priority than the raw win totals.
That specific theory should be reflected through the wholesale changes made among the 2009 player personnel staff, announced by White Sox director of player development Buddy Bell on Monday.
"Our philosophy centers on development more than anything," Bell said. "To do that, we need to have certain people in place who believe development comes before winning. Winning is important, but it's a factor in developing kids.
"Understanding the patience involved with a younger player also is important here. That was the philosophy we had."
Five of the six White Sox affiliates will have new managers in 2009, with Chris Cron the only returning manager at Great Falls, after leading this same team to the 2008 Pioneer League title. Bobby Thigpen, the man in charge of advanced Rookie Bristol last year and whose single-season save record, established as a White Sox closer, was broken by Francisco Rodriguez in 2008, now moves to pitching coach for Class A Winston-Salem.
Chris Chambliss takes over at the helm of Triple-A Charlotte, after spending the last two seasons in the Atlanta organization as a hitting coach and manager. Chambliss also served as a Major League hitting coach with Cincinnati (2003-06) and New York (1988 and 1993-95), while playing 17 seasons in the Majors. He won World Series titles with the Yankees in 1977-78.
Richard Dotson remains as Charlotte's pitching coach, while Gary Ward has been hired as the Knights' hitting coach. Ward previously held this same job from 1999-2001, before becoming the White Sox hitting coach in May 2001. Greg Walker replaced Ward in May 2003. Ward finished with a .276 average with 130 home runs over 12 big league seasons.
Joe McEwing, who was Charlotte's hitting coach in 2008, moves on to managerial duties with the Warthogs.
Ron Oester, another accomplished Major Leaguer, joins the organization as its infield instructor, with Manny Trillo moving from that job to the White Sox bunting/baserunning instructor. Bell pointed out how these new hires having significant Major League experience wasn't as important as was their training ground experience for player development.
"When we were putting these staffs together, we looked at a lot of different organizations that we considered as top ones," Bell said. "We looked at the Braves as a good one, and the Angels were looked at as another top organization. I view the Angels as somewhat like the Twins. We looked at all their personnel.
"Then, you look at [Chambliss], for example. We came up together through Cleveland. We are close friends and have talked about baseball a lot. His philosophy is somewhat like mine, but not exactly like mine, which is good. I believe you can't learn a lot by having people who do the same thing as you do. He wanted to manage again, and I thought he could bring things into our organization to make it better."
Jose Bautista, the 2008 pitching coach for Bristol, now is the Latin roving instructor. Everado Magallenes becomes Double-A Birmingham's new manager, with local product Ernie Young moving on from hitting coach at Great Falls to his inaugural managerial effort for Class A Kannapolis. Ryan Newman will manage Bristol, with Curt Hasler serving as the team's pitching coach and Jerry Hairston as hitting coach. John Orton returns as the catching instructor, while popular one-time White Sox bullpen coach Art Kusnyer also will be assisting Bell.
"He'll help Orton and advise me on certain things," said Bell of Kusnyer.
Olmedo Saenz has been brought on as Great Falls' hitting coach, with Bell pointing to this hiring as just one example of the organization "getting better with the Latin influence."
Bell believes the White Sox system has grown stronger overall since he first arrived with the team one year ago. Monday's new hires should only help the White Sox at both the Minor League and eventually the Major League levels.
"Our players are better," said Bell of the White Sox system. "You are judged on the kids you get to the big leagues, and to do that, you have to have good Drafts and talented kids.
"From when I came on board last year, it's gotten better. There's not a lot of impact there yet, as far as position payers, but we are progressing."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.