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The Diamondbacks way? White Sox aiming for ‘unbeatable brand of baseball’ that’s a nightmare for opponents

Vinnie Duber Avatar
February 16, 2024
Corbin Carroll and the Arizona Diamondbacks

PHOENIX — Perhaps it will end up fitting that the White Sox’ quest to change the way they play is starting in Arizona.

This is the desert home of the reigning NL champs, a Diamondbacks team that nearly won the World Series last year by being aggressive, being fast and being really difficult to play against.

After the White Sox saw them toward the end of the regular season, Pedro Grifol voiced what it was like to try to beat them: “These guys are a handful.”

He wasn’t kidding, as the wider baseball world found out in October.

Some found out much earlier, like new White Sox reliever John Brebbia, who spent the last three seasons as an NL West rival with the Giants.

“I can say, for sure, that the past three years, the Diamondbacks went from — and this is no secret — they went from being a team where they weren’t this typical team where you’re like, ‘Uh oh, the Diamondbacks are coming into town,’ to last year where you’re like, ‘Oh god, the Diamondbacks are coming into town,’” Brebbia said in a Friday interview with CHGO. “The first couple years, playing against them as much as I did, it was just like, ‘All right, D-backs, whatever.’ And then you’d play them, and you’re exhausted. You’re mentally exhausted and physically exhausted. You’re like, ‘What? What happened? Why do I feel this way? Why am I getting such a good night’s sleep after playing them?’ And you slowly come to realize it’s because they can do anything.”

Grifol and the White Sox might not be attempting a carbon copy of the way the Diamondbacks won in 2023. But they’re going for something similar. Grifol’s been talking about playing faster and more aggressive for months now, and he’s brimming at the start of spring camp about the possibility of finally getting to see it in action.

“We were a conservative club last year. We didn’t take many risks,” Grifol said earlier this week. “We weren’t taking extra bases, we didn’t steal bases. I’m not looking to see that style of baseball this year. I’m not.

”You’ll see some of that (new style) here in the spring, you’ll see the differences here in the spring. … Guys are going to be doing more, they’re going to be more aggressive, they’re going to be a little more fearless. That’s what I’m asking these guys to go out there and do.”

Time will tell if the White Sox can actually pull it off, of course.

The Diamondbacks, as Brebbia pointed out, were able to play that way so effectively because they were, well, good. The White Sox were one of baseball’s least productive offensive teams last season, and while there’s been a ton of roster turnover — with an emphasis placed on bringing in players who can play in this specific way — who knows if the guys who contributed to that “conservative” play a year ago will be able to adapt.

It’s hard to steal second if you’re not getting to first.

But this is also a long-term project that Chris Getz and his new-look front office are starting, and just because the White Sox don’t get all the way to the level of Diamondbacks in one offseason doesn’t mean that they can’t get there eventually.


After helping guide young stars in the making like Corbin Carroll to the majors, Josh Barfield was probably due to move up from his job running the Diamondbacks’ farm system, and now he’s the White Sox’ new assistant general manager. He was hired for more than just importing the way the Diamondbacks do things to the South Side. But having him aboard can’t hurt when it comes to the White Sox attempting to make the jump to a style Barfield’s old team pulled off so impressively.

“With some of the new rules, as far as shifting and disengagements, you get rewarded for being more aggressive, being more athletic. It’s a competitive advantage,” Barfield told CHGO on Friday. “It’s something we saw in Arizona with the players we drafted — the athletic guys like Alek Thomas, Corbin, (Jake) McCarthy, guys like that — and you saw it play out on the field last year. You put pressure on teams having multiple ways to go out and beat a team.

“It’s so difficult to just try to go out and outscore them every night or out-pitch them every night. You’re going to have your ups and downs that way. But you can always play good defense and be athletic out there on the field, and you can always push, whether it’s taking the extra base, putting pressure on opponents and pitchers.

“It brought an element that we were lacking in Arizona prior, and it’s something we’ve kind of been lacking here. You can kind of see it with some of the guys we’ve acquired and some of the guys who will be coming up through the system to make their debuts. Hopefully that’s something we can implement here.”

Getz’s front office didn’t exactly thrill fans with their offseason additions, and there were a lot of them. Many of the players added to the roster don’t come in with recent track records of obvious offensive success, and one of those new additions, Michael Soroka, put words to the type of players the White Sox acquired when he spoke Thursday, saying, “There’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse that are fighting for careers.”

It turns out that was, somewhat, by design.

“I think (Getz and I) were both on the same page when we started talking about it. At the time I was coming over and we were having those conversations, you’re watching it play out in the playoffs (with the Diamondbacks), “Barfield said. “It’s really hard to go out and sign a bunch of guys that make $25 million a year at each position. But you can find guys that can defend, you can find guys with speed and athleticism a little bit easier. I think we were both on the same page (to) just make it more of a dynamic team.

“It should be a more competitive team and a team that people like to watch. It’s not as fun watching the station-to-station type baseball. But seeing a guy take an extra base, making a diving play in the gap and saving runs, that’s the excitement I think a lot of fans love coming to see when they watch a game.”


The White Sox are making no secret about how they want to play this season. Grifol is hammering it home in the opening days of the spring. And it’s bringing excitement to the clubhouse.

“The one specific word I heard the other day was ‘aggressive.’ Aggressive baseball. And I love that,” Brebbia said. “As a baseball player, I like that because to me, that means high effort, that means making calculated decisions that will hopefully lead to the best result. As a fan, that’s fun. I love that.

“When you play aggressive baseball, sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. There’s 162 games, a lot of stuff’s not going to go your way a lot of the time. … But when you play smart, aggressive baseball, the wins outweigh the losses, the positives outweigh the negatives so often. And it’s just exciting to watch.

“I still feel like I’m very much a baseball fan first. A lot of people don’t think baseball’s exciting, I just happen to. And I think that makes it even more fun when you’re swiping bags and you’re doing this and you’re doing that, when you’re trying to take an extra base, trying to score on someone. I love that. That’s the point.”

Grifol knows what it was like to try to beat a Diamondbacks team that played that way last year.

Barfield helped shepherd that style into existence in Arizona.

Brebbia has been on the mound trying to do it as a Giant.

We’ll see if the White Sox can make it work for them. If they can, the idea is for it to look like it did last year for the Diamondbacks. The idea is for these White Sox to be aggressive, for them to be, as Grifol put it, fearless. The idea is to be a nightmare for the opposition.

“Every facet of the game is something that (the Diamondbacks are) attempting to do aggressively, to bring up one of Pedro’s adjectives,” Brebbia said. “When you start to see that every guy’s a stolen-base threat, all of a sudden I’m standing on the mound like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay attention to him stealing, great, which means I’ve got to remember our pickoff plays.’ And they bunt a lot. ‘I’m doing PFPs (pitcher fielding practice) this often? This is crazy.’

“It’s part of the game, but it’s such a rare part that when you have to put up with a team that does it so much — and so well, they were very successful at it — even when we won games against them, it was exhausting. And then the tides turned last year, and the Diamondbacks just took off. You could almost see it coming from a mile away, where it’s like, ‘Makes sense.’ They’ve got a ton of talent, and they do everything.

“It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s something that this team, I think, has so much potential for. It’s like an unbeatable brand of baseball.”

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