Guzman helping White Sox with mental side of game

February 26th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- You won’t find Cristian Guzman’s name listed on the White Sox 40-man roster, but he should provide a valuable edge for the team to find success in 2024 and beyond.

Guzman -- not to be confused with the Cristian Guzman who logged 89 triples over an 11-year MLB career -- has been hired as the team’s first mental performance coach. He will be with the White Sox all season, traveling with them as well, with his work based more toward on-field performance.

“The big thing is just being available,” Guzman told prior to Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Rangers at Camelback Ranch. “These guys know what they are doing, day in and day out, but the game is hard.

“So it’s more when things speed up, when things get challenging, how do we get them to reset? How do we get them to come back to the skills that they already have? They train so much. It’s less about inching the talent forward as much as it’s just reminding them just who they actually are and what they have already proven to do before.”

Having a mental skills coach is pretty common throughout the game, and while the White Sox have had excellent people on staff to help with mental skills or mental health, in general, they were still a little behind. Guzman will work with both players and coaches, approaching them while also having them come to him for ideas and questions.

“Sometimes I’ll see things and I’ll go up to guys with an observation of, ‘Hey I noticed this. Tell me about it.’ Start a conversation,” Guzman said. “Other guys that are a little more vested, either do books or already had experiences with previous coaches, are more open and will ask questions: ‘I’m working on this and any advice on how to enhance my practice or my focus, my concentration, my presence, mindfulness?’ All of those things. It kind of goes back and forth.”

“To have someone who is going to be with us regularly throughout the year, I think is really going to be helpful. He’s very talented. He’s easy to talk to. Obviously, very intelligent,” general manager Chris Getz said. “We feel like just to have him as part of our coaching staff is going to be beneficial throughout the year. Just another resource for our players.”

That resource already is being tapped into by White Sox players.

Pitching coach Ethan Katz touted for being in his best physical shape since 2021, and Kopech feels as if the ball is jumping out of his hand while being able to move fluidly and feeling explosive as he prepares for his Cactus League debut at the outset of March. But Kopech understands and has talked about pitching being more than filling up the zone and things of that nature.

So, he appreciates the White Sox move directed at going about the mental side.

“A few of us have already started doing some things with [Guzman] early in the morning,” Kopech said. “He seems fired up about the position he’s in and he’s already bringing some things to the table, whether it be breathing work or finding focal points and being able to drown out the things that are going on in your surroundings. It’s stuff I was already interested in. To have a guy on board who can specifically coach to that is really cool.”

“Part of it is just being a person with them,” Guzman said. “Having normal conversations, bouncing around the fields saying hi to guys, checking in how the day is going. Finding windows where they come up to me or going up to them after their live [batting practice sessions] or hitting work with them in the cages, asking, ‘Hey, what are you looking for?’”

Manager Pedro Grifol was part of the hiring process for Guzman, who will help provide resources and tools to navigate the ups and downs of a 162-game season.

“He’s in uniform,” Grifol said. “We just don’t let anybody put a uniform on and come out here and yeah, ‘I'm in uniform with the Chicago White Sox.’ You better bring something to the table. The fact that he’s in uniform should tell everyone that hey, he’s an important piece.”

“You’ve probably heard, 'Control what you can control,'” Guzman said. “That’s one of the biggest things I talk about. Isolating the controllables and really leveraging those moments to continue growing.”