White Sox

Cubs and Sox Rated Rookies of the '80s

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Cubs and Sox Rated Rookies of the '80s

Before there was the Internet, before the mammoth Baseball Prospectus annuals, it was much more difficult to identify the top young stars in Major League Baseball. To me, as an elementary school-aged kid of the '80's, the yearly Donruss Rated Rookies baseball cards told me which players to watch.

Here's a review of each Sox & Cubs' Rated Rookies card from the first installment of 1984 through 1990. For each player are the comments right off the back of the card (in italics), followed by a summary of where his career went from there.

1984 Joel Skinner, C, White Sox

The heir apparent to the White Sox's catching job... Selected by Baseball America Magazine as the top major league prospect in the American Association last year after he hit .260 with 12 HR and 50 RBI for Denver... Made only 5 errors in 108 games last year... Is the son of former Pittsburgh outfielder, Bob Skinner, who now serves as Pirates batting coach... White Sox tabbed him over 2,000 other available players in the first-ever compensation pool... Signed originally by Pirates in June '79... Rated top prospect in Eastern League in '82 when he hit .254 with 65 RBI in 120 games at Glens Falls.

As part of the 1981 strike agreement, teams could select from a compensation pool to replace lost free agents. After losing Ed Farmer to the Phillies, the White Sox were the first team to reap the benefits. Plucked from the Pirates, Skinner hit .213 over two separate stints totaling 40 games in 1984, then stepped in as backup when Marc Hill got injured in '85 and hit an eye-opening .341 down the stretch amid whispers of discontent regarding Carlton Fisk's slipping defense. Skinner was your 1986 starting catcher, with Fisk manning left field for the first quarter of the season. Unfortunately, Skinner just didn't hit, and on July 30, he and his .201 season average were shipped to the Bronx along with Ron Kittle and Wayne Tolleson for Ron Hassey, Carlos Martinez and a player to be named later. Skinner's major league career ended in 1991 with Cleveland, finishing with a .228 career batting average. He's been a successful minor league manager in the Indians system (even serving as Indians' interim manager in 2002), and in 2012 enters his first season in the White Sox system as manager of the Charlotte Knights.

1984 Joe Carter, OF, Cubs
Cubs' No. 1 prospect for '84... Batted .307 with 22 HR and 83 RBI at Iowa last year to earn a brief trial with Cubs in midseason... Led the American Association in total bases in '83 (265), was 2nd in stolen bases (40) and hits (160), 6th in HR and 11th in RBI... Hit .319 with 25 HR and 98 in 110 games for Cubs Double A Midland farm in Texas League in '82... Cubs made him the No. 2 player in the nation selected in '81 amateur draft.
The 23-game trial in '83 was the extent of Carter's big league experience with the Cubs. Carter went on to have a very good major league career (396 HR, 1,445 RBIs) after the fateful midseason six-man deal with the Tribe which netted the Cubs Rick Sutcliffe. With the Red Baron, the Cubs went on to win the division and just missed the World Series, while the Indians later flipped Carter to San Diego for a few valuable pieces (Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Carlos Baerga) from their successful run atop the AL Central.

1985 Daryl Boston, OF, White Sox

White Sox project him as their starting CF in '85... Defensively he has all the tools to play CF in the majors for years to come... Batted .312 for White Sox' Denver farm in '84 with 15 HR and 82 RBI plus 40 stolen bases... Batted .239 with 18 HR and 50 RBI for Chicago's Glens Falls farm in Eastern League in '83 and Sox attribute his hitting improvement to decision to wear glasses... Passed up a football scholarship to Oklahoma St. to sign with White Sox.
Boston was the 7th overall pick in 1981 out of the same Cincinnati High School which produced Leon Durham. He played in 500 games in parts of seven seasons with the White Sox, posting a .239 batting average, 38 home runs and 123 RBsIs. Selected off waivers by the Mets after five games in 1990, Boston also played with the Rockies (1993) and Yankees (1994), before playing two more seasons in the minors to finish his career. He currently serves as a defensive coordinator in the White Sox system.
Bonus Daryl Boston fact: Bert Blyleven's the only pitcher to allow 50 HR in a season (50 in 1986), and Boston hit number 50 on October 4.

1985 Shawon Dunston, IF, Cubs
Top-rated prospect in Cubs organization... Was the No. 1 player in the nation selected in June '82 amateur draft... Split the '84 season between Midland (where he hit .329 with 34 RBI and 11 stolen bases) and Iowa (where he hit .233 with 7 HR and 27 RBI)... Scouts say he has all the tools to be a fine all-around major league SS, but still has to learn to be more selective at the plate... Batted .321 at Sarasota in '82 and .310 at Quad Cities in '83.

Dunston had an 18-year career in the majors and was a two-time All-Star. While he never won a Gold Glove (Ozzie Smith was a contemporary during Dunston's prime), he was a fine defensive player, boasting perhaps the National League's top infield arm. As far as the back of the baseball card is concerned ... Dunston still has to learn to be more selective at the plate. Still waiting on that one ... The Cubs drafted Dunston's son, also named Shawon in the 11th round of the 2011 draft.

1985 Billy Hatcher, OF, Cubs

A fine season at Iowa in '84 projects him as a backup OF candidate for '85 Cubs... Hit .276 with 9 HR, 59 RBI, 26 doubles and 56 stolen bases at Iowa in '84 to win late-season promotion to Cubs... Batted .299 at Midland in '83 with 80 RBI and 56 stolen bases and hit .311 at Salinas in '82 with 59 RBI and 84 stolen bases... Led Texas League in runs scored (132) at Midland in '83.

Hatcher hit .238 in 61 games for the Cubs before being swapped with a player to be named later for Jerry Mumphrey in December of 1985. Hatcher swiped 30 or more bags four times in his career, including a career-high 53 for the Astros in 1987. Hatcher is perhaps best known for his incredible 1990 World Series MVP performance, where he went 9-12 (.750 BA) with four doubles and a triple against Oakland. He finished a 12-year Major League career in 1995 with Texas. He's currently the Reds' first base coach.

1986 Johnny Abrego, P, Cubs

Called up to Cubs in Sept. of last year after compiling 6-6 record and 2.76 ERA at Pittsfield of the Eastern League... Was 2nd in California League in strikeouts (139) when moved from Cubs' Lodi farm to Iowa in Aug. of '84... Had combined 10-10 record in '84... Missed all of '82 season due to bone chips in his elbow, prompting Phillies to leave him unprotected in the minor league draft the following year... Was Phillies' No. 1 amateur draft pick in June '81.

Unfortunately, the back of Abrego's 1986 baseball card includes his entire career's worth of statistics, which consisted of six appearances (five starts) with a 1-1 record and a 6.38 ERA in 24 innings.

On the other hand, it's always important to keep this in perspective: all the players to ever appear in the Major Leagues (a number aseball-Reference.com lists as 17,736) would fill just 43.1 of Wrigley Field's capacity (according to the 41,159 listed in the 2011 Cubs media guide).

1987 Greg Maddux, P, Cubs
Had standout season at Iowa last year (10-1, 3.02 ERA), earning late-season call-up to Cubs and figures to win a spot in their '87 starting rotation... In '85 at Peoria was 13-9 with 3.19 ERA, striking out 125 in 186 innings... Spent the '84 season at Pikesville where he was 6-2 with a 2.63 ERA... Is the brother of Phillies' pitcher Mike Maddux.
Greg Maddux was picked in the second round (31st overall) in the June 1984 Draft; sandwiched between a man named Christ (Pitcher Mike Christ, selected by the Mariners) and current Blue Jays skipper John Farrell. Over his age 20-21 seasons with the Cubs, he went 8-18 with a 5.59 ERA in 186 23 innings. After that, he was fine. And now, we refer to Mike Maddux as Greg's brother. Well done, Donruss.

1987 Rafael Palmeiro, OF, Cubs
Made a strong bid for Cubs' OF spot in '87 after being named Most Valuable Player in the Eastern League last year... Batted .306 in 139 games at Pittsfield in '86 (3rd best in league) and led Eastern League in hits (156), total bases (225) and RBI (95) while striking out only 32 times in 579 plate appearances... Was a two-time All America at Mississippi St. and won the Southeastern Conference triple crown in '84, hitting .415 with 29 HR and 94 RBI... In 73 games at Peoria in '85, hit .297 with 5 HR and 51 RBI.

Rafael Palmeiro was selected with the 22nd overall pick in 1985. With the 23rd pick, the Padres took Joey Cora.

Cubs' starting Leftfielder 1988: Rafael Palmeiro, 8 HR
Cubs' starting Leftfielder 1989: Dwight Smith, 9 HR

Dwight Smith Career HR after 1989: 37
Rafael Palmeiro 37-HR seasons after 1989: 10

1988 Jack McDowell, P, White Sox

Made the quick jump to major leagues in less than half a season of minor lg. Prep last year, then hurled 7 shutout innings vs. Twins in his major lg. Debut 915... Split the rest of the '87 season between White Sox' Sarasota (0-1, 2.57 ERA, 12 strikeouts in 7 innings) and Birmingham (1-2, 7.84 ERA, 17 strikeouts in 20-23 innings) farms... Had sensational collegiate career at Stanford, leading Cardinals to NCAA championship in '87 with 13-5 mark... Hurled 2-1 victory over Oklahoma St. in NCAA World Series championship game... Was 35-13 with 3.58 ERA and 337 strikeouts in 392-23 innings in 3 years at Stanford.

The back of the card boasts a fine line; 3-0, 1.93 ERA run in four 1987 starts. McDowell then regressed to 5-10, 3.97 before refining his stuff in the minors in 1989. But in 1990, he arrived. He spent the next five seasons as the Sox ace, bagging the 1993 Cy Young Award along the way.

After leaving Chicago, like Palmeiro, McDowell achieved notoriety with one of his fingers.

Palmeiro (index) wagged his finger at Congress saying he did NOT use steroids. Black Jack (middle) displayed the digit to the Yankee Stadium faithful after enduring a chorus of boos following a 9-run, 13-hit pounding at the hands of the White Sox.
1988 Mark Grace, 1B, Cubs

Touted by one Cubs' scout to be the organization's best prospect in 15 years after his 2nd straight outstanding minor lg. Season last year... Batted .333 (5th in lg.) and won the Eastern Lg. RBI title (101) in 123 games at Pittsfield last year... Also had 81 runs, 29 doubles and 17 HR... Won the Midwest lg. Batting title with .342 mark in his 1st pro season at Peoria in '86... Also led lg. In hits (159) and had 81 runs, 15 HR and 95 RBI.

That Grace led the majors in hits (1754) during the 1990s has become trivia clich (Palmeiro was second with 1747). That aside, he had a very solid career with a .303 lifetime batting average and a .383 OBP despite lacking the power bat usually reserved for first base. Three All-Star Games and four Gold Gloves makes for a pretty successful call by Donruss.
1989 Mike Harkey, P, Cubs

Regarded as Cubs' No. 1 pitching prospect after working his way from Class AA to the majors last year... Began '88 season at Pittsfield where he was 9-2 with 1.37 ERA before being promoted to Iowa (7-2, 3.55)... Had 12 starts at Peoria in '87, his 1st pro season, and compiled 2-3 record and 3.55 ERA... Signed by Cubs out of Cal St.-Fullerton.

Finishing fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1990, Harkey looked like he'd make good on the Donruss designation of Rated Rookie with a 12-6 record. Unfortunately, those 12 wins ended up as one-third of his career total; he was continually plagued by injury, most famously a serious knee injury sustained on Sept. 6, 1992 while turning a cartwheel at Wrigley Field before a game. Harkey now preaches the danger of acrobatics in his current role as Yankees bullpen coach.

1990 Robin Ventura, 3B, White Sox

Batted .278 with 3 HR and 67 RBI in 129 games at Birmingham in '89 in his 1st full pro season... White Sox made him the 10th player overall selected in the June '88 draft after a standout collegiate career at Oklahoma St.... Won the Golden Spikes Award, symbolic of college baseball player of the year, in '88... In his junior year at Oklahoma St., batted .391 with 26 HR and 96 RBI... Batted .409 for U.S. Olympic team in .'88 Seoul games.

The Cubs' inability to find stability at third base after Ron Santo left has been well documented. The White Sox had a similar problem after the departure of Bill Melton. Between Melton (who left after the 1975 season) and the arrival of Robin Ventura in September 1989, no fewer than 36 different players started a game at the hot corner for the Southsiders. Ventura solidified the position for nearly a decade; combining Gold Glove defense (five while with the Sox) with a potent lefty bat (171 home runs from the left side trail only Harold Baines in White Sox history).

After baseball punishes Braves, one ranker says White Sox have game's best farm system

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USA TODAY

After baseball punishes Braves, one ranker says White Sox have game's best farm system

The White Sox farm system is baseball's best, according to one of the people making those rankings.

In the wake of Major League Baseball's punishment of the Atlanta Braves for breaking rules regarding the signing of international players — which included the removal of 12 illegally signed prospects from the Braves' organization — MLB.com's Jim Callis tweeted out his updated top 10, and the White Sox are back in first place.

Now obviously there are circumstances that weakened the Braves' system, allowing the White Sox to look stronger by comparison. But this is still an impressive thing considering that three of the White Sox highest-rated prospects from the past year are now full-time big leaguers.

Yoan Moncada used to be baseball's No. 1 prospect, and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez weren't too far behind. That trio helped bolster the highly ranked White Sox system. Without them, despite plenty of other highly touted prospects, common sense would say that the White Sox would slide down the rankings.

But the White Sox still being capable of having baseball's top-ranked system is a testament to the organizational depth Rick Hahn has built in such a short period of time.

While prospect rankings are sure to be refreshed throughout the offseason, here's how MLB Pipeline's rankings look right now in regards to the White Sox:

4. Eloy Jimenez
9. Michael Kopech
22. Luis Robert
39. Blake Rutherford
57. Dylan Cease
90. Alec Hansen

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

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MiLB.com

The youngest coach in baseball manages some of the White Sox top minor leaguers

Most minor league managers have graying sideburns, wrinkled skin and a birth date well before 1980.

They’ve been through the battles of baseball and life, placed in rural dugouts across the country to teach the younger generation how to play the game.

But in a town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, the White Sox are bucking this trend with a fresh-faced millennial who one day could be sitting in a major league manager’s office with his name on it.

Justin Jirschele is the manager of the Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox Class-A affiliate.  At 27 years old, he is the youngest manager in all of professional baseball.  

Jirschele (pronounced JIRSH-ah-lee) goes by “Jirsh” to those who know him and who play for him, which last season included top prospects like Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease.

When Jirschele played the game, he was a guy every team would have wanted.

Not for his speed: He never stole more than four bases in a season during his minor league career. Not for his power: He didn't hit a single home run in 622 career at-bats.

But because he treated every game like it could be his last.

“I never took a play off. I never took an at-bat off,” he said.

This was his mindset even in his very last minor league at-bat for the Birmingham Barons in 2015.

“I remember walking up and I said out loud to myself, ‘This is it. Do something.’ I’m getting the chills right now thinking about it.”

Jirschele knew his playing days were over. So did the White Sox. They signed him out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Nobody else wanted him. Over the next four seasons, he played for five White Sox minor league teams. The results on the field were overwhelmingly average.

Then one day, Nick Capra, then the White Sox Director of Player Development, came to Jirschele with an idea and an offer that would change his life.

“He asked, ‘Are you ready to start coaching yet?’ Jirschele recalled. ‘And I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean?’”

The White Sox offered Jirschele a job to be the hitting coach for the Grand Falls Voyagers, the team’s rookie league affiliate.

“I was in shock. It was the end of May, the season was still young. I was at three different levels. I started at Winston-Salem, went to Charlotte and came back to Birmingham. It was a whirlwind. When he first said it, my first feeling was excitement. That kind of told me right there that it was the right time to do it.”

So Jirschele took the job.

He was 25 years old.

Then he went out and took that final minor league at-bat for Birmingham, which turned out to be a fitting conclusion to his playing career.  

“I think it was the second pitch, right down the middle and I was tardy, hit it off my fist, a dribbler to the shortstop and I bet you I ran as hard as I had in my entire life. It wasn’t that I was fast, but I was running as hard as I possibly could to first and I don’t think there even was a throw I hit it so soft, perfectly past the pitcher.  I just said to myself, that’s it right there.”

An infield dribbler for a base hit to close his playing career.

Coaching made sense for Jirschele. His father, Mike, is the third base coach for the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Series in 2015. His older brother, Jeremy, is the head baseball coach back at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Pretty soon, the younger Jirschele would be leading a team of his own.  

In 2017, the White Sox gave him the managerial job with Kannapolis. Sure, some of his players would be around the same age, but the White Sox looked past the birth date on his driver’s license and recognized a person who was wise beyond his years.

“It was identified early on that he has the leadership qualities we look for in a manager regardless of his age,” said Chris Getz, White Sox Director of Player Development. “He has good baseball knowledge, good communication skills, a willingness to learn and adapt, and carries out a consistent message. We feel lucky to have him and think he has a bright future ahead.”

Although the ages of the Intimidators players ranged from 19 to 25 years old, it didn’t matter that their manager was slighty older than them.

“Never once had an issue with the age thing,” Jirschele said about his players. “I think from Day 1 when I showed them the respect like I’m not going to be the guy that’s two years older than you hammering things down your throat, I’m going to have that respect and you’re going to show it back.”  

While the White Sox prospects spent the season developing their playing skills, Jirschele was honing his managing skills, which go beyond what happens on the field. A big part of the job is handling issues that arise off of it.  

“It’s a long grind season and there are so many things that are going to come up non-baseball related to where you might be in that clubhouse and you might feel alone,” Jirschele explained. “You might feel like you’re on an island all by yourself even if you’ve got three best friends that are going to stand up in your wedding one day, you might not feel comfortable talking to those guys about that.  Come on in, we’ll talk about it at 12:30 in the afternoon or 7:30 at night or midnight. I tell the guys you’ve got my phone number.  Call or text no matter what time if you need to talk.”

Following his thirst for managing knowledge, Jirschele often reaches out to his dad for late-night phone calls, rehashing the game that night. He’ll even text an opposing manager, like Patrick Anderson, a friend who has managed the Hagerstown Suns, the Nationals Class-A affiliate for the last four seasons.

“He’s a guy I could pick his brain about things," he said. "Once the series was over I’d send him a text and ask, ‘Why did you do this?’ At the end of the day we’re all in it together and first and foremost it’s all for these players and making them better each and every day and doing whatever we can to get them to the top. But at the same time we’re developing ourselves as well along the way.

“I’m sure I annoy a lot of people of asking questions but that’s how you learn. I was brought up that way.”

Jirschele’s impressions of some White Sox top prospects he managed last season:

Alec Hansen: “When he takes the ball, you feel like you have one of the best chances in the country to get a win that night in minor league baseball.  His stuff is just off the charts.”

Dane Dunning: “It would be the 8th inning, he wanted that complete game and he wouldn’t be too pleased with me coming out there to take him out, but you want that.  You want that out of a competitor on the mound every 5 days. He’s definitely a guy you want in the foxhole with you, no doubt.”

Micker Adolfo: “He has a special, special arm.  I don’t know if there’s a better one right now.”

Jake Burger: “Looking forward, the ceiling is unbelievably high for him. 100 percent no doubt in my mind, someday he will be a captain in the big leagues.”

Like many of his players, Jirschele left an impression with the White Sox in his first season as manager. He helped lead the Intimidators to their first playoff berth since 2009 and their first trip to the South Atlantic League championship since 2005.

Earlier this month, the White Sox named him their Minor League Coach of the Year.

“First and foremost, it means we had good players this year. It’s those guys between the lines,” he said. “As coaches, we can’t go out there and pitch. We were fortunate to have a great group of guys. We came up a little short (winning the championship), but we got there and it was fun.”

Once upon a time, Jirschele’s dream was to make it to the majors. That dream still exists.  Just now instead of having his own baseball card, he wants to get to the big leagues holding a lineup card.

“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a goal, but at the same time I don’t worry about it. I know I’m 27 years old," he said. "I’m just fortunate to have the job I do right now with the White Sox. I go out and do my job every single day and the rest will just take care of itself.”