White Sox

The pains of the White Sox rebuild: While team of the future develops, team of the present blown out

The pains of the White Sox rebuild: While team of the future develops, team of the present blown out

Mama said there’d be days like this.

In the middle of the rebuild, it’s hard to call an embarrassing blowout loss unexpected. These types of things are going to happen while the team of the future develops down in the minor leagues.

But anyone who was inside Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon or watching from home saw just how low the lows can get while that plan plays out.

Derek Holland gave up seven runs and left before an out was recorded in the third inning. The visiting Kansas City Royals poured seven more runs on the White Sox bullpen over the course of another South Side marathon. Errors and mental mistakes were made in the field. And the prized prospect who’s supposed to be the star of the team when the rebuild reaches its apex, he struck out for the 30th and 31st times in his last 19 games.

The White Sox aren’t yet at the point when every loss stings the fan base. It’s the middle of August in a last-place season. Heck, losses are even helping the team reach some fans’ goal of the White Sox getting the No. 1 pick in next spring’s draft.

But this one was a stinker. As exciting as it might be to project out the 2020 lineup and follow along with box scores from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, games like this show the most difficult aspects of a rebuild.

“In terms of mistakes, today and yesterday we had some things that didn’t go well and that doesn’t play well or doesn’t look well and we don’t want those things to occur,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “But you continue to address them as need be and deal with them. I think as we continue to move along, hopefully they continue to be fewer and far between. But is it to be expected that they might make mistakes like some that have occurred? Yes.”

Leury Garcia had a couple ugly-looking plays in left field, first making an errant throw home that allowed a run to score in the second and then misjudging a ball that flew by him and went for a double in the third. Those plays, along with Tyler Saladino’s first-inning error at third base, made for a batch of fielding mistakes to go along with a couple mistakes on the base paths in Saturday’s loss.

But the fielding woes paled in comparison to those of Holland on the mound. The veteran righty hasn’t had a good year, and Sunday might have been his worst outing yet. He gave up four runs in the second inning and then couldn’t get an out in the third, giving up a leadoff homer before a double and a walk. He left after throwing 67 pitches and recording just six outs, tagged for seven runs, those two he left on for Mike Pelfrey scoring on Whit Merrifield’s three-run homer.

Holland’s season ERA jumped up to 5.68 after Sunday’s outing.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “Today was just, in my eyes, embarrassing. Not being able to find the strike zone, and then when I did, catching too much plate. These guys are going to do what they did today to you when you can’t not be in the middle of the plate. It’s frustrating. We’ve been working our asses off to do everything right on the field. The thing I’m happy about is obviously being healthy, but I’m past that. I’ve obviously shown I’m healthy, it’s just a matter of executing. It’s frustrating to sit here and work as hard as we do with (pitching coach Don Cooper) and the bullpen and go out there and not be able to do the job I should be doing. It’s just frustrating. I really don’t even know where to begin.”

While much of the campaign has been a rough go for Holland, things have gotten particularly rocky as summer has worn on. He’s made it out of the sixth inning just once since the beginning of July, posting a 8.76 ERA since then. He’s walked a total of 22 batters in his last five starts, including seven in the start prior to Sunday’s.

Sunday was his shortest start of the season but the third since the beginning of June in which he’s failed to get out of the third inning.

“It’s hard,” Renteria said. “When we watch it, we ask ourselves the same thing, ‘What can we possibly do to help him get through this?’ The reality is, tomorrow’s another day and you go back to the drawing board and see if he can put himself back and give himself an opportunity for a good outing the next time out.

“He’s obviously not wanting to go out there to fail. He wants to have success and he wants to have success for his teammates, himself. You feel for him right now, where he’s at. This young man’s working through every possible scenario, and I know he and Coop, they get after it. He’s got a tremendous work routine and ethic, but it just hasn't been working out to this point over the last few outings. I know he's very cognizant of that and he’s wanting to get back on track. The question for all of us, and for him, continues to be, how do we do that?”

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The presence of Holland — as well as other veteran pitchers on the staff like Mike Pelfrey, James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez — are necessities in a rebuilding situation, even as the starting pitchers of the future like Reynaldo Lopez start to slowly make their way to the big league team.

Look across town to the Cubs and the kinds of starting pitchers they were employing during their rebuilding years. Yes, Theo Epstein’s front office turned some sign-and-flip guys into top-tier prospects that ended up playing a huge role on a World Series team. But the likes of Chris Volstad, Justin Germano, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva and Felix Doubront turned into nothing but high ERAs for those fifth-place Cubs teams.

That’s the reality of a rebuild.

“I’m my own worst critic. And I’m not happy with the way I’m performing,” Holland said. “These guys are out here busting their asses for me, and for me to not do my job is what’s frustrating. I have every right to be upset with myself because these fans deserve better. I should be doing better. And I’m not performing the way that I feel I should be. For me, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s very disappointing, and it’s very embarrassing, too.

“I’ve got to keep grinding. I’m not going to throw in the towel. Just because I had a bad outing doesn't mean I quit. We’re going to continue to keep plugging away. Still got the opportunity to be out there, I’ve got to take advantage of it each time like I have been. We all go through tough times, it’s just a matter of the tough times ending.”

But along with all that present-day sorrow comes that hope for the future.

Yoan Moncada had two more strikeouts Sunday, but he also picked up a double. A flash of brilliance for a young player still developing, even if he’s now doing it at the big league level.

He scored on Tim Anderson’s home run, the fourth in the last eight games for the shortstop who’s struggled much of the season but is having himself a very solid August.

Nicky Delmonico reached base for the 12th straight game and picked up a hit in his 10th straight. Look out, DiMaggio. But in all seriousness, he was on base three more times Sunday and might have had a ninth-inning homer if not for Alex Gordon’s highlight-reel leaping snag to end the game.

So this is life in the rebuild. There are going to be some bad days. And if the team on the North Side taught Chicago baseball fans anything, there might even be some bad years. The White Sox are going through one right now, with Sunday’s defeat being the team’s 70th loss of the season.

But there’s also plenty of reason to be hopeful, and these bad days and bad years will have their silver linings, silver linings that will — if everything goes according to Rick Hahn’s plan — blossom into a golden era on the South Side.

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.”