White Sox

White Sox report card: Cutting down

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White Sox report card: Cutting down

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Posted 7:25 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. The Chicago White Sox opened camp with fewer players in the mix than in past years, so the fact that 15 players have moved out of the major league clubhouse means that time is getting tight for those remaining in the fight to head to Cleveland for April Fools Day.

There are 38 players remaining, but the big questions leftquestions that manager Ozzie Guillen claims will unlikely be made until the end of the monthare which of 15 players will fit into the final bench spot and as the 12th arm in the bullpen.

Fifteen players, two slots. Those are the long odds bubble players face when the big club goes All-In.

Stats are through games of March 16.

12th Bullpen Arm

Seven pitchers remain, and Guillen has recently added intrigue to the proceedings with his backing of Gregory Infante despite the righthanders 6.00 spring ERA. Heres a guide on how to handicap the arms race as time begins to run short in camp.

The Pick: Jeff Marquez

Marquez has pitched under the radar so far, using his wild streak (two hit batters, two wild pitches in 7 13 innings) to great effectiveness (10 Ks and a 0.00 ERA). The 26-year-old can be stretched out for more than an inning, a plus given the only multi-inning reliever guaranteed a spot in the pen in Tony Pena and his 4.91 spring ERA. Finally, some recompense for the abomination that was Nick Swisher.

Runners-Up: Phil Humber, Infante, Josh Kinney

Both pitchers had .258 batting averages against, and Humber has every right to the 12th spot as Marquez. But the former bonus baby has less of a wow factor with his arm than Marquez, and we know GM Ken Williams likes a power pen. Plus, the White Sox wouldnt mind seeing him devote his time to starting, in case there are any injuries in the five-man, big-league rotation.

Infante was crisp in his September audition in 2010 and has done nothing to hurt his chances of eventually being a short man in the White Sox pen. But he could use another year of seasoning after pitching nearly all of 2010 at Double-A Birmingham.

Kinney has been sharp in four spring outings, compiling a 1.80 ERA over five innings and a .278 batting average against, just not sharp enough to merit inclusion in the bullpen out of camp.

They Gone: Jeff Gray, Brian Bruney, Shane Lindsay

Gray got off to a splashy start with 1 13 innings of scoreless baseball in the White Sox opener, but has gone downhill since. Hes at 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA and a .333 average against. Wednesdays poor outing vs. the San Francisco Giants likely sealed his fate as one of the next wave of drops, likely coming on Friday.

Lindsay has been one of the most heartwarming stories of camp, a native Australian once knocked out for a year by shoulder problems. And Lindsay has impressed, to the tune of a 0.00 ERA until getting rocked for three runs in one inning on Thursday. But hes pitched in just three games, an indication that the team is not seriously looking at him to turn a strong few Cactus League weeks into a major-league roster spot.

Bruney started strong but also has been roughed up recently. Bruney has thrown better than Gray, with a 4.50 spring ERA, a save, and a terrific .217 batting average against. But thats not going to be good enough.

4th spot on the bench

There are eight players vying for this last bench spot alongside Ramon Castro, Mark Teahen, and Omar Vizquel. Whats sad, if not unsurprising, is that some of the best performers in camp come from this group of players, fighting for their major-league lives.
The Pick: Lastings Milledge

The pick could easily be at least five of the other seven players, but Milledge brings a wow factor to the White Sox that could prove crucial in the case of a prolonged slump or injury. The onetime first-rounder has proven nearly as sound defensively as Brent Lillibridge and Alejandro De Aza and is every bit the baserunner. He also brings more pop as evidenced by his pair of home runs on Thursday to bring his Cactus league total to four.
Lastings Milledge has displayed all of his "five-tool" potential that made him the top prospect of the New York Mets farm system only a few seasons ago. (AP)
Fundamentally (bunting), he might trail the competition, but the White Sox have enough bunters on the roster. It also helps that as the fifth outfielder (given that Teahen will likely see a healthy chunk of time spelling Carlos Quentin in right), Milledge balances the bench as a right-hander, which gives him an advantage over De Aza. Perhaps the biggest advantage Milledge has over the competition is five walks against five strikeoutsall of the other aspirant outfielders are much heavier on the Ks.

The Runners-Up: Tyler Flowers, Lillibridge, De Aza

If the Cactus League was a true, open competition, Flowers would not only break camp with the White Sox, hed probably start on Opening Day. But thats not the way the major leagues work, and Flowers largely disappointing 2010 necessitated the return of both A.J. Pierzynski and Ramon Castro. The 25-year-old has proven worthy with his glove and arm, and the White Sox staff is really impressed with his maturity, especially in calling a game. But Flowers calling card has always been his lumber, and with a 1.233 OPS this spring, hes been mashing beyond expectations.

For his defensive flexibility alone, Id tabbed Lillibridge as the 25th man, but the reemergence of Teahen and continued strong play of veteran Vizquel has minimized such flexibility as a pressing need. Lillibridge has an outrageous eight RBI already on the spring, but hes not going to be looked to as a run producer. A .772 OPS isnt horrible, but two walks against seven strikeouts is not what the Chicago coaching staff is looking for.

De Aza is a Guillen favorite, and he does a little bit of everything well, with wheels of fire. But again, plate discipline is a key for the little guys, and De Aza is walking just once for every five Ks.

They Gone: Donny Lucy, Dallas McPherson

Lucy is the catching equivalent of Jim Gallagher for the White Sox, an everyman who just puts his head down and does his job each day. His bat has cooled, but with Flowers raking, hes no better than fourth on the catching depth chart anyway.

McPherson was an extreme insurance policy, in case both Brent Morel and Teahen disappeared in a windstorm. The 30-year-old veteran impressed Guillen early in camp, but slowed considerably after the first week. He has an unimpressive 10 Ks in 13 gamesyoure only allowed rates like that if you can launch moon shots like Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn.
Wild Cards: Jordan Danks, Dayan Viciedo

Before breaking his thumb last week, Viciedo was perhaps the biggest surprise of camp so far, with surprisingly intuitive defense in right field and continued stop-what-youre-doing-and-watch pop at the plate (.500.478). Thankfully he is back to baseball activity and could be ready to hit the field about the time the team breaks camp. That means ifwhen Quentin is hurt this season, Viciedo has earned the first look as his medium-to-long-term replacement.

Danks even has owner Jerry Reinsdorfs attention as an up-and-comer. He had every right to have been moved out of major league camp one or two cuts earlier, and Danks isnt just hanging around because his big brother is an easygoing lefty ace named John.

Like Viciedo, Danks isnt big on patienceone walk in his first 20 at-batsbut his revamped swing also has yielded just four Ks in that time as well. Danks has pop and catches everything launched his way. Charlotte is going to have fun watching an outfield of Stefan Gartrell, Danks, and Viciedo this summer.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

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.”