White Sox

White Sox seeing the real Jared Mitchell

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White Sox seeing the real Jared Mitchell

In the southern towns of Birmingham, Montgomery, and Chattanooga, a young White Sox prospect is suddenly raising eyebrows and expectations.

Hes batting .310 with an on-base percentage of .434. He leads the Southern League with 22 runs and 6 triples. Hes 6 for 7 in stolen bases. His strikeouts are way down. His walks are way up.

And now, so is the ceiling for Jared Mitchell, the left-handed outfielder who once was lost, but now is found.

Because of the health issues, we have never really seen the real Mitch, said Buddy Bell, White Sox VP of Player Development. I believe we are just now getting a glimpse of seeing the player we drafted a couple years ago.

As the White Sox first round pick in 2009, Mitchell was in the same draft class as young phenoms Stephen Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Drew Storen, Mike Trout and Brett Jackson. A college star at LSU, he seemed to be on the fast track to join the White Sox, until that fateful day the following spring.

March 12, 2010.

Brought into a split-squad game in Tempe as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, Mitchell went after a deep fly ball off the bat of the Angels Juan Rivera. Jared made a sensational catch against the wall, but when he came down, something was wrong. He couldnt feel anything in his left leg.

Mitchell tore a tendon in his ankle.

He would need surgery, months of rehab, plus something most 21-year-olds never think about.

Time.

You learn a lot about patience through an injury like that, Mitchell said by phone on Monday. Its a lot of mental perseverance, and things you have to go through, and things you learn about yourself through a situation like that.

The Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 College World Series was forced to miss all of the 2010 season. Then last year while at Winston-Salem, he struggled mightily at the plate, batting .222 with 183 strikeouts in 129 games.

Going into last year, in my mind, I thought I was pretty healthy and pretty back to regular.

He wasnt. Mitchell says he was at about 85 percent. Thats physically. Throw the mental part into it, and that number was probably lower.

I wasnt all the way back, didnt have all the spring back, Mitchell said. I think that helps a lot, to be able to know that youre healthy and not have to worry about anything else.

Ask Jake Peavy.

As a former number-one pick, did Mitchell put too much pressure on himself?

I think subconsciously I probably was, yeah, Mitchell said. For me, I guess I wanted everything to come back so quick. It wasnt so much trying to show this person this or that person that. I wanted to be back in top shape so much, so quick. And it just doesnt happen that way. This game is not that easy. You realize that once you go through it. I think being able to just come into this year and being able to let things happen and not put so much pressure on every at-bat, and not worry about everything.

So far, when it comes to hitting in the clutch, Mitchell doesnt seem to be worried about anything. With the bases empty, hes batting .245. With runners on, his average climbs to .374. With runners in scoring position, its even higher at .394.

He has made such great strides and because of his talent and makeup will continue to get better daily, Bell said about the young centerfielder. There are a few things we knew very early on. He can't get much more athletic, hes a great kid, and he is one of the most competitive kids we've ever had here.

He is so tough on himself. That gets in his way sometimes, but I think that kind of mentality will help him become the player that he hopes to be.

If he continues to hit like this, the White Sox believe hell be ready for the big leagues sometime in 2013. But in the meantime, Jared isnt thinking about next season. Hes focused on today.

My time will come, he said. If you start to think about getting promoted to the majors, its just added pressure on yourself. What I try to do I just enjoy the game every day, have fun, and let the chips fall where they may.

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.”

White Sox adjust 40-man roster — including adding Eloy Jimenez — ahead of Rule 5 Draft deadline

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USA TODAY

White Sox adjust 40-man roster — including adding Eloy Jimenez — ahead of Rule 5 Draft deadline

The White Sox made some adjustments to their 40-man roster ahead of Monday's deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft.

Rules stipulate that a player who signed when he was 18 or younger and has played five seasons of professional baseball is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft if he is not on his team's 40-man roster. Because of that, the White Sox — like the rest of the teams in the league — made some moves Monday to protect certain players.

The White Sox announced Monday afternoon that they purchased the contracts of infielder Casey Gillaspie from Triple-A Charlotte, outfielder Eloy Jimenez from Double-A Birmingham, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and pitcher Ian Clarkin from Class-A Winston-Salem and outfielder Micker Adolfo from Class-A Kannapolis.

Simultaneously, pitchers Chris Beck and Tyler Danish were outrighted to Charlotte.

The most notable name on the list is of course Jimenez, the highly ranked outfielder acquired from the Cubs in July's trade that sent Jose Quintana to the North Side. Jimenez was a no-brainer to be protected after he slugged 19 homers and hit 22 doubles with 65 RBIs in his 89 games in the minors last season, splitting time between Birmingham and Winston-Salem in the White Sox system and Class-A Myrtle Beach in the Cubs' system. Jimenez is ranked as the White Sox No. 1 prospect by MLB.com.

Gillaspie was acquired in the trade that sent Dan Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays. The brother of former White Sox infielder Conor Gillaspie, he hit 15 homers and 20 doubles in 125 games all at the Triple-A level. Gillaspie is ranked as the White Sox No. 11 prospect by MLB.com.

Basabe, the White Sox No. 17 prospect, was in last offseason's Chris Sale trade and hit .221 with five homers and 12 doubles at Winston-Salem. Adolfo, the White Sox No. 14 prospect, was signed as a free agent in 2013 and hit .264 with 16 homers and 28 doubles at Kannapolis. Clarkin, the White Sox No. 22 prospect, was acquired in the seven-player trade with the Yankees in July and posted a 2.60 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 86.2 innings of work at the Class-A level.

The 27-year-old Beck posted a very high 6.40 ERA in 64.2 innings out of the White Sox bullpen last season. Danish made just one appearance with the big league club last season, getting his first major league win in the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.