This is no rebuilding situation, as Pedro Grifol reminded everyone when he was introduced as the new White Sox manager back in November.
Obviously, the intense focus on minor leaguers from the darkest days of the South Side rebuilding project is long gone, and now it’s all about what those former highly touted prospects can do to turn the major league club into a winner.
But Rick Hahn’s rebuild was about more than crafting a short-lived contention window. The goal was to create a sustainable winner, a perennial contender at the corner of 35th and Shields, and you can’t do that without keeping things going in the minor leagues.
Whether the White Sox are doing well in that department is a tough question to answer. After the likes of Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Andrew Vaughn made their jump to the big leagues, the cupboard has been viewed as relatively bare by the types of folks who evaluate such things. A year after he ranked the White Sox’ system as baseball’s worst, The Athletic’s Keith Law didn’t boost them much in this year’s ranking, putting them 28th out of 30 organizations.
But there is reason to be excited, and in particular, two young players have garnered plenty of attention from those same evaluators: Colson Montgomery and Oscar Colás. Montgomery, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2021, has been recently rated as high as the No. 15 prospect in the game. Colás, meanwhile, has impressed the White Sox enough since signing as a highly touted international free agent that he’s the favorite to grab the big league team’s everyday right field job this spring.
Internal reviews almost always skew overwhelmingly positive, of course, but then again, who knows these players better than those tasked with developing them into future mainstays on the major league roster? Justin Jirschele spent time with both of those guys and plenty more of the White Sox’ top-ranked prospects – including infielder Jose Rodriguez and pitcher Sean Burke – last year as the manager at Double-A Birmingham. He received a promotion of his own this winter and will helm Triple-A Charlotte in 2023.
Jirschele met with the media last week and weighed in on some of the White Sox’ minor leaguers of note based on his experiences in 2022.
“As far as makeup and tools, I think the biggest thing that jumps out for me is how natural things come to him on both sides of the baseball, offensively and defensively. He’s always comfortable in (that) the game doesn’t speed up on him, physically or mentally. He’s always in control, especially when he’s in the box.
“I noticed that his first night playing with us in Birmingham. He’s 20 years old, he’s coming up from Winston-Salem from A-ball, and the game is naturally a little bit faster each level you climb. Just how in control he was on both sides of the ball, riding that even keel mentality of not getting too high or getting too low.
“He’s a true pro in everything he does. His daily work, he shows up early. He’s putting the time in in the training room, the weight room, his early work defensively and then in the cage, as well. So, he’s a guy that’s definitely going to continue to propel in the right direction because of the head that’s on his shoulders.”
“(Montgomery responded to mistakes) very quickly. He’s got a mature approach to everything that he does. He wants to learn. He’s always asking questions, right? … He’s always eager to learn because he knows that’s how he’s going to get himself better on the mental side of the game. And that will ultimately help him physically, as well, as he moves on. Back to the head that’s on his shoulders, he’s just got a mature approach about everything he does, especially for a kid who is not 21 (years old yet). It’s special, and it’s exciting to see.”
“He was drafted as a shortstop. … Personally, from what I’ve seen those last few weeks in Birmingham, I don’t see any reason why he can’t stay at shortstop right now.”
“He can do a lot of things. He can impact the game in a lot of different ways in a positive way. Everything he does is next level. He can carry a team both offensively and defensively. He brings a ton of energy, he’s a competitor, he wants to win. He shows up every day wanting to win.
“His teammates love him. I know when he’s going good, he’s constantly smiling and having fun and things come a little bit more naturally for him.
“He’s a spectacular talent, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for him coming up.”
“You see the Latin American guys gravitating toward him. He’s kind of the ‘El Caballo.’ Obviously, what he’s able to do between the lines, but even the clubhouse, you see those guys gravitate toward him. You watch him, and he’s always got those guys laughing. There may be things I don’t quite understand that he said, and those guys are rolling and laughing, and I’m saying, ‘What did he say?’ So he’s a really funny guy, he has a great personality.
“He’s kind of a natural leader in that aspect with some of those younger Latin American players. They gravitate toward him, not only because of what he’s able to do physically on the field but also off the field and the makeup he has and the character of who he is.”
“(He’s been working on) just his defense and baserunning. He played a lot of center field, and when he got to Birmingham, with (Yoelqui) Céspedes playing there, he played a little more right field. Those guys would switch on and off. So (he was working to) just continue to sharpen his routes in the outfield and separate his offense from the defense.
“There were nights when he wasn’t really clicking with the bat, (but) he’s got the ability to change a game on the defensive side and he did that numerous times, throwing runners out at the plate. One night I’ll never forget, him and Cespy went back to back innings in extra innings throwing out the potential game-winning run at the plate for us to end innings. They’re coming in, strapping on the batting gloves, now they have a chance to win this game for us in the bottom of the inning.
“He really took that step forward in knowing he has the ability to change a game on multiple levels. Obviously, the bat first and foremost, but also in other aspects of the game, as well.”
“Another great human being, a guy who works tirelessly. He went through a little bit of an injury, last year he was battling through some stuff, upper-body wise, and continuing to rehab things. He’s a guy that puts the time and effort into it, the work. But again, a great human being.
“Big, strong, power arm, and another guy on the pitching side of it who the game is never too fast for him. He’s able to slow it down. He’s a fierce competitor. He’s got great secondary stuff to go with the good fastball.
“He’s that type of guy where it’s, ‘I’m out here. I’m better than you. Here I come. I’m going to give you my best stuff, regardless of how I’m feeling this day and this inning, this pitch.’ Just a fierce competitor. And I’m looking for him to continue to propel in the right direction on his path to Chicago.”
“It’s never really neat to watch a guy struggle, but for him, he never had struggled before in the minor leagues in the lower levels. He obviously moved extremely fast last year up our system and ended (2021) with us in Double-A. But to see him go through (a tough stretch) and climb out of it is just going to be a huge stepping stone for him, mentally and physically, for his future because he knows. Everybody knows in this game you’re going to go through those struggles and those tough times both mentally and physically. But he climbed himself out of that hole with extra early work and things like that. … It was just extremely cool to see him kind of get himself out of that hole and then really put it together and have a really good stretch there.
“Obviously, (he experienced) the unfortunate side of (suffering a broken) hamate bone, but he was really rolling there down the stretch. It would have been fun to watch the rest of the way, but those things kind of happen. But I think looking back on it, he felt good about where he ended it and got himself out of that hole.
“He hit around .300 with some homers and showed some signs of pop, and also showed his resiliency, a young kid at a high level of baseball. Just extremely excited to watch where that propels him this year.”