By STEVE KRAH
Taking his ability to evaluate baseball talent and manage people, Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley is embracing the complexities of his new job as amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox.
Shirley, 49, took over his current role in late August. He was named assistant scouting director for the White Sox in November 2018. He began serving the organization as a cross checker in 2010.
As a cross checker, Shirley managed five or six area scouts.
“I was very active with a certain set of people, helping guide their schedule and my own schedule,” says Shirley. “As assistant scouting director, I was helping the director fulfill the entire (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) process.”
That meant helping to coordinate the entire amateur department while also acting as a national scout.
As director, Shirley is in charge of everything for the amateur scouting department.
“There’s so much more that goes into being a baseball scout than looking at players,” says Shirley. “There’s management of people, (molding) philosophy, understanding budgets and personnel and keeping everybody on track.”
Shirley notes that more attention is paid to the draft than ever before and there are so many pieces to the puzzle.
“I love the fact that scouting is so difficult some days to put all these pieces in order,” says Shirley. “That’s the most interesting part of the challenge that comes with it.”
With the training now available, players are now reaching the elite level at younger ages.
“Prospects now have currency and value as your organization changes and grows,” says Shirley. “The restructuring at the major league level has changed.
“The rebuild has changed the dynamic of what prospects mean. If your club is in a rebuild and it’s you know it’s not competitive let’s say in 2019, your processes become completely different.”
Clubs take into consideration drafting players that will give them the most currency in the market place.
“There are times now you’re drafting players you know — based on your cycle of talent from top to bottom — may be used as trade chips to get you to the next major league star,” says Shirley. “That’s really changed. There was a time 20 years ago when every team felt like they had a chance to win and every team was running for the title.
“We’re all trying to be competitive, but we also understand where are cycles of talent are (at any given time).”
With the 2020 season and June draft looming, where are the White Sox led by executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn?
“We’re hugely in a position to be successful for the next five to eight years,” says Shirley. “It’s pretty well-documented we’ve in a rebuild process the last four years. It’s been trying times for everybody, especially for our fans, to stomach the tough days and the losses. I think we’re on the back of that now.
“Everybody is so excited about where we’re headed and what we’re capable of doing in the near future. Our young talent is significant. Our minor leagues is strong.”
Shirley is always taking in information from members of the White Sox amateur scouting department.
“The listening skill has to be sharp everyday,” says Shirley. “You have to be able to comprehend what these guys are doing and listen.
“There’s constant communication.”
During the season, area scouts are filing daily reports and messages are flying back and forth via calls, texts and emails.
A recent three-day recent organizational meeting at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., brought together all the scouting department and part of the player development staff.
“It was designed to get everybody in one room,” says Shirley. “We talked about philosophy, planning and where are evaluations are for the 2020 draft class.
“We listened to player development speak about players we’ve drafted in the past, where those players are at and shared information.”
It’s all about getting better and evaluating performance as scouts and player development folks.
“We did a good job here. We missed here,” says Shirley. “There’s constant evaluation of those two departments. We try to work together to make sure our decisions are tighter. Where are we missing? Where are we strong?
“You’re looking at it with full transparency. You’re not tricking yourself.”
Shirley has began conducting conference calls with his 17 area scouts.
“It’s a little deeper conversation than just what they submitted on the follow list,” says Shirley of a catalog of every player in a scout’s area that is likely to be drafted in 2020. “We want to listen to their voice.”
Scouts have been meeting with high school and college players and will continue to do so. These interactions help the White Sox put the make-up piece together in their draft evaluation.
Shirley says the club wants to know if a player is smart of lackadaisical, engaged or disengaged in the conversation or is a grinder.
“How do they go about their business?,” says Shirley. “What’s their family dynamic like? What’s their mom and dad like? Who influences them the most?”
Those pieces start to be put together via these conference calls.
“We’re always willing to take a risk on players who have elite talent,” says Shirley. “But if you don’t have elite talent and you have bad make-up, obviously there’s a red flag we try to stay away from.”
Scouts have been working on the 2020 draft for two years already. They were on the road again three days after the conclusion of the 2019 draft.
Most of the players who wind up in college, we’ve seen when they are in high school,” says Shirley. “The depth at which we follow these players is significant. The elite players we spend a lot of time on.”
“There’s so much more to the process than what your eyes tell you any more,” says Shirley. “We have multiple angles and multiple opinions.
“The sharing part among your departments becomes so tremendous. Everybody is in the boat rowing together trying to get to the destination.”
Stoudt-coached teams won 654 games with 14 sectional titles and three regional championship and 10 conference championships in 32 years as a head coach through 2012. He sent a number of players into college and professional baseball.
“He was tremendous,” says Shirley of Stoudt. “He built a program of high-end talent.
“He expected you to show up and held you accountable. He pushed you to be you best. He was demanding and his demand forced you to raise your expectations for yourself.”
Shirley graduated from Pendleton Heights in 1988 and played his freshmen collegiate season (1989) at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich. As a “draft and follow” player, Jonathan Michael Shirley was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 45th round of the 1989 MLB Draft, played his sophomore season at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., then played in the Indians system from 1990-94.
Having an elite arm in right field, Shirley was reluctantly converted to a pitcher. He hurt his arm, underwent Tommy John surgery and was released. He concluded his pro career with the independent Anderson Lawmen in 1995 (Mid-America League) and 1996 (Heartland League) while also completing his degree at Indiana University.
Mike and Kimberly Shirley have been married 22 years and have three baseball-playing sons.
Jaxon Shirley is at Lubbock (Texas) Christian University after starting his college career at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and transferring to Oklahoma University. He was drafted by the White Sox in the 34th round out of Lapel (Ind.) High School in 2016 as a 6-foot-4, 190-pound second baseman. He is now a 6-5, 220-pound left fielder.
Caden Shirley is a freshman at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Colton Shelton is a Lapel senior.
Various ailments, including stress fractures, caused Caden and Colton to miss long stretches of development as high school players.
“Being a baseball man like I am and watching my own children suffer, it’s been one of the biggest challenges as a father,” says Shirley. “You see how hard they’ve worked through their lifetime and you see them lose almost two years of their careers and it’s very difficult.”
For years, Shirley has operated a training facility in Anderson called “The Barn.”
“There’s so many young, talented players in there that have bright futures,” says Shirley. “That’s why I’ll always stay connected.
“You want to give them the guidance and give your expertise.”
Players from youth through major league come to the facility to train.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, who has played in the big leagues, took swings at “The Barn” during Thanksgiving week.
Minor leaguer Nick Schnell (selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018) got in the cage before heading off to Florida.
So has Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School product who slugged 17 home runs at Indiana University in 2019.
“It’s been a really productive situation,” says Shirley. “There are guys in there who are going to be the next Nick Schnell or next Cole Barr.
“It’s a special place. We don’t ever try to be famous. We’re not on Twitter. If you’re a baseball guy, the proof’s in the pudding. Are you making players or not? Are you helping players get to their goals?”
Mike Shirley, a native of Anderson, Ind., is the amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox. He is a 1988 graduate of Pendleton Heights High School. (Chicago White Sox Photo)