Now that the Chicago White Sox have hired a manager, the coaching focus will shift to who will fill the role of pitching coach that was vacated by Don Cooper when he was fired on October 12. The only thing we know at this point is that it won’t be Tony La Russa‘s long-time pitching coach — and current White Sox advisor — Dave Duncan.
La Russa visited Duncan at his Arizona home earlier this week in regards to the possibility of Duncan joining La Russa in the Sox dugout, but Duncan declined, according to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. La Russa confirmed as much himself in his introductory press conference this week.
With the position open for the first time in nearly two decades, and the White Sox in need of the right guy to lead the development of multiple pitching prospects at (or expected to be in the near future) the major league level, La Russa’s choice for his next pitching coach will likely be a crucial one.
What do we know at this point?
Aside from confirming Rick Hummel’s report that Duncan will not be rejoining La Russa in the dugout, La Russa had few things to say about the position during his introductory press conference on October 29. “Dave (Duncan)’s not coming back. I don’t have anybody specific…”
The only person mentioned specifically by name at this point is the current assistant pitching/bullpen coach, Curt Hasler. La Russa noted that Hasler has done well in his current role and that he’ll probably be in the conversation for this job.
Is Curt Hasler the early favorite for the job?
I was watching the press conference with my wife on Thursday, and as soon as I listened to La Russa’s comments on the importance of continuity when it comes to his staff, and his praise for Curt Hasler, I immediately felt like Hasler has to be considered the early favorite for the job.
Hasler, 55, has served in his current capacity since 2017 and was at one-time a draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, selected in the 21st round of the 1987 MLB Draft. Hasler has spent his entire playing and coaching career with the White Sox, pitching in the minors from 1987-91 before becoming a pitching coach at the Rookie and Class-A levels.
In 2011 he was promoted to roving pitching coordinator and then finally promoted to his current position when former manager Rick Renteria took over in 2017.
Despite being a part of the White Sox — a traditionally old-school — organization for the last 33 years, Hasler has done his homework when it comes to new-age pitching development and analytics. In a September 2019 story by James Fegan of The Athletic, Lucas Giolito credited Hasler and former pitching coach Don Cooper for doing well with becoming informed and actionable with analytics and technology as it pertains to pitching player development.
“A lot of credit to Coop and Has (bullpen coach Curt Hasler) with having the old-school background, old-school pitching mentality, and learning all this stuff from our analytics department,” Giolito said. “Really, really educating themselves so they can in turn help all the pitchers. We look at that stuff on an almost daily basis in our bullpens and stuff like that and that’s been super beneficial to me this year. When I can look at an outing and see I climbed up a little higher (in release point) and my ride wasn’t as good. OK, let me go into my next bullpen and focus on getting back into my good (arm) slot, and then we have the Rapsodo on it and it’s like oh, there it is, there’s the carry and the way the ball should be coming out. A lot of credit to them for learning all that stuff, taking it all on.”
No matter how much we — or Rick Hahn — want the White Sox to go outside of their ways when it comes to these kinds of hires, Jerry Reinsdorf proved again with the La Russa hire that it’s his team, and things are going to go his way for as long as he owns the club. With Hasler a White Sox lifer, there’s no reason to think that the loyal Reinsdorf won’t tab him to be La Russa’s pitching coach in 2021.
But, what if they throw us a curveball?
Of course, there’s always the chance that they throw us a curveball when it comes to the next pitching coach on the Southside, but even if they do the hire will still likely come from within the organization. That’s not exactly what I’m looking for, but there are a couple intriguing names on that shortlist.
Zaleski, 38, has ripped through the ranks since being hired by the White Sox in 2016. After spending the 2016 (Great Falls) and 2017 (Kannapolis) at the Rookie/Low-A levels Zaleski served as the pitching coach in Winston-Salem (High-A) in 2018-19 before being elevated to the position of pitching coach at Triple-A Charlotte for the 2020 season.
Zaleski is a local product (Arlington Heights, IL) who was drafted in the 30th round of the 2004 MLB Draft by the White Sox. Zaleski, like Hasler, is a White Sox lifer. Zaleski pitched in the Sox organization for 11 seasons before beginning his coaching career with the team.
Zaleski is pretty much the first name you hear when anyone talks about White Sox pitching development at the minor league level, so naturally, he feels like a strong candidate for the position, but the next name here is possibly my favorite of the bunch.
Teaford, 36, was hired by the White Sox as a minor league quality control coach in 2018 after spending the previous two seasons on the Houston Astros’ pro scouting staff. Teaford has rapidly ascended through the White Sox coaching/player development ranks and is highly regarded in the organization.
The former Kansas City Royals (2011-13) and Tampa Bay Rays (2015) pitcher was promoted to assistant pitching coordinator in 2019 and then again prior to the start of the 2020 season when he was named the organization’s pitching coordinator.
In a May 2018 story on the White Sox minor league pitching development by James Fegan, players like Ryan Burr and Jordan Stephens routinely named Teaford as their go-to guy with regards to Trackman data and pitch development.
“If you don’t have the best outing you could have, Teaf will come up and show you numbers that you had,” reliever Ian Hamilton told Fegan. “Just hearing that ‘Yeah, you had a really good fastball that day, it had lots of carry and rise to it, and your off-speed had so and so break on it,’ and it kind of gives you a little confidence boost because he’s saying your pitches were good, they just got hit yesterday, or something like that. He’s telling you, you’re doing good, just keep doing what you’re doing and good things will happen.”
Teaford might be a bit ripe for the top on-field pitching position in the White Sox dugout, but he’s certainly beloved and respected throughout the entire organization, and might have the most potential in this department.
Richard Dotson served as Justin Jirschele’s pitching coach at Double-A Birmingham in 2020 and has been with the organization in various coaching capacities since 2002. Dotson and La Russa have a relationship that dates all the way back to La Russa’s first tour of duty in the White Sox dugout when Dotson was a staple of his rotation from 1980-1986.
Dotson made his MLB debut in 1979, the same season La Russa made his managerial debut with the White Sox, and went 22-7 with a 3.23 ERA for La Russa’s 1983 “Winning Ugly” White Sox. Dotson spent the 2008-16 seasons as the pitching coach for Triple-A Charlotte.
Any shot they go outside of the organization?
I highly doubt that they go outside of the organization at this point. If you would have asked me this question last week I would have said there was about a 50-50 shot, but with the organization diverting from their plans of an extensive external managerial search I’d consider it highly unlikely that they go outside for the pitching coach.
If they hired a guy like A.J. Hinch or another manager not named Tony La Russa, you would have understood it if the new skipper insisted on having their guy in that role, but with La Russa in place and preaching continuity, hiring from within seems like the best bet.
Which is fine with me at this point since they have a pretty promising shortlist of candidates to assume the position. If I had to bet, I would guess that Hasler gets the job. If I had my pick, I’d go with Teaford.
Featured Photo: John Antonoff / Chicago Sun-Times