In White Sox ‘build’ or rebuild, Don Cooper’s aim is the same
GLENDALE, Ariz. — White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper knew things had changed — drastically — on Dec. 6.
‘‘Let me tell you, the minute we traded [ace left-hander] Chris Sale [to the Red Sox], I said, ‘Anything goes now,’ ’’ Cooper said. ‘‘ ‘Anything can happen because we’re into acquiring young talent.’ ’’
It took some time to digest, but that’s OK with Cooper. Be it young talent or veteran talent, a proven pitcher or a pitcher with something to prove, he’s a we’ll-work-with-what-we’ve-got coach.
‘‘Whatever 12 pitchers get on the plane [from spring training for Opening Day], we’re going to get the job done,’’ Cooper seems to say every spring.
Cooper, 60, is the longest-tenured coach on the Sox’ staff. He is entering his 30th season in the organization and his 15th as pitching coach. Since he became pitching coach in 2003, the Sox rank first in the majors in quality starts.
In Sale, Cooper lost an ace he guided through the first seven seasons of what looks to be a special career. He is guiding left-hander Jose Quintana into the sixth season of a career that also might be special.
And he might lose Quintana, too.
‘‘That’s not my area,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘If [general manager] Rick [Hahn] does [trade Quintana], he does. We’re obviously in a different position right now.’’
Even so, Cooper can’t bring himself to call this an overhaul.
‘‘I don’t like the word ‘rebuild,’ ’’ Cooper said. ‘‘I’ve always looked at it as a ‘build.’ With Q and Sale when he was here, we were always building with them.’’
Always tweaking this, adding that and scratching this off the plan. In Cooper’s world, it’s always about making his guys better — whether they are five-time All-Stars or career minor-leaguers hoping to clear a hurdle to advance.
Cooper’s playing career covered all of 44 major-league games with three teams. He never ‘‘grabbed the brass ring,’’ as he likes to say. Perhaps that’s why he always is thinking about ways to make his guys ‘‘climb,’’ to use another of his favorite terms.
Take right-hander Freddy Garcia, a starter on the Sox’ 2005 World Series champions.
‘‘Freddy picked up a [split-fingered fastball], and it got him another year or two,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Or a guy maybe at the end of his career, maybe that [new] pitch can give him a couple of more years or make an average guy above-average.
‘‘Sometimes to get better — and this works in many parts of life — you have to put yourself in a position of uncomfortability or unfamiliarity to try something that maybe is going to enhance you. You have to try it. I like experimentations.’’
Enter the cut fastball. Cooper recently gave it to 2015 first-round draft pick Carson Fulmer, and he is adding one to prospect Reynaldo Lopez’s arsenal.
‘‘The cutter is a great pitch,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘Every hitting style is hit the ball up the middle or other way. Well, if you have a cutter going in on your hands, that’s a hard pitch to hit the other way.
‘‘But I don’t want it to be a new toy for guys; I want it to be a complementary piece. For some guys, it might become bigger in his arsenal.’’
Cooper likes his starting pitchers to have four pitches they can command on both sides of the plate, and he already is thinking about introducing the cutter to prospect Lucas Giolito. Now is not the time, though, because Giolito is working on other things.
And Cooper is working with hard-throwing prospect Michael Kopech, who came in the Sale trade.
‘‘He has a slider and changeup [to go with his fastball], and I say, ‘Hmm, I wonder if he can spin a curveball,’ ’’ Cooper said. ‘‘When I dream of a guy, I say, ‘How can he be at his freaking best?’ ’’