Reynaldo Lopez’s season debut a sign of White Sox’ hard-throwing future

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Reynaldo Lopez in the dugout during spring training. | Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

Opposing hitters better be ready to have their hair blown back by White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez when he makes his season debut Monday. They should probably get used to it, too. Lopez was one of six different minor league pitchers in the White Sox organization to hit 100 miles per hour with a pitch in 2017, according to Baseball America.

Only the Pirates have more players who hit triple-digits in the minors last season.

Lopez is part of a new wave of White Sox pitchers who look ready to bring the heat on the South Side. The 24-year-old averaged over 95 miles per hour on his fastball in his two MLB stints and has little left to prove at the Triple-A level after performing well with Charlotte last season.

The White Sox already have Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer in their big league rotation, and they’re far from done bringing the pitching staff up to speed for the modern era. Here’s a look at the five other White Sox pitchers who cracked the century mark on a radar gun last season.

Michael Kopech

Kopech, who was acquired as part of the Chris Sale trade, is the most well-known of the hard-throwing Sox prospects. He enters the season ranked 10th on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects list thanks to an 80 grade fastball, which is the highest grade on the scouting scale

There’s more to Kopech’s game than a filthy four-seamer, including a hard upper-80s slider and a solid changeup, but it’s his build (6-foot-3, 203 pounds) and velocity that make him a potential No. 1 starter. Even though Lopez is the one making his MLB season debut Monday, Kopech is clearly the top pitching prospect in the organization.

Zack Burdi

Burdi, the Sox’s 2016 first-round pick, is a relief pitching prospect with a huge fastball who is currently sidelined after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July. He has closer upside in the majors if he recovers from the procedure to his elbow and improves his command. MLB.com ranks him 12th among Sox prospects.

Bruce Rondon

You can hardly call Rondon a prospect anymore considering he’s 27 and signed with the White Sox on a minor league deal in February. He’s struggled in his big league chances, posting a 5.00 ERA in 111.2 innings. But then you see the strikeouts(12.6 K/9) and the velocity (averaged 97.8 miles per hour on his fastball), and you can understand why the White Sox decided to take a shot on him. Rondon is currently assigned to Triple-A Charlotte.

Victor Diaz

Diaz, another relief pitching prospect, was one of the smaller pieces included in the Sale trade. He’s assigned to Single-A Advanced Winston Salem but had a brutal stint there last season with a 23.63 ERA (no, that’s not a typo) in 5.1 innings. Batters hit .464 against him. He’s been better in the past and has that velocity, but the results weren’t there in 2017.

Thyago Vieira

Acquired from the Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus money, Vieira is another example of the White Sox’s willingness to take fliers on hard-throwing young pitchers. He’s currently assigned to Triple-A Charlotte and only has one MLB inning on his resume, in which his fastball averaged 98.7 miles per hour, but that big-time velocity is clearly what makes him appealing.

All in all, you can see how the White Sox have targeted hard-throwing pitchers as part of their effort to rebuild the roster. Lopez and Kopech are high-upside starters who could become anchors for a decade, and Burdi has a chance to be their closer of the future. The other three are older relievers who have struggled to put it together but remain intriguing because small improvements in command can go a long way when you’re sitting 99-100. Those kinds of players get a lot of chances.

Lopez may be the first of these big arms to arrive in Chicago, but he won’t be the last.

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