Right-hander Michael Kopech is ready, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said.
Not that it has taken him a long time to get called up to the majors — the flamethrower is only 22 — it’s just that Sox fans who’ve had little to cheer about since 2008 have been waiting impatiently for their next big things, Kopech and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, to get called up to see what hope looks like.
Half the wait is over. Kopech will make his major-league debut Tuesday night, when the Sox play the Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“He’s an extremely talented kid, he’s in a great spot right now and we’re very excited about his future,’’ said Hahn, whose acquisition of Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz for Cy Young candidate Chris Sale at the 2016 Winter Meetings launched the Sox’ rebuild.
Kopech has progressed nicely since the deal, earning a late-season promotion from Class AA Birmingham to Charlotte in 2017. Hahn said the goal all along for the 13th-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, was to get him to the majors this season, although it wasn’t essential because of his age.
“But from continuing to progress him along in his career and putting him in the best position to reach his considerable ceiling, we felt that a trip to Chicago this year would make the most sense,’’ Hahn said. “To see how his stuff plays and to go into the offseason with an understanding of how big-league hitters react to his stuff, and perhaps to see if he has to make any adjustments heading into the 2019 season.’’
Figuring out how to get big-league hitters out and having that checked off entering spring training in six months is the next part of the plan.
“These decisions are based on what is best for putting these players in the best position for the long term,’’ Hahn said.
Kopech has put a midseason stretch where he couldn’t find the plate behind him, emphatically. In his last 10 starts for Charlotte, he walked only 14 batters while striking out 82 and had a 2.14 ERA in 59 innings.
“Over the last six or seven starts, he’s been on a considerable roll,’’ Hahn said. “You’ll see a slightly different pitcher from the one you saw in Glendale [during spring training].”
In 395‰ career minor-league innings, Kopech amassed 514 strikeouts. In his last seven starts, though, “we really saw it all come together,’’ Hahn said. “He’s ready for that next challenge.”
“He’s more under control,’’ Charlotte pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “Because you throw 100 miles per hour doesn’t mean you have to always throw every pitch 100 miles per hour.’’
Kopech has taken a few mph off that, located better and is able to reach back for triple digits when he needs it, McCatty said. He has commanded the fastball and has a handle on his curve, slider and changeup, too.
He will pitch every fifth day and, though not announced yet, could bump Dylan Covey out of the rotation. As the innings mount, “we’ll remain flexible” about his total as September winds down, Hahn said. Kopech’s career high for innings is 134, and he’s at 126.
The Sox, who began hyping Kopech’s arrival with an announcement and video link on Twitter on Sunday, are expecting better than their average crowd of 19,000.
“For tomorrow, you kind of want to leave him alone and let him pitch,’’ Hahn said. “Obviously, the kid’s going to be excited. You’re probably going to see some velocity readings early on that are a little hyped up, that are indicative of the excitement the kid has, and that’s understandable. He’s a 22-year-old kid making his major-league debut in front of an excited home crowd.’’