Stage is set for White Sox’ Michael Kopech
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Twitter and text feeds are filled with “Happy Michael Kopech Day” greetings, ticket sales are seeing a bit of a bump and people are actually talking about the White Sox.
What’s going on? The Sox’ top pitching prospect is about to make his major league debut Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field.
This will be a big night for the Sox and their fans as their top pitching prospect is unveiled in year 2 of their rebuild. Kopech, ranked 13th among prospects by MLB Pipeline (fourth among pitchers), is expected to bring a triple-digit fastball, two good breaking pitches and an improved changeup to the mound, all of it brought to you by a muscular, fitness-freak 22-year-old right-hander lacking nothing for self confidence. A Texas kid who modeled himself after Hall of Fame flamethrower Nolan Ryan growing up, Kopech got this from Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez Monday: “I believe Kopech has the biggest up and coming arm in baseball. Excited to watch his debut with the White Sox.”
Join the club.
With all of the anticipation and a buzz around the ballpark that could surpass what was felt when Yoan Moncada made his debut last July, the Sox will try to keep things as normal as they can for Kopech as he prepares to take the mound, two days removed from Class AAA Charlotte. He’ll be opposed by Twins 24-year-old All-Star righty Jose Berrios (7:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM).
“You kind of want to leave him alone and let him pitch,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “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.’’
After all, there are more starts to come, the next one Sunday in Detroit against the Tigers.
“This is just the first step,’’ Hahn said. “We expect him to continue to build off the success he’s had in recent weeks.’’Hahn said the focus, no matter how Kopech performs in his debut, will be on long-term development. This is about seeing how his stuff plays in the majors, learning what it’s like to pitch at this level and taking that knowledge into 2019.
Kopech encountered the struggle the Sox didn’t mind seeing him have when his control left him mid-season. But he fixed the problem, and in each of his last seven starts has allowed two runs or with a 1.84 ERA. He has walked four while striking out 59 over 44 innings during that span.
“We talk with pitchers about the ups and downs of every time you go out there, you just have to maintain,’’ Charlotte pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “You have to worry about the only thing you are worried about — the next pitch, not about the one you have thrown. Michael has done a really good job of that. Everybody seems to think that’s an easy thing to do, just go out and throw hard and you should be successful.’’
Kopech used to appear infatuated with his speed gun readings of 100-mph plus. But McCatty helped him to devalue that, take something off his fastball for the sake of better command, and the results have been very good.
“There’s guys throwing 100 mph and they are getting rocketed out of the ballpark because they are throwing it down the middle of the plate,’’ McCatty said. “They are overthrowing. Part of it as a starting pitcher is learn how to control what you do so you can locate pitches. And that’s what we’ve done. His composure has been really good.’’
He’ll need it now more than ever.
“I think he’s going to handle the challenges well,’’ Hahn said. “He’s already been challenged over the last, shoot, 12 months. Obviously in this day and age with the level of scrutiny that comes with major trades or with high profile prospects, he’s used to the attention and scrutiny on each and every start. He’s been answering questions about his readiness for over a year and he’s been answering questions about the struggles that he had earlier in the season for a good portion of this season.“We’re talking about his first exposure on the biggest stage. We feel like he is extremely well equipped to handle those challenges.’’