Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech knocking at White Sox’ door
The White Sox’ top position-player prospect not yet here said he was ready right now.
Their top pitching prospect not yet here wouldn’t go quite that strong, but you know he was thinking it.
“I feel like . . . I’m one step away, I’m in Triple-A,’’ right-hander Michael Kopech, 21, said Wednesday, a day after supremely confident outfielder Eloy Jimenez, 20, said he’s ready right now.
“Whenever they want to put me there, they’ll put me there,’’ Kopech said. “Meanwhile, I’m going to do everything I can to get there.”
Kopech, making media rounds a day after Jimenez did the same at Guaranteed Rate Field, did everything he was supposed to do to get himself closer this season, pitching 134„ innings between Class AA Birmingham and Class AAA Charlotte, with three starts after the promotion.
Kopech said it was something of a relief.
“I felt like it was a huge weight off my shoulders because it was what everyone really wanted to see,’’ he said. “The fact I was able to get out there and [handle] that innings load that we’ve talked about the whole time and really get to experience a complete season without any injuries or any problems like that, I think that was the most important thing for me this year.”
Kopech, acquired with second baseman Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz from the Red Sox for Chris Sale, hadn’t thrown more than 65 innings in the minors before this summer. A hand injury stemming from a scrap with a teammate in 2016 and a 50-game suspension in 2015 for using a performance-enhancer — an amphetamine stimulant — were the reasons why.
He had an eventful summer in 2017, and this time all of it was good. It included an appearance in the All-Star Futures Game in which he struck out Moncada with a 100 mph fastball and being named Southern League Pitcher of the Year as well as Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Month for August.
He was 9-8 with a 2.88 ERA, 172 strikeouts and a .193 opponents batting average in 25 starts.
Baseball America rates Kopech as the No. 20 prospect in the game. MLB.com rates him No. 12.
Watching him pitch ranked first for Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell, a former player development director and major-league All-Star and manager. Bell raves about how Kopech finishes at-bats. Kopech, meanwhile, was most pleased with how he got them started.
“As far as on the mound, I think it was throwing more strikes early in counts,’’ Kopech said. “It really helped me get deeper in games, it helped me get ahead of guys early and helped me create outs earlier in counts. That really helped me move along in games.’’
Kopech spent time with Sox players, many of whom he got to know during spring training. He saw Guaranteed Rate Field for the first time.
“I hope to be there soon with them,’’ he said.
It says here that Kopech will be given a chance to break camp with the Sox in spring training but will open the season in Charlotte, although that is not etched in stone. The Sox say they’ll be patient with their top prospects.
“It’s true, sometimes the train, you can’t stop it,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “Once it starts chugging along and creates some momentum, it’s kind of hard to stop. Hopefully that’s what they try to do, but we make the decision with a thoughtful approach to their future and ours.’’
A future rotation with Reynaldo Lopez, who started Wednesday, along with Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, Kopech and potentially other prospects who are coming along is a nice thought.
“You have all of these guys who are coming up and are young and are going to be absolutely in their prime,’’ Renteria said. “Are we excited about it? Yes. I don’t want to smile too big right now because I might knock all of the microphones off this stand.’’
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