Why White Sox’ Michael Kopech is not quite ready for prime time
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Any glimmer of hope for those wanting to see right-hander Michael Kopech pitching at Guaranteed Rate Field in April — and there was very little of it, anyway, if you’ve been listening to those who make those decisions —was shot down by general manager Rick Hahn on Tuesday.
“I don’t foresee that happening,’’ Hahn said.
Granted, there’s a matter of keeping the service-time clock of the White Sox’ highest-ranked pitching prospect from running so soon. But for all of Kopech’s ability and success at Class AA Birmingham (as well as three games at Class AAA Charlotte at the end of 2017) and two scoreless starts in Cactus League play this spring, Kopech needs time to develop more consistency with his changeup, polish his slider and get a better handle on fastball command.
Kopech, who makes his third spring start Thursday against the Royals, is getting there, though.
“He has shown a big improvement from last spring training,’’ veteran James Shields said. “He’s very close.
“He has a little work to do. He knows that, and he’s grinding away.’’
Reynaldo Lopez, who figures to hold down a spot in the middle of the Sox’ rotation, opened the 2017 season at Charlotte even though he made a good showing last spring. Lopez had six major-league starts with the Nationals in 2016 under his belt and felt certain he was ready to open the season with the Sox.
‘In hindsight, Lopez sees the benefit of his 22 starts at Charlotte.
“He is one of best talents in the organization, for sure the best arm,’’ Lopez said. “It’s just a matter of more experience and facing better hitters at Triple-A than we’re used to coming up in the minors.
“You don’t want to fail when you get to the majors. That experience put me in a better position to succeed.’’
Kopech’s first experience at Birmingham was a success. He had a 2.87 ERA in 22 starts and 119„ innings and struck out 155 batters. There were 60 walks, too.
In three starts and 15 innings at Charlotte, he allowed five runs (3.00 ERA), struck out 17 and walked five.
Fifteen innings just isn’t enough of a springboard to the majors, Hahn said. Steve McCatty, Kopech’s pitching coach at Charlotte, agrees.
“Oh, he has a tremendous fastball, but the changeup needs work,’’ McCatty said. “He needs to throw it more, and it needs to develop. Right now it’s kind of hit-or-miss.
“He’ll throw some real good sliders, but that has to be more consistent, too. It’s tough to go out there and out-stuff people with just the fastball.
“It’s a really good slider, but sometimes he’ll spin it and come off of it. He has to learn to stay through on his pitches. If he throws 10 [sliders], you want eight or nine to be right there.
“At 21, he has all the stuff in the world, but he needs to build that consistency with the offspeed and also locate that fastball a little better.’’
Last spring, Kopech had designs on bulldozing his way up through the system, but he’s more realistic now.
“I’m just going to be patient and take it day by day and let the team do the deciding,’’ he said.
Which says something about his makeup, which Shields and McCatty rave about.
“Oh, he’s a great kid,’’ McCatty said. “Can’t say enough about his work ethic. Goes out there and competes. I like that he’s more mature, that when things happen in the game, he moves on and gets ready for the next pitch.’’
Patience, Sox fans, patience. The team isn’t going to rush Kopech.
“The good ones have a way of forcing your hand and altering things for you, and I do think at some point Michael will likely do that,’’ Hahn said. “As I sit here today, I don’t anticipate that being at the end of March.’’
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.