By Bruce Levine–
GLENDALE, Ariz. (CBS) — While it was only a Cactus League game in spring training, White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech impressed all parties involved with a five-strikeout performance across two innings in his team’s loss to the Cubs on Friday.
The 20-year-old Kopech hit 103 miles per hour with his fastball as he dominated hitters, and he left Cubs manager Joe Maddon delivering lofty praise.
“He is good,” Maddon said. “That is really a good arm. It is kind of like watching (Aroldis Chapman) as the ball arrives at home plate. That last 15 or 20 feet, it’s different the way the ball arrives in the catcher’s mitt. He has a really good delivery also. I don’t know what their plans are, but keeping that kid healthy should be very successful for them.”
As Maddon mentioned, Kopech isn’t afraid of strutting his stuff, which is comprised of four pitches in his repertoire. Kopech is scheduled to start the 2017 in the lower minor leagues.
For his part, Kopech doesn’t care who he’s facing. He wants to dominate against fellow minor leagues and the likes of opposing starters such as the Jason Heyward and Jon Jay, who were among the five Cubs he whiffed Friday.
“These obviously are big league hitters,” Kopech said. “I have to make adjustments to those approaches. A guy had a great at-bat against me. I should have put him away earlier. That is part of the learning process.”
Acquired from the Red Sox as part of the Chris Sale trade in December, Kopech could be on the fast track to the big leagues after 2017. White Sox brass wants the talented Kopech to work on command of his pitches this summer so he can polish the gifts that few others boast.
Kopech will work as a starter in the minor leagues but also has the hard-throwing stuff that fits the profile of an elite reliever. The White Sox used Sale as a reliever in 2010 and 2011 before he moved into a starting role.
“I will do whatever I can to contribute to the team,” Kopech said. “I would rather start. It is not up to me. If I can help the team in the bullpen, that is what I will do.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.