By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — Amid the dramatic overhaul of the White Sox organization, general manager Rick Hahn has maintained a measured tone.
With fans eager for what’s to come from the future White Sox, Hahn continuously reminded the time necessary to rebuild right. He refuses to get too high on what these prized prospects can become — even for all the videos of 100-mile-per-hour fastballs and light-tower power.
Hahn speaks the same way to those young prospects rising through the farm system. When right-hander Michael Kopech arrived in the organization in December 2016, Hahn kept the goals simple for 2017.
“Go out there and take the ball every fifth day and compete at an advanced placement for a 20-year-old,” Hahn said of Kopech. “That’s a great year.
“Not only did he take the ball every fifth day, but he pitched so damn well — seemingly getting stronger as the year went on — that he wound up promoted to Triple-A for the last five starts. The good ones have a way of creating pleasant problems for you.”
Kopech is now 21 and seemingly on a fast track to the big leagues. Traded to the White Sox in the Chris Sale swap, Kopech has exceeded expectations along the way.
Last season marked Kopech’s first full year as a starter, and he went 8-7 with a 2.87 ERA in 22 starts with Double-A Birmingham, ultimately earning a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte late in the season. There, he went 1-1 with a 3.00 in three starts with the Knights.
Kopech is expected to open the 2018 campaign back in Charlotte, but his goal for this season rests in Chicago.
“I mean, obviously, I would like to be in the big leagues,” Kopech said. “But that’s just one goal. I want to help the team win, whatever way I can. And if helping the team win is me being in Triple-A all year, then I’ll do that. My priority is the White Sox winning ballgames.
“I’m going to have to take it one day at a time. I can’t be looking at the next level. I probably got carried away with it last year.”
Kopech and 21-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez top the White Sox’s list of prospects and represent what could come next for the rebuilding ballclub. Their arrival on the South Side would further rejuvenate the fan base while adding hopes for an accelerated path to contention in the AL Central.
Of course, this is a process of patience as Hahn is quick to remind. The White Sox will do what’s best for their prospects’ growth.
“It’s a perfectly rational and positive developmental track if Michael spends all of next year in Triple-A and pitches well and Eloy spends all of next year in Double-A at age 21 and performs well,” Hahn said. “That’s fine. That’s a path still to being a dominant big league ball player.
“The good ones have kind of a way of forcing your hand and changing the timeline on you. Those are pleasant problems to have.”
The 2017 season wasn’t entirely smooth for Kopech. On July 4, he was roughed up for four earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, which moved him to 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA. Kopech was struggling then to get ahead of hitters, and his overpowering stuff was lacking.
Kopech made the necessary adjustments by locating his high-90s fastball better and getting first-pitch strikes to put hitters in a hole. From there, Kopech went 3-1 with a 0.66 ERA in five starts with Birmingham, striking out 54 batters over 41 innings. He was promoted from there to Triple-A.
“Ultimately, that made me more confident as a pitcher and got me rolling on the right track,” Kopech said.
Kopech worked five innings apiece over three starts in Charlotte. Given the little experience at the Triple-A level, it’s likely that Kopech works much of the 2018 season with the Knights to fine-tune his game for the majors.
Once again, the goal from Hahn and the White Sox will be simple and straightforward — take the ball every fifth day and continue to grow a comfort on the mound.
If Kopech does that, his fast track will take him to Chicago soon enough.