Last month at SoxFest, General Manager Rick Hahn was tapered at best as far as his expectations for the arrival of some of the prospects perceived to be more major league ready than others, with Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez being at the top of that hypothetical list.
Hahn said that those guys will have goals to meet and exceed this season before they can be considered for a promotion to the major league level, and said specifically that Michael Kopech will have to master his secondary pitches down in Charlotte — something that Kopech told the media this week that he’s been working on all offseason.
“It’s a comfort thing,” Kopech said. “It’s a work in progress to say the least, but once I get comfortable and get ready for a game, I feel like it will be there. It’s something I’ve worked on all offseason and I feel comfortable with it, now it’s just taking it into games. Me and Coop [Don Cooper] can continue to work on that.”
Despite working on his secondary pitches to compliment his blazing fastball this winter, Kopech knows that he’s going to start the season down in Charlotte, and he’s OK with that for now, citing a more mature and patient approach to his development in his second season in the White Sox system.
“I’m just gonna be patient,” Kopech said. “Last year I think I was a little too anxious, mid-season I ran into a few hiccups, a few speed bumps because of that, just getting a little bit too far ahead of myself. This year I’m just gonna be patient and take it day-by-day and let the team do the deciding.”
Even with his new-found patience, Kopech admits that biding his time and waiting for his development to meet the standards of the White Sox player development and personnel department will be difficult at times.
“I’m a guy that likes to force the hand,” Kopech said. “I’m a guy that you can’t really slow down to say the least, but it’s something I’ve had to figure out the past year or so. I think that will be beneficial for me this year.”
In 2017 the White Sox made an aggressive decision to start Kopech out at the Double-A level, despite the then 21-year old righty having only 11 starts at the Advanced-A ball level with Boston, that decision ultimately proved to be the right call, but as Kopech pointed out, there were some “speed bumps” along the way.
Over the course of 22 starts in Birmingham last season, Kopech secured a modest 3.39 ERA over the course of 119 innings of work with the White Sox’ Double-A affiliate, but his measurables beyond his ERA were excellent for much of the season, especially during a red-hot stretch that came after he participated in the Futures Game during All-Star week in Miami last July. Kopech struck out an alarming rate of nearly 12 per nine innings, totaling 155 during his stint in Birmingham.
The biggest stride for Kopech came when he established control of the strike zone around the time of the Futures Game appearance in July. In his first 15 starts of the season from April through June, Kopech walked a whopping 49 hitters and even posted an ERA north of six in the month of June (the aforementioned “speed bumps”). Over the course of his final 59.1 innings of work in 2017, Kopech walked just 16 of the 233 hitters he faced, striking out 75 of them and posting and ERA of 1.83 during that period.
So, what exactly changed for Kopech midway through the 2017 season?
“It’s strange, but I meditate a lot and kind of get into that state of mind,” Kopech said. “It helps me be relaxed when games and training comes around. It’s just something I picked up last year, I started doing it before every start and I realized how beneficial it was to me personally and then I kept doing it throughout the offseason.”
Whatever works, I guess. If meditating is the key to keeping his immaculate control that he displayed in the second-half of 2017, then it’s music to my ears to hear that he has continued to incorporate that into his routine here in 2018.
Kopech knows that the fan-base is buzzing about the potential that this organization currently possesses, and says that he has been humbled by all of the fan-fare surrounding him in particular over the course of the last year or so, but points out that while he appreciates the love, he still needs to earn it.
“It’s an honor — it’s humbling,” Kopech said. “To say the least, I haven’t earned that spotlight yet. I do appreciate it, but for me, I’m just trying to come in and take care of business.”
As our Sean Williams related in the most recent episode of the podcast, the love for the prospects and the talent throughout the big leagues and the minor leagues is at an all-time high for this ballclub, and that excitement is shared by the players as well. When asked about the prospect (no-pun intended) of playing with all of these guys at the major league level eventually, and what the team could accomplish — Kopech was glimmering with optimism.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a lot of these guys at the lower levels and kind of all the way up,” Kopech said. “So, I’m really excited about what the future has in store — of course, we have a lot of big league talent right now that’s been taking care of business — but when we’re all there and able to help out together, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s going to be a good deal for the next couple of years at least.”
With Cactus League play starting on Friday, and Michael Kopech getting his first start on Monday, it won’t be long until the fans get to see the seeds of tomorrow being planted as they square off against other major leaguers for the next month or so down in sunny Arizona.