White Sox

Al Leiter's advice to Michael Kopech could transform him from a thrower into a pitcher

Al Leiter's advice to Michael Kopech could transform him from a thrower into a pitcher

Part of Michael Kopech’s All-Star experience last weekend was advice from Al Leiter that he immediately finds more comfort with his secondary pitches.

The pitching great and current MLB Network analyst spent 20-25 minutes with the White Sox No. 1 pitching prospect shagging fly balls during batting practice before the All-Star Futures Game on July 9. Leiter -- who averaged 3.1 f-Wins Above Replacement from 1994-2004 -- suggested Kopech take advantage of his time in the minor leagues to learn how to use his slider and changeup and rely less on his fastball in critical situations. Leiter believes Kopech -- ranked the No. 11 prospect in baseball by MLBPipeline.com -- has a great future that could be even brighter if he learns how to become more of a pitcher instead of a thrower.

“Even with exceptional fastballs, you need to have a complement to your fastball and your number one secondary pitch,” Leiter said. “I’m a big advocate of having pitchers like Kopech believe you’re not giving in and you’re not wimping out by throwing offspeed pitches. It actually empowers you more because of the breadth of your options and the confidence you have in it, in particular slider/changeup, that he would have other places to go. And the only way you do that is that you have to trust it and the only way you trust it is if you use it.”

Leiter would probably be pleased to hear Kopech followed that plan in his first post-Futures Game start on Friday. The franchise’s minor league pitcher of the month for April produced his best start since May by incorporating a steady diet of sliders with a few changeups into his 97-pitch effort. Kopech threw 31 sliders and six changeups as he allowed a run, four hits and walked two with five strikeouts in six innings at Biloxi. While Leiter would prefer a higher number of changeups --- ideally 15 with 20-25 sliders --- the concept is to get away from heavy reliance on the fastball.

Kopech will make mistakes, of course, by hanging a slider or a changeup, Leiter said. But now is the time to make those mistakes so Kopech can be more well-rounded by the time he reaches the majors.

“I’ll let you pick your spot,” Leiter said. “But I want you to throw it not as an emergency but for you to feel and recognize that it’s an important pitch.

“If he brings out a slider early and a changeup early and gets results, he now gets more empowered on pitches other than his fastball.

“The reason why he needs to experience it on the mound and not on the side is you have to see the results. You have to get positive results to reinforce what everybody is telling you. The only way you do it is there.

“Don’t give up on it because at some point he will need it. He’s going to need it to be dominant.”

Kopech said the two also spent a fair amount of time talking about getting ahead in the count. The right-hander has 106 strikeouts this season in 84 1/3 innings. But he also has issued 55 walks, which in part has run up his pitch count and prevented Kopech from going deeper into games. Through 17 starts, Kopech is averaging a tick under five innings per start.

He said the Futures Game experience was enhanced by his discussion with Leiter and thinks the entire day would give him a boost to finish his second half on a strong note.

“(Leiter) said in his career that he had a lot of walks, too,” Kopech said. “Just the keys that helped him get ahead in counts and to not worry so much when I am walking guys. Play to my strengths, but don’t put too much pressure on myself.

“To get a chance to talk to a big leaguer about pitching, to be in the big league environment, it’s really everything I wanted.”

“We all get to kind of experience big league lifestyle for a day and, hopefully, get a taste of what it's really like. That's all we really want to experience out of this, is kind of get a taste of the big leagues. It kind of makes us a little more hungry for the real thing.”

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

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Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contract that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying to acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

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USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."