White Sox

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

How Michael Kopech reminds the Birmingham Barons of Michael Jordan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — No player has impacted the Double-A Birmingham Barons the way Michael Kopech has since … Michael Jordan?

That’s the belief of long-time Barons play-by-play man Curt Bloom, who said Kopech has garnered more attention than almost every player he’s covered during 26 seasons in the booth.

Bloom acknowledges that nobody will ever surpass Air Jordan’s 127 games with the Barons in 1994. But the advent of social media has made Kopech an extremely popular attraction this season. Whenever he takes the mound, the team’s social media accounts see a significant increase in page views, engagement and impressions.

“Jordan-esque,” Bloom said. “Nothing will beat Jordan. LeBron could come down. But this reminds me of it. It triggers it. A jolt.

“Nothing stirred like this guy has and I do say, and I think Kopech will tell you the same thing, a big chunk of the reason is we have social media. We didn’t have that for Jordan. We did not have that for Aaron Rowand. There’s always a ying for a yang.

“That being said, it’s still gone beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

It’s unavoidable to miss the Barons’ remembrance of Jordan’s season when he reportedly paid $350,000 to buy the club a luxury bus “The Jordan Cruiser and the Barons set records for attendance. The team drew 467,867 at their old stadium, Hoover Met, and Southern League attendance was more than 2.5 million.

Jordan’s image wearing a Barons No. 45 jersey can be found throughout Regions Field, including a massive banner near the home-plate entrance.

Kopech has been a focal point for White Sox fans since he was acquired in December.

Whether it’s his 100-mph fastball, his lofty prospect status or simply the fact he came over in the Chris Sale deal, eye balls have been drawn to Kopech all season. The right-hander has only increased the awareness with his steady presence on social media, including giving away game-used items to fans.

Throw in his recent dominance on the mound — Kopech has a 0.66 ERA and 54 strikeouts with only seven walks in his last 41 innings — and the hysteria is real.

The Barons determined early on this season that they would follow in the steps of several major league clubs and anoint the day he pitched at home Kopech Day. The White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins have all recently done the same for Sale, Felix Hernandez and Jose Fernandez.

Kopech has only lived up to the hype.

“He’s answering the bell,” Bloom said. “There’s definitely awareness in the city, in our followers, the Twitter universe.

“My daughter Chloe who has no idea about baseball, she asks me, ‘Is Kopech pitching?’

"That’s what has been created.”

Meet the Prospects: Blake Rutherford

Meet the Prospects: Blake Rutherford

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

Blake Rutherford

Rutherford, the 20-year-old outfielder, was the highest-rated piece of the return package that came back to the White Sox in the seven-player deal that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the New York Yankees last summer.

A California native, Rutherford was the 18th overall pick in the 2016 draft. After only playing rookie ball post-draft in 2016, he played 71 games with Class A Charleston last year before the trade, slashing .281/.342/.391 with 20 doubles and 30 RBIs to go along with a pair of home runs. After the trade, Rutherford played in 30 games with Class A Kannapolis, slashing .213/.289/.254 with 26 hits and 13 walks.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Rutherford rated as the No. 4 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Rutherford in the video above.

White Sox reportedly one of teams 'expressing interest' in Christian Yelich, but does a trade for Marlins star make sense?

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USA TODAY

White Sox reportedly one of teams 'expressing interest' in Christian Yelich, but does a trade for Marlins star make sense?

A big offseason splash for the rebuilding White Sox?

After being rumored to potentially trade for Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado last month during the Winter Meetings, the next name on many fans' offseason wish list is Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich.

Yelich is an intriguing candidate for the obvious reason that he's really good, but he also has an uncommon amount of team control remaining on his contract, as many as five years, to be exact. It all adds up to him being a far better fit for a rebuilding team like the White Sox than the aforementioned Machado, who is slated to hit free agency after the upcoming 2018 season.

According to a Friday report from Jon Heyman, the White Sox are one of many teams "expressing interest" in Yelich, who figures to be on the trading block soon given the Marlins' activity this offseason. The Fish, now headed by Derek Jeter, have already traded away several All-Star players, with Giancarlo Stanton going to the New York Yankees, Marcell Ozuna going to the St. Louis Cardinals and Dee Gordon going to the Seattle Mariners. Yelich, who would figure to fetch a hefty return package, is speculated to be the next to go, along with catcher J.T. Realmulto. Yelich's agent told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick a couple days ago that Yelich's relationship with the Marlins is "irretrievably broken."

Joining the White Sox on Heyman's reported list are the Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.

That's obviously a lot of competition, but the White Sox and their stacked farm system would figure to line up well with any team looking to move a star major leaguer for a big package of prospects. With all the minor league talent general manager Rick Hahn has acquired over the past year-plus, there are more highly touted players than there are spots in the White Sox lineup and rotation of the future, meaning some of those players could eventually turn into trade candidates.

But the key word there is "eventually," and it might speak to why a Yelich trade doesn't quite make sense for the White Sox right this moment.

The White Sox aren't expected to contend for a championship in 2018, and that could very well be the case in 2019, as well. This year and perhaps the next will be dedicated to waiting for all these young players to develop, and when that process concludes, Hahn and his front office will have a far better idea of what they have and what holes they need to fill — be that through a big free-agent signing or a trade. But the team hasn't reached that point yet.

Of course, there's plenty to love about Yelich. The 26-year-old already has five big league seasons under his belt, with a collective .290/.369/.432 slash line and a combined 146 doubles in those years. Plus, the power numbers have spiked in the last two seasons, with 21 homers and 98 RBIs in 2016 and 18 homers and 81 RBIs last season. He's also a Gold Glove winner in the outfield and has that alluring contract that thanks to an option could keep him away from free agency until after the 2022 season, definitely past when the White Sox hope to be perennial contenders.

A hypothetical trade for Yelich makes much more sense than one for Machado, that's for sure. But the White Sox still have spent a lot of time and effort carefully laying rebuilding plans, and those plans would need to be drastically altered, one would assume, in order to land a Fish like Yelich. It makes far more sense for the White Sox to exercise the patience that Hahn preached at the Winter Meetings and wait to see exactly what they have — and where — with their mountain of prospects.