White Sox

White Sox confident defense is bound to improve

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White Sox confident defense is bound to improve

OAKLAND -- The numbers produced by the White Sox defense so far in 2015 are the worst of any aspect of their game.

But whether its improved play from several key guys or Friday’s addition of rookie second baseman Carlos Sanchez, the White Sox expect their output to improve.

Really, it can’t get much worse.

Through 31 games, the White Sox are second to last in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved according to fangraphs.com and they rank 27th in Defensive Efficiency, according to baseball-reference.com. A team that features 2014 Gold Glove finalists Adam Eaton and Alexei Ramirez -- who are off to bad starts -- ranks 22nd in the majors with 25 errors, but has played three to five fewer games than every team that has more.

“It hasn’t been good,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You haven’t seen it improve. But I think when you get certain guys in there at points the defense can be better. I think each guy needs to be better. There are ways to improve. From this point forward you’re looking for it to improve.”

[MORE: White Sox reverse course, send Micah Johnson to Triple-A]

Ventura is directly looking at Eaton and Ramirez to offer a big boost. There’s no question Sanchez can be an upgrade in the field over Micah Johnson, who is last in the majors among 24 qualified second baseman with minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved. But Eaton and Ramirez are the team’s most athletic, talented defenders and so far they’ve been at or near the bottom of the league in defensive metrics.

Ramirez expects an offense that has averaged 4.5 runs per game the last 11 contests to have as much of an impact as anything.

“I’m very confident that we are a much, much better team than we have been on defense this season,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “The thing is, sometimes when you struggle on offense, it’s hard to keep it in the offense and not (separate from) the defense. Sometimes the pressure of the game is hard to handle. But it’s baseball and we have to be able to get better and give our best every day in the field.”

Ventura agrees the offense can lift the defense, just as the defense can improve the pitching.

“When you play better at one part of the game that takes pressure off the other part,” Ventura said. “For us there was a whole lot that we needed to do better than just one aspect of it. All of it has been getting better and I think that’s what has changed the attitude.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

When the White Sox brought Johnson to the majors over Sanchez, they knew his glove wasn’t as strong but he offers more offensive upside. But the White Sox have seen over the past few springs and last September that Sanchez brings them a nice defensive player who can shore things up.

“If he’s here it’s because he’s good,” Ramirez said. “He’s a good defender and he earned his right to be here. I think he’s a good player. He has experience and he did a good job in spring training and especially in his time in Triple-A.

“He’s a young talented player. He plays good defense and I think that’s one of the strengths of his game.”

Eaton said the club has only been strengthened by the much-needed “normality” of the past week after a rough period that included a brawl, rain, civil unrest and the flu. With a team that has committed 12 errors in the past 10 games, Ventura just wants consistency.

"(Sanchez) can cover a lot of ground,” Ventura said. “He’s got good hands at second base. Switch hitter, smart player. I think he just brings some stability right there right now.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.