Don Cooper

You'll love Don Cooper's scouting report on Alec Hansen, who's 'got a curveball that breaks like a freaking firecracker'

You'll love Don Cooper's scouting report on Alec Hansen, who's 'got a curveball that breaks like a freaking firecracker'

At first, Alec Hansen wasn’t picking up his phone. Who the heck was calling him from Tennessee?

But Don Cooper has a way of getting people on the horn.

“I got three missed calls from a Tennessee number, and I’m like, ‘who’s calling me from Tennessee?’” Hansen said while making calls to ticket holders Thursday ahead of this weekend’s SoxFest festivities. “And he was finally like, ‘answer the phone, this is your coach starting Feb. 14.’ He’s got a lot of excitement. I think that’s just kind of how he is. I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Like the rebuild-loving White Sox fans, the team’s pitching coach is excited for the future on the South Side. And while Rick Hahn has received much of the spotlight for assembling such an impressive group of prospects in the last year-plus, it’s coaches like Cooper who will soon take center stage as all this young talent starts making its way to the big leagues.

Cooper, in particular, will be tasked with helping to develop a large number of these guys into impact major leaguers. The White Sox pitching rotation of the future is a crowded one as names like Hansen, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning all figure to vie for spots on that staff.

“I’m anxious to see all of them,” Cooper said. “When I talk to those guys on the phone, and I’ve been talking a lot to them on the phone, it’s inevitable — and I’m already kind of excited — they make me more excited because you can hear it in their voice, you hear it in their words. And we’re about to start an important undertaking, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Hansen is especially exciting for fans who saw what he did last season in the minor leagues. The right-handed hurler, a second-round pick in 2016, struck out a jaw-dropping 191 batters in 141.1 innings while splitting time between Class A Kannapolis, Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.

And if those numbers don’t do it for you, maybe Cooper’s scouting report will.

“I think he’s a big, strong guy that throws the ball in the mid to upper 90s, got a curveball that breaks like a freaking firecracker, a slider that’s hard and sharp and a changeup that’s continually progressing,” Cooper said. “I think he’s a guy that has more work to do, like everybody.”

While South Side baseball fans are clamoring to know when rebuild stars like Kopech and Eloy Jimenez will make it to the big leagues, they shouldn’t be sleeping on Hansen, who also hopes to be on that major league roster by season’s end.

“I want to make it up to the major league club this year and contribute and just get to know a bunch of these guys around here and get to know the major league staff and people in the front office,” he said. “Just make connections.”

And chances are that if you’re not quite sure what Hansen looks like, he’ll be easy to spot at SoxFest. He is 6-foot-7, after all.

“I saw Hansen at the airport when I landed, I talked to him, and it’s the first time I talked to him. And I was craning my neck. I left and when home to my apartment, and I was thinking, ‘that’s a big dude right there,’” Cooper said. “Bigger, stronger. But he’s a big part of our future, that’s for sure, and we’ve got plans for him.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Don Cooper with the inside scoop on Kopech, Rodon and a dozen other pitchers

cooper_sox_pod.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Don Cooper with the inside scoop on Kopech, Rodon and a dozen other pitchers

With some of baseball's top pitching talent in the White Sox system, who better to talk about them than longtime White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper? Coop gives us the goods on Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease, Joakim Soria and many others. He reveals the adjustment Lucas Giolito made last season that changed everything for the young right-hander, the one White Sox pitcher he thinks will make a big jump in 2018, and explains why he thinks the White Sox could surprise people in 2018.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement surrounding postseason debut

Jose Quintana has a plan to combat excitement surrounding postseason debut

One of baseball’s best kept secrets is about to step into the October spotlight for the very first time and everyone wonders how he’ll handle the moment.

Even though Jose Quintana has never pitched in the postseason, he said the key to his debut on Monday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series will be to keep things simple.

Prior to Sunday afternoon’s brunch-out at Wrigley Field, Quintana said he spent the previous two games soaking up the playoff atmosphere and taking notes from veteran teammates. The Cubs’ key midseason acquisition expects to be excitable when he faces Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals in front of a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field with the series tied 1-1. But Quintana also believes that all that matters is if hit his spots and stays out of the middle of the zone.

“I feel really good,” Quintana said. “I’m so excited. I try to be like, you know, cool, but be present and focus on my game.

“Like I say, I don’t want to change nothing. Just throw my ball well and just focus, pitch by pitch. At this time, a short series, it’s really important, every pitch.”

Quintana’s only other opportunity to reach the postseason in five seasons was with the 2012 White Sox, whose position players were beat up and its rotation simply ran out of gas in September. Even though this type of start is exactly why the Cubs made a blockbuster to acquire him, shipping elite hitting prospect Eloy Jimenez and hard-throwing righty Dylan Cease to the White Sox in July, it’s only natural to wonder how Quintana will fare. The 2017 postseason has been largely unkind to first-time starting pitchers so far as Arizona’s Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker, Boston’s Chris Sale and Colorado’s Jon Gray were all hit hard in their October debuts.

But the left-hander has come close to replicating a similar atmosphere when he pitched for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic against Team USA on March 11, retiring the first 17 hitters he faced.  

Beyond that, Quintana pitched extremely well down the stretch for the Cubs during their drive to the NL Central title. Manager Joe Maddon cited Quintana’s brilliant Sept. 24 turn at Milwaukee when he struck out 10 during a three-hit shutout as evidence he’s ready. Quintana went 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 45 strikeouts with only four walks in 38 1/3 innings over his final six starts.

“I don’t want to keep going back in time, but that four-game series up there was really pertinent,” Maddon said. “He had a great look. I can only tell you --- we’re all into reading people’s faces and their vibe and their energy and all that stuff. And he had it. He has it. My only concern is that he’s over-amped a little bit too much, too soon tomorrow afternoon. But he’s wanted to be this guy.”

Similar to Sale, Quintana has always desired this moment. Reaching the postseason has been his goal every season from the first time he plays catch in spring training to his first bullpen to the first start. Quintana’s laser focus in between starts always made him an easy example for White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper to use as a model for his other pitchers to follow. It also contributed to the pinpoint command that has allowed him to excel as a big leaguer.

[MORE: 6 main NLDS takeaways heading into Cubs-Nationals Game 3

His former catch partner with the White Sox, pitcher Carlos Rodon, said that even during a simple warmup drill, Quintana always tried to hit an invisible circle between his legs at knee-high level.

That “focused practice,” as Cooper calls it, has always helped Quintana stay dialed in during trying moments. It’ll likely be critical once again when Quintana takes the hill on Monday against a team he’s never faced before.

“The approach never changes,” Quintana said. “I saw that with (Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester) and watching around the field in Washington was great. It’s exciting.

“John Lackey told me the last couple days, try to do your job. Just hit your spots and never change. The game’s the same and you’re going to feel the energy around you, so it’s really exciting. I’ve never seen games like this, and it’s really fun.”