White Sox

Already one of MLB's most dominant pitching prospects, Michael Kopech is still 'learning how to pitch'

Already one of MLB's most dominant pitching prospects, Michael Kopech is still 'learning how to pitch'

He’s still blowing hitters away and walking more than he’d like. But White Sox prospect Michael Kopech has also begun to incorporate some of the many nuances of being a pitcher into his approach and is improving.

In order to keep hitters off balance, the Double-A Birmingham pitcher has added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire and is also working to better utilize his changeup. Kopech was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the month in May on Thursday after he struck out 47 batters and posted a 2.31 ERA in 35 innings. White Sox minor league pitching coordinator Richard Dotson said he likes what he has seen from Kopech, who has just 210 professional innings pitched to his credit.

“It’s the process,” Dotson said. “He can still throw the crap out of it, but he’s learning to pitch.

“He’s doing really well and making strides.”

There’s no doubt Kopech has the tools for success at the major league level. He throws a 100-mph-plus fastball and has a wicked slider to accompany it. Those two pitches alone could almost certainly have him working out of a major league bullpen right now.

But the 11th ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com, wants to be a starting pitcher. And it sounds as if he realizes that he’s going to need some softer pitches in his arsenal to become that pitcher.

The White Sox would like Kopech to rely more often on his changeup, which has above-average potential and grades out to 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He threw it 4-5 times on Wednesday when he allowed an unearned run and struck out 10 batters in 5 2/3 innings. Kopech said he’s comfortable with the changeup, but still needs to improve how he implements it.

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“I’ve given up a couple home runs on changeups this year just because I’m speeding guys bats up,” Kopech said. “It has become a better pitch, but I have to be smart about when I’m using it and to whom I’m using it.”

That’s where the two-seamer has been helpful. Whereas the fastball reportedly touched 105 mph last July, the two-seamer provides variance in velocity. With the sinker utilized, Kopech’s fastball velocities now have a range between 94-102 mph.

Unlike it’s rapid, straighter four-seam brethren, Kopech’s sinker has “tail and run -- it has movement with angle,” Dotson said.

“It’s not necessarily a fourth pitch,” Kopech said. “Pretty much another fastball, but at the same time it’s disruption of timing, too.”

Disruption is the key word here. Kopech should always be confident in his 102 mph fastball. But some hitters will be able catch up to that pitch at the major league level and he’ll need offspeed pitches to keep them from looking for the four-seamer.

Also, by trying not to blow every hitter away, Kopech should see a natural reduction in his walk-rate. Kopech said he has strived to pitch to contact more often when he can in games, though he isn’t afraid to pitch for a strikeout with runners on base.

While he has improved his command some, Kopech would like to be even better. After walking 10 batters in his first 12 innings pitched, Kopech has walked 21 in the last 41, including 17 in 35 May innings. That’s a six-percent reduction in walk rate from 18.2 percent in April to 12.2 percent in May.

Still, that translates to 97 walks in 200 innings, a figure he’d like to see decrease. But given his 2.38 ERA and the fact that opposing hitters have only a .539 OPS against him, Kopech knows he’s not too far from where he needs to be.

“My walks are close misses,” Kopech said. “I have an approach to each and every hitter. I have a plan where I go into the game and if I tally up a couple walks it’s not as big a deal as if I’m trying to go after a guy and I’m just missing. It’s getting there, but it’s not exactly where I want it. But I’m a little more comfortable than I was at the beginning of the year.”

2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

Both the Cubs and White Sox may benefit this season from the unique MLB schedule which will have all clubs play regionally, instead of across their leagues. Since the A.L. Central and N.L. Central teams are all fairly close, and Chicago is practically in the middle of the action, both the Sox and Cubs will rank near the bottom for miles traveled over the course of the regular season, according to MLB Network.

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During their 2020 schedule release show, MLB Network displayed a graphic saying the Cubs will travel the second-fewest miles at 4,071 and the White Sox will travel sixth-fewest at 4,750 miles. It’s important to note that may not give them an edge in the regular season, as the other teams to round out the list are all Central division opponents as well: the Brewers, Tigers, Cardinals and Reds.

But when it comes time for the playoffs, that rest may pay off-- especially if either team faces off against a team from the West. All of the top-five teams for most miles traveled come from the A.L. and N.L. West, ranging from 11,332 miles traveled for the Rockies to a whopping 14,706 miles traveled for the Rangers. In a condensed season, with significantly less rest, that long travel could take a toll.


RELATED: White Sox schedule release: Slow start not an option with brutal first week

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White Sox said to have one of MLB's easiest schedules, but not so fast

White Sox said to have one of MLB's easiest schedules, but not so fast

MLB Network put up the raw numbers, blasting across the screen of anyone watching the league's hour-long schedule-reveal show Monday night that the White Sox had baseball's fourth easiest schedule in the shortened 2020 season.

Really? It doesn't seem that way when you look at it.

I understand the mathematics behind such a declaration. The White Sox nine 2020 opponents — their four division rivals from the AL Central and the five teams from the NL Central — had a combined winning percentage of .477 in 2019. The White Sox, you'll remember, lost 89 games last season, so the nine teams with the South Siders on their schedules got a mathematical boost, too. And it wasn't shocking, then, that the entire top four on MLB Network's list of the easiest schedules this season were Central Division teams from one league or the other.

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The Minnesota Twins were at the top of the list, their group of nine foes unburdened by their own 100-win pedigree from a season ago. The Cleveland Indians came in next, followed by the St. Louis Cardinals, then the White Sox.

What that tells me? Obviously the bottom three teams in the AL Central did not pile up the victories last season. The 89-loss White Sox actually finished third, with a couple members of the Triple-Digit Loss Club behind them in the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers. The NL Central wasn't so hot last year, either.

But do last year's records dictate this year's fortunes? Of course not. And certainly that's what the White Sox are hoping after the breakout seasons from core players in 2019 paved the way for an avalanche of offseason additions. Their expectations are sky high on the doorstep of this 60-game sprint to the postseason as they look to leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode.

So to answer the question: Do the White Sox have an easy schedule? I don't think it looks very easy.

They'll see the Twins 10 times, and though, in a fit of somewhat inexplicable unbalanced scheduling, seven of those games of will be played on the South Side, home-field advantage will be minimized with no fans in the stands. The Twins might have questions about whether their starting rotation can be as menacing as their thunderous lineup, but my god, is that lineup good. The Twins launched 307 home runs out of big league ballparks last season, including a whopping 27 of them out of Guaranteed Rate Field. And now Nelson Cruz has a new slugging buddy in the middle of that order, with Josh Donaldson signing up this winter. The perennial MVP candidate was back to his productive ways with the Atlanta Braves last season after a few injury-impacted campaigns, and his career numbers against the White Sox are scary good: a .333/.435/.686 slash line — that's an 1.122 OPS! — with 15 homers and 35 RBIs in 44 games.

They'll also see the Indians 10 times, and that same unbalanced scheduling works against the White Sox this time, with seven of the 10 games played at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The South Siders have struggled to win games there in recent seasons, dropping 18 contests at The Artist Formerly Known as The Jake in the past three years. The Indians might have dealt away both Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber in the last 12 months, but they still have what is arguably baseball's best starting rotation: Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, Zach Plesac and more. Yes, the lineup is not nearly as formidable, but they still boast two MVP types on the left side of the infield in Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez. The road to the AL Central crown runs through the Twin Cities, but the White Sox have to leap over the Indians, too, to get to the top of the division standings. And that's no small feat. The White Sox penultimate series of the season is a four-game set in The Cleve.

While we already knew the White Sox were going to play a bunch of games against the Twins and Indians this season, these ones are magnified. The shortened season means that instead of their games against the Twins and Indians making up 23 percent of their schedule, they account for a third of it. Every game holds more weight in the 60-game setup, but none will be more important than these 20.

Getting to see the Royals and Tigers an equal amount is a positive, sure. Those teams combined for 217 losses last season and don't figure to be much more of a threat this year, even though the 60-game schedule could make for some truly wacky shenanigans. Even still, the White Sox lost their season series with the Royals last year, going 9-10 against them.

RELATED: White Sox 2020 schedule: 5 key series during 60-game race for AL Central crown

But it's those games against the NL Central that really don't hold up to the idea that the White Sox have it easy in 2020. There are four teams in that division that not only look capable of giving the White Sox some fits but look capable of winning the NL Central altogether.

That includes the Cubs, who the White Sox play six times, accounting for 10 percent of their 2020 schedule. That includes a three-game set on the South Side to finish off the 2020 regular season, when playoff spots could be on the line, setting up potentially the most meaningful Crosstown series since the 1906 World Series. The Cubs have questions like any other team, particularly when it comes to how much they can get out of their starting rotation. Already, they're down former White Sox hurler José Quintana after he injured himself while doing dishes. But if first-year manager David Ross gets enough from his pitching staff, a lineup featuring MVP types like Kris Bryant, Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo seems to be strong enough to do a good deal of damage.

The defending champion Cardinals are the White Sox opponents in the Field of Dreams game, and while that will be mostly a showcase for Major League Baseball's ability to construct a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, it will also be the first of a three-game series between two teams with playoff hopes. Almost certainly the White Sox will run into excellent young pitcher Jack Flaherty, who's not only the Redbirds' ace but also Lucas Giolito's former high school teammate. There's a no-brainer of a pitching matchup for the nationally televised game in Iowa.

The Cincinnati Reds are a trendy pick to rise up and even win the division — it's my prediction, so make of that what you will — after an offseason of splashes that brought sluggers Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas to the banks of the Ohio River. White Sox fans — and White Sox pitchers — likely don't have fond memories of either's time in the AL Central. Eugenio Suárez led the NL in home runs last season, and that Joey Votto guy has put up some gaudy numbers in his career that some might argue are verging on being worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. But it's that 1-2-3 in the Reds' rotation that really sparkles: Bauer, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo, who have all gone to the All-Star Game once in the last two seasons.

The Milwaukee Brewers could be sliding backward with their seeming refusal to go out and acquire impact starting pitching, but that hasn't stopped them from making the postseason in each of the last two seasons. Christian Yelich is going to be around for a long while after getting a big contract this offseason, and they still have some real good bullpen pitchers. Two of their offseason acquisitions this year should be familiar to White Sox fans: Omar "The Narv Dog" Narváez and Avisaíl García, who both reached career highs in homers in 2019 and combined for 42 of them. The whole team should be somewhat familiar by the team the White Sox play four straight games against them in early August; the White Sox will play hosts to the Brew Crew in an exhibition game July 22 at Guaranteed Rate Field.

The Pittsburgh Pirates should not strike fear. They're rebuilding again, and the White Sox will gladly take four games against them, even if Josh Bell could cause some headaches for White Sox pitchers. But absent the Bucs, the NL Central is no joke of an opposing division for the White Sox or any team looking to win the AL Central title by the end of September.

With a heavy dose of the Twins and Indians and a smattering of dates against as many as four contenders in the NL Central, I wouldn't call the White Sox schedule easy. Are they better off than they were back in March? Probably, as this 60-game slate doesn't feature the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays — potential playoff teams, the lot of them.

But the White Sox have a lot of questions still to answer about themselves and little margin for error with every game meaning as much it does. Buckle up, folks. Players are already describing this shortened season as possibly having a playoff atmosphere from Day 1. And with few exceptions, the opposition could have that feel, too, for a group of South Siders looking to snap the franchise's postseason drought.


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