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.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Ask Us Anything Part 1

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Ask Us Anything Part 1

We asked you to ask us anything about the White Sox and you delivered in a big way. We got so many questions, we had to do two different podcasts! Among the questions here in Part 1: should the White Sox send Yoan Moncada to Triple-A? What players will be traded before the deadline? Who are some sleeper prospects in the minors? Will Jordan Stephens be called up before Michael Kopech? Should Juan Uribe be a team ambassador? What's our all-time White Sox team from 2000 to the present and many more.

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

Rick Hahn says 'there will be many' promotions for White Sox prospects this week

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USA TODAY

Rick Hahn says 'there will be many' promotions for White Sox prospects this week

The White Sox have a number of highly-rated prospects performing well in the minors and some of them will be on the move within the system in a matter of days.

General manager Rick Hahn talked to reporters ahead of Monday night's White Sox game in Cleveland, a 6-2 loss, and gave the news. Well, sort of.

He didn't include names, but he did say that "there will be many" promotions after the minor league all-star games for Double-A and both Single-A teams take place on Tuesday.

Hahn added that Chris Getz, the White Sox player development director, will address the media before the White Sox host Oakland on Thursday about the moves.

If the all-star games are a reason to wait, it's safe to think some of the players involved will be playing in those games. So who could be on the move?

Double-A Birmingham has six all-stars: Eloy Jimenez, Zack Collins, Seby Zavala, Danny Mendick, Dane Dunning and Ian Hamilton. Jimenez is the name everyone wants to see on the move. He has torched the Southern League since getting off to a late start to the season due to injury. Hahn was asked about Jimenez, but didn't tip his hand as to whether he would be one of the promotions.

Dunning has been good in Double-A (2.78 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings), but was already promoted this season so he may not be on the move again.

Single-A Winston-Salem has five all-stars: Dylan Cease, Luis Alexander Basabe, Joel Booker, Bernardo Flores and Matt Foster. Cease, 22, could be due for a promotion with a 2.89 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. There's also that outfield logjam the Dash, which won the first-half division title, have had all season.

Other than Basabe and Booker, Blake Rutherford and Alex Call are also noteworthy prospects being forced to split time in the Dash's outfield. If Jimenez is moving up to Triple-A, one or two names from this group could be on the move to take his spot in Birmingham.

This would especially make sense if highly-touted outfield prospect Luis Robert, who was supposed to be in Single-A Kannapolis for a short period before joining the Dash, is ready to move up as planned. Robert is hitting .289/.360/.400 in 13 games with the Intimidators.

Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis were all off Monday. The various all-star games will take place Tuesday and the three teams will be off again Wednesday. The promotions could be announced Thursday ahead of Getz's scheduled media availability.