White Sox

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

How Jose Quintana's silent leadership resonated with Michael Kopech

He absorbed a ton of information in spring camp, but perhaps it’s what Michael Kopech observed watching Jose Quintana that could help most.

For five weeks in big league camp, the extremely motivated White Sox pitching prospect gleaned every piece of information he could from more experienced teammates.

Kopech and veteran starting pitcher James Shields discussed pitch sequencing and the importance of the changeup. Infielder Tyler Saladino talked with the No. 14-ranked prospect in baseball about visualizing success. Catcher Geo Soto told Kopech pretty much everything about life in the majors.

But even though he didn’t say much, Quintana’s practice sessions may have provided the most valuable lesson of all. The key takeaway, Kopech said, is how Quintana performs every action with a purpose. The young pitcher knows how critical the example Quintana provided is to his development and wants to implement a similar approach.

“(Pitching coach Don Cooper) likes to call it focused practice,” Kopech said. “For me that’s one thing I haven’t done well, is get locked in. You have to be locked in all the time. That’s something that came from Coop and all the big leaguers I was around. Quintana is a great guy to watch when it comes to stuff like that.

“That’s a guy that is a definition of a silent leader. He doesn’t talk about much. He goes and gets his work in and you can just watch him and know that’s the way the game should be played.”

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Kopech took a nice step forward in his development on Tuesday night when he pitched a season-high six scoreless innings for Double-A Birmingham. He struck out eight and allowed a hit while walking four and lowered his ERA to 2.50. The Texas native had only compiled 12 innings in his previous three outings because of “hit-and-miss” fastball command that led to 10 walks.

Along with perfecting his fastball command, one of the keys to Kopech reaching the majors is an increase in workload. Kopech — the 33rd overall pick of the 2014 draft — has never pitched more than 78 2/3 combined innings he produced last season. The White Sox would love for Kopech to reach the 180-inning mark by 2019.

“He doesn’t have a lot of innings under his belt,” player development director Chris Getz said. “He hasn’t been able to have that build up so that’s something we’re going to make sure he can focus on. We’re going to make sure he’s in the right spot so we can do that properly.”

In order for Kopech to eventually hit that mark, he’d need to pitch between 110-130 innings this season and then throw around 160 innings in 2018. But to reach those figures, Kopech must first pitch deeper into games.

Through his first three starts, Kopech worked on a strict pitch count that varied based on performance. If he was on, he could throw as many as 85 pitches. But if he ran into command issues, Kopech might only throw 75.

On Tuesday, Kopech pitched well enough to throw 95 pitches (65 strikes) against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He thinks the key to consistency in games is directly tied to his effort in between. It’s yet another area where Kopech — who reads self-help books, is into Cryotherapy and salt baths and eats meals on the road pre-prepared by his nutritionist — strives to improve.

“From Day 1 to Day 4, you need to be just as focused as Day 5,” Kopech said. “I can’t stress that enough. If my bullpen tomorrow I lose a little focus, then I know I need to get right back into it to prepare for my next start. That’s something that’s going to have to kick in sooner than later.”

Birmingham manager Julio Vinas likes how Kopech has handled himself early in the season. Vinas thinks Kopech has the proper mindset and tools to be a special pitcher.

‘He’s got the right mentality and now it’s executing and it’s going to be there,” Vinas said.

He may have been there this spring, but Kopech preferred to not be seen or heard by his veteran teammates. Kopech couldn’t do anything about the onslaught of attention the media paid to him after he came over with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale trade. But he could control the rest of his time around teammates. Little by little, he’d engage the veterans without drawing too much attention.

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“I just didn’t want to make it about me,” Kopech said. “It was my first big league camp and a lot of those guys are getting ready for a big league season and I’m competing for a job that’s not necessarily on a big league roster right away. I was just trying to take care of my business. All ears, not really any talk and take away as much as I could without pissing anybody off, really.

“I got the chance to face some good hitters and take away a lot of knowledge from older guys and I think that’s the best I could do to prepare for the season.”

But Kopech agrees the best preparation came from watching Quintana, who Cooper always lauds for his practice effort. Kopech hopes to be able to emulate how the 2016 All-Star pitcher handles himself soon enough.

Kopech thought he focused well from the second through the fourth inning in an April 20 start at Tennessee. But he wasn’t as pleased with his effort in the first and fifth innings.

“That’s the way I want to lock in when I’m on the mound,” Kopech said of Quintana. “I haven’t been doing that, but it’s something I’m going to work on going forward.

“I have to remind myself to stay locked in even though I’m doing what I always do because I need to have the same focus (in practice) I do when I’m pitching on the mound.”

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

White Sox free agent focus: Turning to Marcell Ozuna to fill out the outfield

Baseball free agency is heating up as the weather gets colder. This week we are breaking down 10 potential free-agent targets for the White Sox ahead of the Winter Meetings.

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals

Age: 29

2019 salary: $12,250,000

2019 stats: .241 BA, .328 OBP, .472 SLG, .800 OPS, 29 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R, 12/14 SB 

What Ozuna would bring to the White Sox

Ozuna appeared on the verge of becoming an elite star like Anthony Rendon after a breakout season in 2017 with the Marlins. Ozuna came up at 22 and had decent years early in his career. He improved upon his first few years with 37 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .924 OPS as a 26-year-old.

Unlike Rendon, who broke through in 2017 and has sustained that for three seasons now, Ozuna's breakout year appears to be more of a flash in the pan. Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals before the 2018 season and saw a dropoff in his production.

His power and walk rate took big dips in 2018, although he bounced back in both last season. However, he hit .241, which was the lowest batting average of his career.

Ozuna had a career-high walk rate (11.3%) and had the second-best extra-base hit and home run rates of his career (he was only better in those areas in 2017). His strikeout rate (20.8%) was in line with his career average. So what went wrong? His batting average of balls in play was a career-worst .257, which suggests that maybe he's due for some form of bounce back in 2020 as far as batting average.

To simplify all that, Ozuna was good in some areas and inexplicably poor (and maybe unlucky) in others. Does that mean he will return to his big 2017 year wherever he signs? Probably not, but it does help to alleviate some of the feeling of risk for a player who has been inconsistent in his career.

Defensively, Ozuna has a Gold Glove on his resume from 2017, but the stats say he's just an average fielder. Not to mention, he's become infamous for this fielding gaffe.


What it would take to get him

He's young with a mostly positive track record offensively and if he can recreate his 2017 season offensively, he's an all-star outfielder. He won't be cheap, but he has enough question marks to come up just short of $20 million per year.

Ozuna should be able to get four or five years in the mid-to-upper teens per year, similar to fellow outfield free agent Nicholas Castellanos.

Why it's a fit for the White Sox

The White Sox need a corner outfielder. He fills a position of need, adds depth, patience and power to the lineup and won't be a liability in the field.

Ozuna isn't the splashiest signing the White Sox could make, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.

Latest rumors

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

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USA TODAY

White Sox add flamethrowing Tayron Guerrero to bullpen

The White Sox added a flamethrower to their bullpen.

Tayron Guerrero is the newest member of the White Sox relief corps, the team claiming the 28-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Guerrero's most eye-catching attribute is his triple-digit fastball. He averaged 98.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2019 and threw the second most 100-mph pitches (178) of any pitcher in baseball. He posted a 10.6 K/9 in 2018.

But throwing hard and giving up runs are two different things. In 2019, Guerrero had a 6.26 ERA, a number that jumped up from the already less-than-ideal 5.43 ERA he turned in a year prior. He also had some trouble locating said fireball, walking 36 batters in 46 relief innings in 2019 for a ridiculously high 7.0 BB/9.

Still, this type of addition was signaled as perhaps the primary way the White Sox would add to their bullpen this offseason. With so many other items on Rick Hahn's offseason to-do list and the back end of the bullpen being a pretty stable part of the roster, the general manager said that small signings and waiver claims would continue to be part of the strategy when it comes to making additions to the relief corps.

Hahn referenced the team's acquisitions of Evan Marshall, who was signed to a minor league contract last winter, and Jimmy Cordero, who was claimed off waivers in the middle of the 2019 season, as moves to emulate going forward.

"All 30 teams will tell you ... that adding more bullpen pieces is an offseason priority, and we're no exception," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. "Cordero's been a nice find, as has been Marshall, but that's not going to stop us from continuing to potentially take guys off waivers like Cordero or (sign) minor league free agents like Marshall.

"It's going to go into this offseason continuing to be a place we want to add because relievers are tricky. You see it every year, guys go from the top of the list to the bottom and back."

As Hahn frequently says, you can never have too much pitching, and while this might be a low-risk move, it could end up proving fruitful, as those Cordero and Marshall moves did.

Spending on money on more proven guys has also been a part of the White Sox strategy in this department in the recent past. Hahn's front office gave Kelvin Herrera a two-year deal just last winter. But as Herrera showed during a rough first year of that contract, even guys with good track records can lead to easy second-guessing on those kinds of deals. So building up depth through less splashy means figures to be a good idea, regardless of the results.

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