White Sox

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech was fairly upset with his performance Tuesday afternoon given how much he wants to make the White Sox look wise for their investment and silence his critics.

One of two highly-touted pieces acquired in the Chris Sale trade, Kopech intends to prove to his doubters that two questionable incidents from the past won't determine what appears to be a bright future chock full of 100-mph fastballs. 

So even though Tuesday's outing was his first with the team and should have little bearing on what's to come, the White Sox prospect hoped to provide his new team with much more. Kopech was instead saddled with a long first inning in which he flashed his dazzling potential and later was hit hard. He allowed four earned runs and three hits, including a three-run homer on an 0-2 pitch, in an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch. Kopech also struck out two and walked one.

"That's probably part of the reason I'm pretty upset about today," Kopech said. "I'm trying to prove some people right. Obviously that's not the way to do it, but it is early. I think there's some adjustments to be made and once those adjustments are made I can actually be pretty helpful."

The third-ranked prospect in the franchise and 16th overall in baseball, Kopech endured a year-long rough patch beginning in July 2015 when he was suspended 50 games after a positive test for Oxilofrine. Kopech told the Boston Globe last November he didn't knowingly take the substance, but took responsibility for his actions.

His reputation then took another hit last March when Kopech broke a bone in his pitching hand. While it has been reported as an altercation between teammates, Kopech told the Globe he was trying to protect his teammate.

When he returned to action in June, Kopech shined with a combined 2.08 ERA in 56 1/3 innings Single-A Lowell and Single-A Salem. He followed by posting a 2.01 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings at the Arizona Fall League. Kopech said his performance to end the 2016 season was critical moving forward.

"Bottom line is you can't take anything for granted," Kopech said in December. "I've missed too much time in my opinion. This half of the year was very important for me. I needed to show people, whoever, that I'm still out here to compete and get better."

Despite his blemishes off the field, the White Sox determined in late November that Kopech had to be included in a package if they indeed were trading Sale to the Red Sox. To reach that point, where they'd ask for Kopech as one of two main pieces in a deal for potentially the best pitcher in franchise history, the front office turned to both their pro and amateur scouts to search every nook and cranny for opinions.

"Any major transaction you try to do as much due diligence as you can," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We were fully satisfied with the explanation that (Kopech) gave, but also what we were able to uncover through people in the know. This is a really good kid and a kid who wants to be great and he's willing to pay the price and put in the work necessary to be great."

Knowing they'd rebuild, Hahn said the White Sox began to focus their scouts on particular organizations in July. That's when the process of digging deep on Kopech started.

The team contacted old coaches and former teammates to discern what they could about the 20-year-old, who often uses his social media accounts to tweet out inspirational messages and talk about his determination. By the time the White Sox elevated Kopech from potential target to definitive piece they had contacted 12-15 sources.

"In all, it kept coming to back to everybody saying he's so dialed in," amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. "He's an intense kid. He's so hard core with everything he does. There's no soft with Kopech, that's for sure."

The hard-throwing Texan proved that point on Tuesday when he topped out at 101 mph on the radar gun. His fastball sat at 97 mph and he hit triple digits at least three times. 

Kopech started his performance with a three-pitch strikeout of Seattle's Ben Gamel, the radar reading 99, 100 and 100.  

Shortstop Jean Segura then got enough of a two-strike pitch to hit it in front of home plate, which led to an infield single. Segura stole second base and Kopech just missed outside on a 3-2 offering and walked Robinson Cano. Nelson Cruz followed with a rocketed opposite-field RBI double before Dan Vogelbach lined out to center. With two in scoring position and two outs, Kopech threw two quick strikes to Mitch Haniger and looked like he might escape the jam. But his 0-2 slider caught too much of the plate and Haniger crushed it for a three-run homer to left.

"There were some pitches that needed to be down in some counts and there's some pitches that needed to be way down," Kopech said.

Afterward, Kopech shied away from any possible excuses about his performance, one that ended with a strikeout of Carlos Ruiz. The adrenaline wasn't anything he hadn't dealt with before and he thought his pacing was fine. Even though he didn't get a borderline 3-2 pitch to Cano, Kopech thought it was a makeup for an earlier call that had gone in his favor. And even though it was his first outing in big league camp, Kopech wasn't awestruck by facing Cano and Cruz.

He was just disappointed that he didn't excel from the outset. Kopech knows there are plenty more opportunities ahead and believes he's everything the White Sox think he is. He just wants to prove it.

"The toughest part is to stop caring so much about what other people think," Kopech said. "Everybody wants that pat on the back. That's what I had to shy away from is just not to care so much about that because what's being written about me and being said about me wasn't who defines me. That was what I really had to come to grips with and figure out — I'm going to determine my career and not past experiences."

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

With two new multi-year deals, what will White Sox lineups look like in 2020, 2021 and 2022?

The White Sox just spent $123 million in two days. But there's still a lot of work left to do.

Even after adding Yasmani Grandal on a four-year contract (the richest deal in team history) and giving face of the franchise Jose Abreu a three-year extension, Rick Hahn's front office still has problems to solve in the starting rotation and in right field. The South Siders aren't closing the door on adding a more "everyday" style DH, either.

But those long-term contracts do cement a pair of middle-of-the-order hitters on the White Sox roster for the foreseeable future, growing a core that looks rather formidable after breakout seasons for Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jimenez in 2019.

So while the 2020 picture still has some holes in it, let's gaze into the future and try to figure out what the White Sox lineup will look like in the coming years.

2020

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Tim Anderson, SS
3. Jose Abreu, 1B
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. RF
8. DH
9. Nick Madrigal, 2B

Two big question marks still exist when it comes to forecasting the White Sox lineup for the upcoming 2020 season: Who will play right field, and what will the team do at DH?

The first is a total mystery, as Hahn will almost certainly search the free-agent and trade markets for a new right fielder. Nicholas Castellanos is the best available free-agent outfielder — though some prefer Marcell Ozuna — but comes with questions about his defense and will surely cost a pretty penny. If the White Sox are hell bent on adding a left-handed hitter in that spot, the most discussed options are Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson. The trade market has countless options, depending on what the White Sox are willing to give away in prospect capital. Don't expect them to deal away any of their highest rated prospects in a trade for a player with just one year of control remaining like Mookie Betts. Whether the White Sox go after a long-term or short-term fix in right field also is an unknown. The former is preferred, but the latter could be an option depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out.

The second of the question marks, DH, at least has comes with an in-house option now that Grandal is in the fold. If the White Sox can't find a better external option, they could be comfortable with a rotation of Abreu, Grandal, Zack Collins and James McCann at DH. But as Hahn said Thursday, there's "a lot of offseason left." Abreu, it should be noted, is expected to contribute as a DH on as regular basis as he did in 2019. Even though he has expressed a dislike for the position, he played 34 games there this past season.

It might not be realistic to expect Robert and Madrigal to be installed at their respective positions on Opening Day, but both project to be everyday players for much of the 2020 season, Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference in September. Jimenez isn't going to a new position for now, with Rick Renteria saying over the summer, "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." Moncada has a lot of athleticism and versatility, allowing the White Sox to at least consider a potential pursuit of star free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. But Hahn said last week the team has no desire to switch Moncada's position for the second consecutive year.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. new SP
3. new SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. Reynaldo Lopez/Michael Kopech

The White Sox are going to add two starting pitchers this offseason. They're already rumored to be in pursuit of Zack Wheeler, who would slot in nicely alongside or just behind Giolito at the top of the rotation. His arriving on the South Side is no lock at the moment, so I won't ink him into the long-term projection just yet. But he's a kind of pitcher who would line up with the team's planned contention window. Hahn could look for two pitchers who fit that description, or he could go long-term with one and short-term with another. He's got options, and there's no knowing which options will end up the final results right now.

Hahn said in September that Giolito, Cease and Lopez have rotation spots for 2020. Kopech, meanwhile, will be on some kind of innings limit next season in his return from Tommy John surgery. After missing the entirety of the 2019 campaign, the White Sox could limit his big league usage in a number of ways: starting him in the minor leagues, skipping some starts or having him throw out of the bullpen. Bottom line: Kopech will not make a full 30-plus starts in 2020. Lopez is an interesting case, as he struggled mightily to find consistency in 2019. How long will he be allowed to keep searching for it if the White Sox are intent on contending for a playoff spot in 2020?

2021

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
4. Yoan Moncada, 3B
5. Eloy Jimenez, LF
6. Yasmani Grandal, C
7. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

It's impossible to say right now what kind of position the White Sox will be in after the 2020 season, but it's perfectly fair to assume that even if the contention window doesn't open in 2020, it should be fully open by 2021 — if everything goes according to plan, of course.

There are so many things that are difficult to predict, such as whether someone takes a step backward and the team needs to address a position they didn't think they'd have to, or if a breakout season from someone I've placed further down in the batting order necessitates them being the new cleanup hitter. If Hahn takes a short-term approach to right field or DH this winter, does he search for a long-term solution next offseason? Does one of the myriad outfield prospects who were plagued by injuries and under-performance in 2019 explode for a huge season in the minor leagues in 2020, forcing himself into the long-term forecast?

What we do know if that all the guys currently projected to play everyday roles in 2020 are under contract for 2021, too. Robert, Madrigal, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Anderson. They're not going anywhere. (I flip-flopped Anderson and Madrigal in the batting order just because Madrigal's elite bat-to-ball skills, should they stay that way once he reaches the big leagues, would figure to make him a valuable hitter near the top of the order behind Robert and ahead of the big boppers. And Anderson could fill that "second leadoff hitter" role that has been used by teams in the past. Renteria and the White Sox could certainly have different ideas.)

The big change, though, could come in the form of Vaughn's arrival at the major league level. The White Sox made him the No. 3 pick in June's draft, and as an advanced college bat, he could be on a similar path to Madrigal, who went from No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft to the doorstep of the majors by the end of his first full season as a pro. If that's the case, a 2021 arrival date for Vaughn is not at all out of the question. Maybe he arrives even earlier, at the tail end of the 2020 season, if he has a monster campaign in the minors and the White Sox could use some late-season thump in the middle of a playoff push. But that would go against how the White Sox have patiently handled their prospects during this rebuilding process.

As for where Vaughn is forecasted to play, don't think that the Abreu extension is a bad sign for him. He's a first baseman, like Abreu, but both have questions about their defense there. Abreu is a diligent worker when it comes to his defense, even if the defensive metrics don't show entirely positive results. Abreu doesn't like to DH but will. Vaughn was drafted with questions about his defense, and some speculated he'd end up a DH down the road. The White Sox don't like talking about youngsters as full-time DHs — see the comments on Jimenez — so maybe they can finally pull off the first base/DH platoon with Abreu and Vaughn they tried with Abreu and Yonder Alonso at the outset of 2019. Or maybe Abreu is convinced by 2021, his age-34 season, that he's best suited as a regular DH and hands the first-base reins over to Vaughn.

There's still that mystery in right field, only because we don't know who will be there in 2020. Prospects like Micker Adolfo or Luis Basabe or Blake Rutherford could prove themselves major league ready by the time spring training 2021 rolls around, and if this winter's addition is a short-term one, the door will be open for one of those guys. Or maybe a short-term addition simply yields to the search for another free-agent replacement a winter from now. Or maybe Hahn adds a right fielder on a multi-year deal this offseason, and that guy is in the plans beyond 2020, as well.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. 2020 SP
3. Michael Kopech
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Carlos Rodon/Reynaldo Lopez

I would not be at all surprised if the two starting pitchers Hahn adds this offseason are on multi-year deals and the rotation doesn't require any additions next winter. In fact, we might be debating who the White Sox have to exclude from the big league rotation, as Dunning and Lambert will be fully recovered from their Tommy John surgeries by then. Don't forget, too, that Rodon will be in his final season of team control come 2021. It's difficult to figure out what to expect from any of those three Tommy John recipients in 2020, but even if none of them makes an impact then, they'll all be options for 2021.

Giolito, Kopech and Cease all figure to be the owners of secure big league rotation spots by then. Lopez could be, too, though he's the biggest long-term question mark after his rough 2019 season. At least one of this winter's additions should be a long-term one, so he'd take that No. 2 spot, or perhaps lower if Kopech or Cease really break out in 2020 the way Giolito did in 2019. Should the White Sox make a short-term move with their second starting-pitching addition this winter, they might be on the hunt for another free-agent or trade acquisition next winter.

If everything goes right, it points to Hahn finally having that "good problem" he's always referencing of too many quality starting pitchers. That could make the White Sox able to upgrade their roster with trades involving the guys who don't make the cut, though depth would remain important, as the parade of ineffective fifth starters showed in 2019.

2022

1. Luis Robert, CF
2. Nick Madrigal, 2B
3. Yoan Moncada, 3B
4. Eloy Jimenez, LF
5. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
6. Andrew Vaughn, 1B/DH
7. Yasmani Grandal, C
8. RF
9. Tim Anderson, SS

Again, same situation as the 2021 forecast. Robert, Anderson, Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez, Grandal, Madrigal and Vaughn will all still be under club control. There could be plenty of variation in the way the batting order shakes out depending on who's not and who's not by then. Vaughn, in particular, would figure to be placed in a spot that takes advantage of his power should he meet the expectations that accompanied him when he was drafted. Abreu, in his age-35 season, might be surpassed by Moncada and Jimenez as the primary offensive threats in this lineup, though Abreu has been so consistent in his major league career so far, that minimal regression wouldn't be a shock.

The right-field question can't be answered until we know the plans for 2020 and what kind of bounce-back seasons might occur among the prospect group over the next two years. There's a possibility Hahn could be going back to the free-agent or trade drawing board, even two offseasons in the future. Who knows?

The 2022 season should be the thick of the White Sox contention window, and they figure to be a team with realistic championship aspirations by this point. Teams like that tend to make big upgrades every winter (not to mention at the trade deadline), so it's quite possible there's a huge future piece that we're not accounting for just because this is what we're projecting in the present. And that could shake things up dramatically.

But thanks to the contracts announced in the last two days, we know that Abreu and Grandal will be part of these lineups.

1. Lucas Giolito
2. Michael Kopech
3. 2020 SP
4. Dylan Cease
5. 2020 SP/2021 SP/new SP/Dane Dunning/Jimmy Lambert/Reynaldo Lopez

Again, there's too much mystery to make a true projection. Maybe that free-agent pitcher signed this winter eclipses Giolito and is the staff ace. Maybe Kopech rises to that No. 1 spot. Maybe Lopez or Dunning or Lambert or, heck, even Jonathan Stiever become a rotation lock. Maybe there's a future free agent in an offseason to come who the White Sox can't pass up the opportunity to sign. (Rodon is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season, which is why he's not on this list.)

I'll put Giolito and Kopech and Cease in there now. But there are so many possibilities, which is both a good thing and a potentially precarious thing for the White Sox. Best-case scenario: They have too many good starting pitchers and are able to trade one or more of them away to upgrade the roster elsewhere. Worst-case scenario: They have to repeatedly return to the free-agent and trade markets to find new solutions.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Three more years for Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Three more years for Jose Abreu

The White Sox ripped up their qualifying offer for Jose Abreu and instead reached a 3-year contract with their All-Star first baseman.

-Why did they do it and what does it mean? (1:30)

-What can the White Sox expect offensively from Abreu during the contract? (5:50)

-Tweets from White Sox fans (13:00)

-Does this affect Andrew Vaughn? (17:50)

-The Zack Wheeler rumors (24:00) and more.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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