White Sox

From spot starter to All Star, Hector Santiago back on South Side

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From spot starter to All Star, Hector Santiago back on South Side

Hector Santiago couldn’t get a full-time spot in the White Sox starting rotation.

But after getting traded to the Angels and making his first All-Star team as a starting pitcher last month, he has nothing but thanks for the team that traded him away.

“Those guys, they gave me the opportunity to actually start,” Santiago said ahead of Monday’s series opener on the South Side. “I was in the closer role my first year, and they gave me the opportunity to become a starter. And they made it possible for me to come over here to the Angels and get a full-time job because they gave me 150 innings one year when I had 20-plus starts in a season. I never had a full-time (starting role), I didn't come out of spring with these guys as a starter, but they got my feet wet and they put me in the door so I could become a starter later on in my career. So thank those guys for that. They started me off getting into the rotation.”

The White Sox shipped Santiago to Los Angeles in a three-team deal that brought Adam Eaton to the South Side in December of 2013. He always wanted to be starter, though he started just 27 of the 78 games he pitched in during his three years with the White Sox. He’s made 21 starts so far this season for the Angels, an All-Star season in which he’s posted a 2.78 ERA in 129 1/3 innings.

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The lefty admitted that he’s excited to be back in Chicago and excited to pitch against his former team for the first time on Tuesday night, even if the White Sox heavy roster turnover the past few seasons means he won’t be facing many of his former teammates.

As for the former teammate his current teammates faced Monday night, Chris Sale, there wasn’t much help he could provide.

"I was just talking about that,” Santiago said. “'I can try to tell you kind of a gameplan or what he has, but obviously you guys know what he has.' It doesn't matter if I can tell them he's possibly this kind of pitcher, he's still hard to hit. His stuff is so good, and he mixes so well. He's a great pitcher, and he can be different on any other day. Some days his fastball might be 90, some days it's 98. I think all around he's such a good pitcher, he's hard to even give a scouting report on.”

Sale was a big part of Santiago’s All-Star experience in Cincinnati. The two former teammates spent the Midsummer Classic together, hanging out and reminiscing during the game.

“It was fun, I actually got to share it with Sale,” Santiago explained. “I was his first roommate in the minor leagues. So that was cool getting to know all the rest of the guys, but going there and having Sale there, kind of knowing somebody at the game on a day-to-day basis — I actually know Sale pretty well — that made it a little bit easier. We hung out the entire game from the first inning on. It was pretty good.

“We kind of went through all of it, what we did in the minor leagues and together in the big leagues. We sat the first two innings in the dugout, and then the last seven we were in the bullpen. … We just pretty much sat there. There was a lead or something, we weren’t going to get in the game. So we just hung out, just enjoyed it, took it in.”

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Santiago was part of baseball's youth movement that dominated this year’s All-Star Game, one of the 35 players age 27 or younger and one of the 28 making their first All-Star appearance.

It wasn’t too long ago that Santiago was just getting acclimated to the major leagues, not too long ago when he thought the All-Star Game was some far-off, unattainable thing. But life can move fast, and he went from minor leaguer to All Star to the thick of a playoff race in what seems to him like the blink of an eye.

The Angels are rolling, in part thanks to Santiago. Is a World Series the next previously believed to be unattainable goal that Santiago will be living out?

“I was in the minor leagues for five years and you get called up because of an injury, and when a guy comes back you get sent back down. Then you kind of don’t know where you’re going to be at. Then you make the team with them, and you’re barely surviving as a long guy, maybe a starter, fill-in, and you kind of just go out there and do your job every day. You look forward to (the All-Star Game), you see your teammates go and kind of hope for the best and wish you were going,” Santiago said. “For me, the big leagues were really far away. Then the All-Star Game was way out of my reach. Winning a World Series is kind of like the top one, it’s way up there. Everything has it’s way.”

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

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AP

Michael Kopech hasn't had a good June, but that hasn't changed White Sox optimism regarding top pitching prospect

It wasn’t long ago that the question was: “Why isn’t Michael Kopech pitching in the major leagues?”

The question is now firmly: “What’s wrong with Michael Kopech?”

The new script is of course a reflection of how quickly opinions change during a baseball season, when “what have you done for me lately?” tends to drive the conversation more than looking at the entire body of work.

But the body of work doesn’t look too awesome for the White Sox top-ranked pitching prospect these days. He carries a 5.08 ERA through 14 starts with Triple-A Charlotte. But it’s the recent struggles that have folks second guessing whether he’s ready for the big leagues.

The month of June hasn’t gone well for Kopech, who has a 9.00 ERA in four starts this month. That features two especially ugly outings, when he allowed seven runs in two innings and five runs in three outings. But for a guy who’s got blow-em-away stuff, it’s the walks that are of the utmost concern to box-score readers: He’s got 21 of them in 16 innings over his last four starts. That’s compared to 20 strikeouts.

More walks than strikeouts is never a good thing, and it’s been a glaring bugaboo for White Sox pitchers at the major league level all season. Kopech wasn’t having that problem when this season started out. He struck out 68 batters and walked only 25 over his first 10 starts. But things have changed.

With director of player development Chris Getz on the horn Thursday to talk about all of the promotions throughout the minor league system, he was asked about Kopech and pointed to Wednesday’s outing, which lasted only five innings and featured four more walks. But Kopech only allowed two earned runs, and Getz called it a good outing.

“Last night I was really happy with what he was able to do, and that’s really in comparison looking at his last probably four outings or so,” Getz said. “He did have a little bit of a hiccup, getting a little erratic. He was getting a little quick in his delivery, his lower half wasn’t picking up with his upper half. The command of his pitches was not there.

“But last night, although the line is not the best line that we’ve seen of Michael this year, it was still a very good outing. He was in the zone, commanding the fastball. His body was under control. He threw some good breaking pitches, a couple of good changeups. He was back to being the competitor we are accustomed to. We are hoping to build off of this outing. I know he’s feeling good about where he’s at from last night and we’ll just kind of go from there.”

It’s important to note, of course, that the White Sox are often looking for things that can’t be read in a box score. So when we see a lot of walks or a lot of hits or a small amount of strikeouts, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it count as everything the decision makers in the organization are looking at.

Still, this is development and growth in action — and perhaps a sign that the White Sox have been right in not yet deeming Kopech ready for the majors. Kopech perhaps needs the time at Triple-A to work through these issues rather than be thrown into a big league fire.

As for how these struggles will affect his timeline, that remains to be seen. The White Sox aren’t ruling anything out, not promising that he’ll be on the South Side before the end of this season but certainly not ruling it out either.

“If he builds off of what he did last night, commanding his fastball, his breaking pitches continue to kind of define themselves, I think we’ve got a chance to see him,” Getz said. “He’s going to find his way to the big leagues. He’s going to be an impact frontline type starter. I’m very confident in that.

“Now just like a lot of great players, sometimes it’s a meandering path. And to say that he’s gone off track is not fair because it’s only been a couple of outings. I think he’s in a really good spot. If he builds off of this, I don’t think it’s unfair to think he’ll be up here at some point.”

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Dylan Cease promoted to Double-A as he continues to impress White Sox: 'He's more or less forced our hand'

Rick Hahn’s been saying it all year: The good ones have a way of forcing the issue.

Consider Dylan Cease one of the good ones.

The pitcher acquired alongside top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez in last summer’s crosstown trade with the Cubs was one of the more than a dozen players promoted within the White Sox farm system Thursday. He put up stellar numbers during the first half with Class A Winston-Salem and because of it is on his way to Double-A Birmingham.

While many rebuild-loving fans could’ve forecasted Jimenez’s rapid journey through the organization, Cease’s acceleration is one that even the White Sox are considering a “pleasant surprise.”

“There’s definitely been some pleasant surprises,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said Thursday. “For one, I think Dylan Cease was a guy, heading into the season, his first full year with us, the focus was: every fifth day, a full season’s worth of innings. He’s more or less forced our hand.

“He's really come on, he’s pitching with four pitches, four plus pitches, he’s commanding the ball, very mature kid. And he’s certainly ready for the next challenge at Double-A.”

Cease turned in a 2.89 ERA in his 13 starts with Winston-Salem, striking out 82 batters in 71.2 innings. Considering he made just 25 starts above Rookie ball during his time in the Cubs’ organization, the dominance in his first taste of High A is quite the positive for the White Sox.

The team’s starting rotation of the future is a mighty crowded one, with roughly a dozen different guys competing for those spots: current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito; Triple-A arms Michael Kopech, Carson Fulmer, Jordan Stephens and Spencer Adams; Double-A hurlers Cease, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning; and Class A pitchers Lincoln Henzman and Blake Battenfield, both of whom earned their own promotions Thursday.

There’s a lot of time before the White Sox have to settle on which five will make up that future starting staff. But Cease could be doing the work of making a name for himself, something that hasn’t been easy to do. With all the love he’s getting, he’s still the organization’s fourth-ranked pitching prospect. Heck, thanks to Jimenez, he wasn’t the top-ranked guy in his own trade.

But Cease is getting attention now, and if he keeps pitching like this, he could keep forcing the White Sox hand.