White Sox

Why elite prospects Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez could force White Sox to abandon their patient approach

Eloy Jimenez believes in himself enough to suggest he could be in the majors right now. Michael Kopech said before Wednesday’s game he realizes the big leagues are only a step away.

Though they intend to stay committed to developing their prospects, it looks as if the White Sox plan for patience could be pushed to the limit next season by its next wave of elite prospects. Jimenez and Kopech — who were named the organization’s August minor league player and pitcher of the month earlier this week — were in town this week for an introduction to the media. Given how both performed this season, it’s not far-fetched to think they could wind up back in Chicago with permanent spots on the 25-man roster by as early as next season.

“All great athletes … that do well will always challenge what an organization would like to do or not to do with them,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We all have to take a step back, make sure we're doing right by them and right by the organization before you make a decision as to who's going to be moved up.

“But it's true, sometimes the train, you can't stop it. Once it starts chugging along and creates some momentum, it's kind of hard to stop.”

Jimenez and Kopech are on a bullet-train pace for the majors.

MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 prospect, Jimenez hit .348/.405/.635 with 16 doubles, 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in 195 plate appearances after he was acquired from the Cubs in mid-July and was twice named minor league player of the month. Teammates at Single-A Winston-Salem loved Jimenez’s energy and play, he homered in his first at-bat at Double-A Birmingham and also impressed scouts, coaches and front office members alike the whole way.

Kopech was equally outstanding down the stretch. After he made a midseason mechanical adjustment, MLB.com’s No. 11 prospect was dominant. He earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte and struck out 17 batters in 15 innings there.

Not only did Kopech strike out 172 batters in a career-best 134 1/3 innings, all questions about how he’d endure a full season were answered as he posted a 1.29 ERA in his final nine games (56 starts).  

“I felt like it was a huge weight off my shoulders because I feel like it was what everyone really wanted to see,” Kopech said. “I feel like I'm one step away. I'm in Triple-A. Whenever they want to put me there, they'll put me there. Meanwhile I'm going to do everything I can to get there."

Still, the White Sox are committed to their plan and going at a suitable pace.

They want their prized prospects to experience everything they can in the minor leagues before they reach the majors. Unlike previous seasons where they often rushed prospects to fill voids (think Carlos Rodon and Tim Anderson, among others), the White Sox want to get this effort right.

That’s why Jimenez stayed at Winston-Salem until the middle of August and Kopech was at Birmingham until a few days after that. Both could have easily reached that next level a little sooner if the club was in a rush.

“The key has been the ability to have patience which is where we are as an organization,” player development director Chris Getz said. “If we were competing down the stretch here for a division, things probably would have been a little different. I think clearly, we’re in a different position and you can let this thing play out. Sometimes that will really benefit the player and the organization as a whole because these guys can go out there and play and fine-tune their skills down at the minor league level before they get up here.”

Kopech thought he benefitted from almost a full season at Birmingham. After he made it his goal this spring to reach the majors in 2017, the right-hander admits he got ahead of himself in June and began to focus too much on a promotion. But Kopech got back on track in July and kicked it into another gear, which has him in contention to earn a spot in the 2018 White Sox rotation, amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler recently said.

That would be just fine for either player. Jimenez said Wednesday “I truly believe I can be playing here now.” Kopech joked that he brought his glove with him to Chicago just in case the White Sox wanted to take a look.

“Hopefully that's what they try to do, but we make the decision with a thoughtful approach to their future and ours,” Renteria said.