We haven't exactly entered the darkest timeline of the White Sox rebuild. But things throughout the farm system have seemed to taken a bummer of a turn all at the same time.
Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, the organization's top-ranked position player prospects, will both miss weeks with a pair of injuries. Pitcher Dane Dunning is out weeks, as well. And third baseman Jake Burger is out for the remainder of the season. Injuries happen. And while they aren't welcome, they don't exactly cloud the White Sox bright future.
The more surprising of the recent bevy of bad luck and bad news, however, are the continued struggles of the organization's top two pitching prospects.
Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen could very well be the 1-2 starting-pitching punch on the next contending White Sox team. But right now, things are not going well. The two combined for a whopping 363 strikeouts in 2017, but so far in the 2018 campaign, they own a combined 5.20 ERA.
Kopech was expected by many onlookers to breeze through Triple-A and crack the White Sox starting rotation in a manner of months. There were plenty out there on social media who believed he should've been the team's Opening Day starter. But after a dominant beginning to the season — he had a 3.00 ERA and 38 strikeouts through his first six starts — things have been a struggle over the past seven starts. He's got a 6.10 ERA in that span with 31 walks. After posting a 2.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2017, he's got a 1.98 mark in 2018.
Thursday night, Kopech issued four first-inning walks, threw 42 pitches and gave up two runs. After allowing a two-run homer in the third inning, his night ended after recording just nine outs. It was the seventh time in his last nine outings he's issued at least four free passes.
It snapped a streak of limited damage on the scoreboard for Kopech, who entered Thursday's game with just three earned runs allowed over his previous three starts. He still issued a fair number of walks, with 10 of them in those three games, but also piled up the strikeouts, with 23 of them in the same span.
Rick Hahn has insisted all along that the White Sox are waiting to see things from Kopech that don't always show up in a box score, that the dominant start didn't make Kopech ready for the majors. And the inverse would figure to be true, as well: The ugly numbers of late don't necessarily tell the whole story of Kopech's development. Thursday was no exception to that line of thinking, as Kopech — not to mention his manager and pitching coach — were in visible disagreement with how the home-plate umpire was calling balls and strikes. A different guy behind the plate, and maybe Kopech's Thursday-night line looks a lot different.
Instead, the walks piled up again. And that's the same problem that Hansen keeps running into.
Hansen's season started late due to a significant forearm injury, a worrisome enough issue considering the missed developmental time. But in his first four starts of the season, he's looked like anything but the No. 46 prospect in baseball. Hansen has 16 walks in those four starts, 15 of those coming in the last three starts. He's reached the fifth inning just once and has recorded just 49 outs on the season, owning a 7.71 ERA after Tuesday's outing.
Pitching slumps are not uncommon, and these struggles from Kopech and Hansen are not causing the slightest bit of danger to the White Sox rebuilding effort. But watching these two having trouble finding the strike zone on a consistent basis is not what White Sox fans want to see right now, not when so many other prospects are battling injuries.
The White Sox farm system is loaded, the depth the strength of this rebuild at the moment. But with the organization's two top position player prospects on the disabled list and its two top pitching prospects struggling, this is not the happiest stretch of the rebuild.