spring training

Michael Kopech is back to work at White Sox training camp but his 2020 starting point is unknown

Michael Kopech is back to work at White Sox training camp but his 2020 starting point is unknown

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Before you ask: no, we don’t know where Michael Kopech will start the 2020 season.

Logical guesses assume the answer is Triple-A Charlotte, with the White Sox starting five seemingly locked in at Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez.

But ask Rick Hahn if Kopech is going to start the season in the minor leagues and you will not get a straight response.

“It's Day 1,” Hahn said on Wednesday. “Let's hold off on cutting guys just yet.”

Okay. So, we’ll have to wait before we get a definitive plan for Kopech, who will make his much anticipated return from Tommy John surgery and is still considered one of the best prospects in baseball. But there is a plan. Or at least the makings of one.

It seems like the White Sox will slow-play Kopech’s return, but not because he isn’t needed at the major league level. It’s not due to health concerns either, with everyone in Glendale describing the young fireballer as 100 percent and without restriction.

Instead, it’s about workload. Kopech has made four MLB appearances, totaling just 14.1 innings. He’s never thrown more than 134.1 innings as a pro (he logged that high-water mark in the minors in 2017, mostly at Double-A Birmingham).

Considering he hasn’t pitched in anything more than instructional league since September 2018, easing Kopech back into the lineup makes a lot more sense than letting him loose in late March. Chicago doesn’t want him running out of gas late in the season when they hope to be competing for a playoff spot.

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“Over the course of this year, we're really going to spend most of the time responding to how he looks, how he feels, how he reports, in terms of setting what's next for him,” Hahn said. “Part of it will be because of the absence of facing hitters last year. It will be a little bit slower of a climb for him than it would be with any other pitcher coming off a full season.”

Kopech had nothing to report to the media on Wednesday, either. But expect him to be limited in some fashion, which could mean a season-starting stint in the minors.

What everyone seems to be on the same page about is the impact he’ll have once he does return to the South Side. It’s been over a year since Kopech pitched in a competitive game and he’s still ranked as a top 20 prospect in baseball.

Kopech still sounds capable of cranking things up to triple digits. Among the differences, you’ll notice that he’s refined his approach to throwing the ball.

“I'm expecting to be a lot more patient with myself,” he said on Wednesday. “I'm not going to go out there in the first inning and try to blow fastballs by people. I'm going to locate the ball, I'm going to pitch. I'm going to do what I've worked all this time to do well.

“I think velocity will be there when it needs to be there, but it's not going to be my main focus in my pitching. That being said, if it is there when I'm not wanting it to be there, then that's a plus too.

“I think (the extended recovery process has) made me more patient overall. It's made me really focus on the things that I didn't focus on before, so it's kind of filled those holes in my pitching repertoire or whatever you want to call it. I've really just focused on defining the things that I really didn't focus on before. I've fine-tuned all the little things.

“There's quite a bit that goes into the game of baseball, as I'm sure you can imagine. It's more than just pitches. And when it comes to how I carried myself on the mound, I probably wore my emotions on my sleeve a little bit too much. Now I'm trying to stay a little bit more even keeled.”

All of that will be important to follow over the course of the 2020 season and throughout Kopech’s career. But on Wednesday, his mere presence in a spring training bullpen, preparing for a season he’ll actually get to pitch in, demanded the most attention.

“I think it's been a long time coming for me,” he said. “I spent the entire year last year down here on my lonesome trying to get ready. To be able to get back and actually feel like I'm part of a team, that's big for me.

“I feel great. It's kind of a work in progress to get comfortable again. I haven't been with the team in a while, so it's just that comfortability. But as far as throwing on the mound, I feel as good as I ever have.”

Hopefully, that good feeling carries into September… and then into October.

He might not be on the Opening Day roster, but he is expected to make an impact in 2020. When that starts, we don’t know.

“Michael’s plan is Michael’s plan,” Hahn said. “We are not going to jeopardize or take chances with any young guy, especially a young guy coming off of an injury, based on somebody else’s performance or health. Michael will show all of us where he’s at and when he’s ready.”

And now we play the waiting game.

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The Cubs desperately want you to know they've turned the page. But why?

USA Today

The Cubs desperately want you to know they've turned the page. But why?

Make no mistake about it: the Cubs are trying to turn the page on the Joe Maddon era. You could hear it when Theo Epstein chose to “take the high road” when asked about Maddon’s recent comments regarding last summer’s breakup. You could sense it when new manager David Ross talked about increasing intensity and consistent lineups, all without referencing this season’s must-have Pinot Noir. The Cubs know that the Maddon Years, objectively the most successful stretch of baseball in team history, are done. What remains to be seen is if the outspoken manager took those winning ways with him. 

“I feel a lot better about the organization,” Epstein said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress in some important areas this offseason. I know it might bring some eye-rolls because there wasn’t significant change to the roster that could have happened … I’m genuinely optimistic about this group. 

“I feel like the talent is maybe getting overlooked a little bit. And that’s our own fault, because it hasn’t manifested the way it should have. We haven’t gotten the most out of it. We haven’t turned it into production, which is the most important part. But that’s what this is about. That’s what changes are about. That’s what Rossy’s here to do.” 

Though he’s proceeded by a reputation not unlike Maddon’s, the sparknotes version of himself that Ross presented to media at Sloan Park on Tuesday afternoon has plenty of noticeable differences. There’s going to be more structure within the clubhouse and an increased focus on day-to-day intensity. It’s entirely possible that Anthony Rizzo is non-ironically the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, and batting orders will no longer be the guessing game of the day. 

“Traditionally, I like a standard lineup as much as I possibly can,” Ross said. “I think the flow of a normal, consistent lineup is important to some of the players. It's a real thing, as much as we don't measure it."

Pitching Chicago on a fresh start is an admittedly tough sell when a vast majority of the Cubs’ 40-man roster is the same. If there was one thing Epstein got right on Tuesday, it’s that many, many people are rolling their eyes. Last year’s fourth-oldest team in baseball is back, one year older. Jason Kipnis, Steven Souza and Jeremy Jeffress were the only players brought in this offseason, and since the Cubs feel that discussing payroll is, as Epstein put it, a “strategic disadvantage,” it’s up to fan interpretation on why that is. 

The grand irony of Epstein and company's PR blitz is that on paper, and presumably on the field, the Cubs are good! Teams don't win the World Series every year; the 2018 Red Sox won 120 games and followed that up by missing the playoffs entirely and trading Mookie Betts. This was never a roster that needed the dramatic overhaul that Cubs’ brass so badly wants everyone to believe took place (the yoga instructor is gone! The Pitch Lab is cookin’!). PECOTA even gave them 85 wins with a playoff berth. 2016’s window is going to close, for good, sooner rather than later. The painful rebuild is coming whether Anthony Rizzo stans or the Wilson Contreras hive like it or not.

Maybe the Cubs did turn the page. But at the end of the day, it’s just another piece of paper from the same book. 

“I think the main thing is that there’s been a lot of success here,” Ross said. “These guys have had a lot of experiences to pull from. Just coming back and paying attention to some of the details, grinding at-bats, focusing on cleaning up our baserunning a little bit – some of the small details where things have gone awry in the last year or two. Nothing earth shattering.” 

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White Sox 2020 Spring Training Broadcast Schedule

USA Today

White Sox 2020 Spring Training Broadcast Schedule

CHICAGO – The Chicago White Sox, NBC Sports Chicago and WGN Radio AM 720 have announced the team’s 2020 spring training television, radio and webcast schedule.

The White Sox will have six Cactus League games televised from Arizona on NBC Sports Chicago, the exclusive television home of White Sox baseball, with 13 additional webcasts streamed on whitesox.com.

The first televised spring training game is Monday, February 24 at 2:05 p.m. CST when the White Sox take on the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch – Glendale. NBC Sports Chicago also will televise the game on Friday, March 13 when the Sox play host to the crosstown rival Cubs in Glendale at 3:05 p.m. CDT. NBC Sports Chicago is scheduled to broadcast the final four games of the spring schedule from March 21-24, including two exhibition contests against Arizona at Chase Field on March 23 (8:40 p.m. CDT) and March 24 (2:40 p.m.).

Jason Benetti and Steve Stone will work all six televised games in their fifth spring training together as the White Sox broadcast team. Benetti is set to begin his fifth season with the Sox, while Stone enters his 13th year with the club.

NBC Sports Chicago also will provide a live stream of its White Sox spring training telecasts to authenticated subscribers via the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app and at NBCSportsChicago.com.

The first spring training webcast occurs Saturday, February 22 at 2:05 p.m. CST when the White Sox open the Cactus League schedule vs. the Los Angeles Angels. Russ Langer returns for his 10th spring as the play-by-play voice and will be joined in the booth by Rich King.

WGN Radio, the club’s flagship radio station, will air the first of its 11 games with the White Sox spring opener on Saturday, February 22 vs. the Angels. WGN Radio also will air both White Sox vs. Cubs matchups on Friday, March 6 at Sloan Park and Friday, March 13 at Camelback Ranch. Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson are scheduled to return as the on-air tandem. Farmer is entering his 29th season in the radio booth, while Jackson will begin his 21st year as a Sox broadcaster.

Additional information regarding spring training broadcasts and tickets at CR-G can be found at whitesox.com/spring.