White Sox

Dylan Cease, pitching tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, showing why he’s a part of White Sox bright future

Dylan Cease, pitching tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, showing why he’s a part of White Sox bright future

Dylan Cease isn’t the highest-ranked pitching prospect in the White Sox system. He wasn’t even the highest-ranked prospect in the trade that brought him to this organization.

But Cease is doing anything but flying under the radar, a testament to the amount of minor league talent and the level of interest in this rebuilding process.

Cease, no slouch in the rankings at No. 5 in the White Sox organization and No. 56 in baseball, is having a nice season at Class A Winston-Salem. He enters Thursday night’s game — which will air on NBC Sports Chicago — with a 3.12 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 40.1 innings of work. Last time out, he bounced back from his only real rough start of the campaign, throwing six shutout innings. It paled only in comparison to his finest start of the year: seven shutout innings with 12 strikeouts on the first day of May.

Earlier this month, he spoke on a conference call about some of his hopes for and improvements made during the 2018 season.

“Making every start is probably one of the most important things when it comes to being a starting pitcher,” Cease said. “For me, my goals are more execution-based. How am I executing my pitches? How are they coming out of my hand? Things like that. But that’s definitely on the back-burner of something I want to do.

“I definitely feel like I’ve taken a step forward (with my command). The ability is there, it’s just whether you can consistently do it. And for me, I feel like I’ve been doing it better, and I’m continuing to kind of narrow down on my process and find the consistent things I need to do in order to put myself in a position to execute my pitches. So it’s definitely getting better.”

White Sox fans who haven’t taken the leap and sprung for the minor league streaming service will finally get a chance to see Cease pitch for the first time since an impressive spring training, when he pitched 6.1 shutout innings over three outings, allowing just three hits.

It was a big deal for the 22-year-old, acquired not a full year prior in that crosstown trade with the Cubs.

“I definitely would’ve said I was a little bit nervous,” Cease said. “But being able to get big league guys out and see that I can do it and then start those games, it made me feel that I was closer.

“I think the most valuable thing about that was seeing that I could do it. It gives me that much more motivation to keep working on my craft and get up there and be consistent with it.”

Cease is still pitching at the Class A level, so it might be a while before he’s pitching in the majors. But he seems to have as good a shot as anyone of competing for a spot in the White Sox crowded rotation of the future. He’s got stiff competition, obviously, with the likes of Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez all pitching at higher levels of the system, including the major leagues.

But if Cease can keep pitching like he has been, he’ll keep his name in the discussion.

White Sox Talk Podcast: White Sox call up Michael Kopech

kopech.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: White Sox call up Michael Kopech

With the big news that Michael Kopech is coming to the majors, Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber talk about the decision by the Sox to bring up their top pitching prospect and the excitement that Kopech will bring to the team and the 2018 season.

Kevan Smith discusses what kind of stuff Kopech has and what it was like catching him in the minor leagues. Plus, they talk about Paul Konerko’s unforgettable day in the booth with Hawk Harrelson.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Talk service time all you want, White Sox have decided Michael Kopech is ready for the big leagues now

Talk service time all you want, White Sox have decided Michael Kopech is ready for the big leagues now

There were plenty of people who thought Michael Kopech was the White Sox best pitcher when the team left Glendale, Arizona, to start the 2018 season.

Whether or not the team shared that opinion, Kopech spent the next four and a half months as a minor leaguer.

The prevailing preseason thought was that it wouldn’t take the flame-throwing Kopech, who struck out 172 minor league hitters in 2017, long to breeze through Triple-A and arrive on the South Side. But it did.

A dominant beginning to the season was followed by a bumpy stretch in which his ERA and walk total consistently grew. But the last seven starts were terrific, and so Kopech’s call to the majors has finally come. He’ll make his big league debut Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins.

It’s news that will please many White Sox fans because it’s something they’ve been waiting all season to see happen. Ever since Sox Fest back in the winter, the No. 1 question has been: When will Kopech and Eloy Jimenez reach the bigs? Jimenez, the team’s top-ranked prospect, is still a minor leaguer for now, but Kopech is about to hit the South Side with a heck of a lot of fanfare. It’s a pretty tangible example of this rebuilding effort moving in the right direction.

The recent conversation among fans and media members, though, has centered around service time and whether the White Sox handling of Kopech and Jimenez would mirror how the Cubs handled Kris Bryant back in 2015, keeping a star prospect from the majors until a couple weeks into the following season to start the clock a year later and essentially add a year of team control to the end of his contract. A lot of Twitter-using White Sox fans have whole-heartedly bought in to such a strategy.

But general manager Rick Hahn has insisted all along that the only determination of when these guys would come up was that they hit all the developmental milestones the team wanted them to hit in the minor leagues. For what it’s worth, Hahn answered a question about service time earlier this summer, saying that it had nothing to do with keeping Kopech at Triple-A. That question was specifically in reference to when Kopech could become arbitration eligible, not a free agent even further down the road. But the response is an interesting one as a similar conversation keeps happening surrounding this team and these specific decisions.

“It was all baseball. It’s never been the arbitration three years from now. It’s been about baseball,” he said back in mid June. “Again, not getting too far down into Michael’s checklist of what we want to see him accomplish, but he hasn’t checked them all off yet. He’s had some real good starts. He’s getting closer, and it’s not going to surprise me seeing him here at some point in the not too distant future, but he’s not there yet.”

Several tremendous outings later, and Kopech is there now. The numbers have been unreal in his last seven starts: a 1.84 ERA, 59 strikeouts and only four walks in 44 innings.

Hahn also talked about how the team’s handling of pitching prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito a season ago could be a kind of template for how it would handle Kopech this season. Both those guys were called up in August, just like Kopech will be in a couple days.

Just like Hahn’s season-long declaration that the fortunes of the major league team and of the players on the major league team had no bearing on when top prospects would be promoted, at the very least in Kopech’s case, the same seems to have been true about the issue of service time. Some might lament the fact that the White Sox didn’t wait on Kopech, and it’s not a point without merit, as a large number of injuries to top prospects this season robbed them of developmental time and perhaps shifted the timeline of the entire rebuild. Maybe. In the event that is a concern shared by the White Sox, the extra year might have made a difference down the road.

But as White Sox fans have seen first hand this season, there is development that needs to happen at the major league level, too. Giolito and Lopez gained valuable experience pitching at the end of last season. Those two, plus Yoan Moncada and other young players, have gone through growing pains throughout this year’s campaign. Kopech will face the challenges of the big leagues, as well, and the sooner he does, the sooner he can learn how to overcome them.

Hahn has said all along that the organization’s focus remains on the long term, and though there might be arguments out there that not waiting could potentially shorten the team’s window of contention many years down the line, Kopech’s promotion does an awful lot to open it in the first place.