White Sox

Michael Kopech wants to know when Michael Kopech will reach the big leagues

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USA TODAY

Michael Kopech wants to know when Michael Kopech will reach the big leagues

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Michael Kopech is just like White Sox fans: He wants to know when he’s going to reach the bigs.

But Kopech has connections.

As the Winter Meetings got started Monday in Florida, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn made an appearance on MLB Network, where analyst Harold Reynolds relayed a message from Kopech, asking the man who will eventually make that decision when the White Sox top pitching prospect will reach the big leagues.

As for the answer to that question, Hahn made an apt comparison to last season, when the White Sox weren’t expecting Kopech to dominate the minor leagues the way he did. Kopech, acquired in the Chris Sale trade around this time last year, posted a 2.87 ERA in 22 starts with Double-A Birmingham, striking out 155 hitters in 119.1 innings of work. He gave up just five runs in a trio of starts with Triple-A Charlotte at the end of the minor league season.

Hahn mentioned that Kopech wildly exceeded expectations last year. So why can’t he do it again in 2018?

“A year ago at this time, the very reasonable goals for Michael Kopech would have been (to) take the ball every fifth day, which he had not done yet, and hold his own at an advanced placement, at Double-A, at age 21. He radically surpassed both of those,” Hahn said on TV. “Not only did he take the ball every fifth day, he set a career high in innings, 135-ish, but he also dominated Double-A and earned a promotion to Triple-A.

“So we’ll again enter 2018 with a very reasonable development plan for him, and the good ones will knock the doors off of it. Michael’s a good one, Eloy (Jimenez) we expect to be a good one. They have a way of changing our plans on us. So we’ll see.”

That “we’ll see” is surely enough to make White Sox fans hope to see Kopech in a White Sox uniform very soon.

It seems Kopech is hoping to see that, too.

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

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AP

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

Here’s a comp that’ll get White Sox fans really excited. It’s a Hall of Famer saying that the organization’s top-ranked prospect reminds him of another Hall of Famer.

“The kid Eloy (Jimenez), I’ve really watched him a lot. He’s a tremendous (player),” Frank Thomas said. “He reminds me of a young Vlad (Guerrero) that can cover the whole zone and use the whole field. I’m interested in seeing how he progresses.”

Eloy a young Vladdy, eh?

Don’t tell actual young Vladdy that — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ranked one spot ahead of Jimenez on MLB Pipeline’s list of the best prospects in baseball — but that’s one heck of a comp for a player that White Sox fans are already immeasurably excited about.

Thomas was back on the South Side on Sunday to join Hawk Harrelson in the broadcast booth for the latter’s sendoff season. He spoke a lot about what Harrelson meant to him and the White Sox, but he also answered questions about the team’s ongoing rebuild. Thomas has kept a close eye both in his roles as an analyst for FOX and someone who will always be invested in this team.

“It’s Chicago, and we’re used to winning,” Thomas said when he was asked if the White Sox needed to undergo such a process. “You normally get away with this in a smaller market, but you’ve got to understand they’ve taken their time with it. They wasted a lot of money for a five-year period trying to continue to be successful the way we were in the past and it wasn’t working.

“The game has changed. The game has totally changed. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s all about the youth. … The hardest part they’re going to have, though, is figuring out who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because over the next couple years they’ve got so many young talented players in Double-A and Triple-A that someone could actually force some of these guys out. It’s going to be a hard decision what they’re going to have to do.”

That’s the good problem Rick Hahn and his front office would like to have.

While fan buy-in to the rebuilding effort has been tremendous, there are some who will continue to question the willing suffering through losing seasons at the major league level while the contending team of the future develops in the minor leagues. But if you look at the teams that have won and played in the World Series in recent seasons — and even seasons long past — the process almost seems mandatory if you want to reach that level.

“It is,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched it firsthand. I first saw it with Cleveland when I was playing. Cleveland did it. Then you saw the Royals do it. You saw Houston do it, and they’re tearing it up with that youth. There’s been some other teams that have had a lot of success with it, too. I think Billy Beane has been great with it in Oakland for many, many years. They just haven’t had the luxury of keeping it together and going for the World Series, but he continues to create young superstars and basically trading them off for whatever the organization needs.”

Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, was also asked about the greatest hitter on the White Sox right now, Jose Abreu. Abreu’s future is the topic of much conversation surrounding this team, what with his contract running out at the end of the 2019 season, just when the White Sox hope to be fielding a perennial contender.

Abreu has been remarkably consistent — and one of just three players ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons — but Thomas thinks there’s a side of Abreu we still have yet to see.

“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” Thomas said. “That’s because it’s a youth movement and the protection’s been up and down for him in that lineup. I’ve seen him be inconsistent at times, but I think he’s a much better player than that. But I understand when you’re not winning every day and it’s not as motivating because losing’s tough on everybody. But the guy’s an incredible player, an incredible hitter.

“I think the next couple of years we’ll see the best of him if he’s still here. I think this guy has a chance to be one of the great ones.”

With one last question about the modern-day White Sox, Thomas was asked about manager Rick Renteria, who he raved about. But with Renteria’s recent history with the Cubs, when he was replaced with Joe Maddon right before the North Siders started their phase of contention, he has yet to be the manager of a team with expectations. The plan is that he soon will be, and Thomas is interested to see what happens when that becomes the case.

“I think he’s done a hell of a job. I really like Ricky a lot,” Thomas said. “But who knows what they’re going to do in the future. When this team becomes what they think it’s going to be, either you get it done or you don’t. That’s just what it’s going to be. That’s the way Jerry’s handled it for many, many years.

“We’ve had some decisions that weren’t all happiness at times, but it’s about winning once they get their team here. I hope it’s Ricky because he’s done a hell of a rebuild job with the Cubs, he did a hell of a rebuild job here. It’s just time for him to get a good team out on the field and see what he really can do. I’m hoping he gets a chance of having a full team to put out there for 162 games and see what he can do.”

Frank Thomas joins White Sox star-studded sendoff for Hawk Harrelson and says 'you've got to see the Hawk Walk'

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AP

Frank Thomas joins White Sox star-studded sendoff for Hawk Harrelson and says 'you've got to see the Hawk Walk'

The star-studded Hawk Harrelson sendoff added the greatest hitter in White Sox history Sunday.

Frank Thomas spent a day in the booth with the legendary broadcaster, who’s in his final year as the voice of the South Siders, and he took some time before the game to reflect on what Harrelson meant to him during his playing days.

You might not think a broadcaster would have too much impact on a Hall-of-Fame career, but this is the man who dubbed Thomas “The Big Hurt.” And, as Thomas recalled, he did a lot more than that.

“This man put a nickname on me that pretty much made who I was over the years,” Thomas said. “Hawk and I have always had a great relationship. At times, (like a) father-son (relationship) because baseball is a lonely sport sometimes. When you’re doing well, everybody wants to talk to you. When you’re not doing well, no one has answers. Hawk always had answers.

“When I went through a little struggle at times, he always would pull me to the side and say, ‘I want you to do something here, something there, try this and that.’ Just something to key off of. Pretty much it worked, a lot. I was grateful for that.”

Harrelson has obviously loomed large as a presence for this organization for decades, in a variety of roles. As another towering figure in South Side baseball history, Thomas knows how much he’s meant to the team, the fans and the players — and he echoed some other former White Sox players in saying that Harrelson deserves to join him in Cooperstown.

“If you think about all his roles, from GM to Jerry (Reinsdorf)’s right-hand guy to broadcasting for so many years, watching the game on a day-to-day basis, most people don't see after the game, plane flights and everything. Hawk was always one of the guys,” Thomas said. “We’d have a beer, guys were struggling, whatever, he’d sit down by those guys and say hello and talk to them and tell them what he sees and it really helped.

“Having him around and being that broadcaster he is, he’s definitely a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster. Hopefully he will get to the Hall of Fame soon because he deserves it. His calls are one of a kind, and when you get people across the country making those same calls, it tells you something about the success you’ve had as a broadcaster. I’m happy to be here on one of his final broadcasts.”

White Sox fans have long lists of Hawk-isms and Hawk moments, enough to sustain comedic impressions for the rest of time, and Thomas is no exception.

One of his favorite Hawk moments? The “Hawk Walk.”

The Hawk Walk?

“I’ve got a lot of Hawk stories,” Thomas said. “I think watching him play golf and watching him do the Hawk Walk, that’s something special. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. You’ve got to see the Hawk Walk. It changed my life.

“He hit a ball 275 (yards), scalding hot, right down the middle. He just broke it down. Just got his little neck thing (going) and he just starts walking like a peacock. Calls it the Hawk Walk. That’s something special.”

Can we get that for Hawk Day on Sept. 2? Mercy.