Michael Kopech blew up White Sox Twitter again Wednesday morning, adding eight more strikeouts to his impressive 2018 total and turning in another strong outing down at Triple-A Charlotte.
Couple that with news that Ronald Acuna, the No. 2 prospect in baseball, is set to make his major league debut with the Atlanta Braves, and the already loud “are we there yet?” style chorus wondering when Kopech will arrive on the South Side grew even louder.
It’s that time of year, when highly rated prospects get called up now that they’re no longer in danger of racking up a year of big league service time, pushing their free-agent clocks back another year. It’s a somewhat confusing situation, even for Chicago baseball fans and observers who went through this not too long ago with Kris Bryant and the Cubs.
The deal is this: The rulebook states a player will accrue a year of major league service time if he spends 172 days on a major league roster in a given year. That’s a lot when you consider that the 2018 season is only 187 days long. So pretty much after two weeks of the season elapse, prospects can get called up, spend the rest of the season on the roster and still not log a year of service time. It’s a handy ploy for teams to squeeze an extra year of team control out of a player.
So what’s all this have to do with Kopech?
Well, if you think the White Sox are simply waiting to bring him up to the majors so they can get an extra year of him down the road — which would be a smart thing to do considering the White Sox aren’t attempting to use Kopech’s services to win this season but rather a year or two from now and then far into the future — you might expect him to be called up soon.
There is this thing called “Super Two” that, were the White Sox sole goal just to delay his arrival to get another year of team control, would need to be taken into consideration. If a player is in the top 22 percent in his class in service time, along with some other stipulations, he could qualify for arbitration a year early. So there’s that to remember, too.
But, of course, there’s the logical notion that the White Sox just aren’t necessarily ready for Kopech to hit the majors just yet. General manager Rick Hahn said repeatedly during the offseason that the needs of the big league team and Kopech’s readiness for the majors will be independent of one another. For example, the White Sox need to figure out who’s going to start one half of Saturday’s doubleheader in Kansas City. It’s highly unlikely the team would rush Kopech to the bigs just because they need a spot starter in an April game against the Royals.
Hahn has stressed that there is no rush to get Kopech — or any other of the team’s highly rated prospects — to the majors. And that makes complete sense. The White Sox are not expected to contend for a championship this season, and if the results of the team’s first 20 games are any indication, they look as though they won’t be. So why give any of these young players anything less than ample amount of time to finish their development at a given level?
It makes sense why fans are so eager. This impressive collection of minor league talent has given this team a bright future. And while the losses keep coming at the big league level, it’s understandable why folks want that future to start as soon as possible.
But Kopech has made just seven starts at the Triple-A level. Eloy Jimenez has played in 24 games at the Double-A level. Many of the organization’s highest-rated prospects are still at the Class A level. The daily reports from the minor leagues are encouraging and exciting. And when Kopech does something like strike out 29 batters in four starts, it might seem like a readymade alternative to a starting staff at the big league level that’s walked 61 batters in 20 games.
But minor league success doesn’t always mean major league readiness. Look just a year ago at Yoan Moncada, then ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He didn’t make his first appearance in a White Sox uniform until mid-July. That was after he proved that he could dominate Triple-A over the course of 80 games. Kopech looks dominant, yes, but is four starts enough? Hahn said this offseason that using Moncada as an indicator for how the team would handle its other highly touted prospects might be a good way to think.
Kopech figures to be up to the majors this season. Jimenez, who’s spring training was limited by an injury and who didn’t start the regular season right on time because of a different injury, might be a bit further behind. But just because fans don’t see those players right away doesn’t mean they’re not doing exactly what the White Sox want them to do: develop into stars who can make this team a perennial contender. That, of course, takes time.