Monday at Camelback Ranch, there was Michael Kopech, mowing down the Oakland A’s with an array of fastballs ranging from 97 to 101 mph, looking very much like the White Sox ace of the future.
It’s a role he envisions for himself one day. Just not yet.
“Right now, I’m focused on cracking the rotation at some point and helping the team win as much as I possibly can,” Kopech said during a recent interview at White Sox camp. “If that lands me a spot as the ace in the future, then I’ll be extremely honored and grateful, but right now it’s one step at a time.”
It’s one step for Kopech, but what if many of these top pitching prospects take that giant leap and reach their potential in the majors?
Forget about one ace. The White Sox could end up with several.
“Personally, I want the White Sox staff to have five aces,” fellow starter Lucas Giolito said. “Every single day, whoever is taking that mound is the ace of that day and that’s who we’re behind. That’s the ace of the staff on the mound. We’ll have five of them.”
At a time when teams like the Cubs, Astros and Red Sox have given up top prospects to acquire high-end starting pitching, the White Sox system might be loaded with it. Granted, they needed to trade Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton to accumulate a good chunk of that pitching depth (they also got possible superstars Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez in those deals), but if they’re able to hit on most of these hurlers, it’ll be a great problem to have.
Besides Kopech and Giolito, there’s Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning, not to mention Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer.
Forget about a five-man rotation. I joked with Kopech they might eventually need a 10-man rotation to find room for everyone.
“We should. There’s really no point in shortening it,” Kopech said. “Yeah, it’s going to be unbelievable if everything goes as planned.”
The key word here is “if.” Not every top prospect reaches his potential, let alone the majors. Look at Jake Burger, who suffered an Achilles injury in Monday’s game. The White Sox top draft pick could be out for months.
But while you can’t see into the future, you can see all the high-end arms the White Sox possess and feel hopeful about what is possible.
“Especially with the stuff guys have, watching the bullpens, it’s kind of crazy,” Giolito said. “The A-ball guys and up. The current big league guys. Everyone’s got nasty stuff. It’s going to be real fun.”
What does it take to be an ace? Kopech has an idea.
“It’s the guys who want to be great that end up being great for some reason,” Kopech explained. “It has a lot to do with the mindset. I think Hansen has it. I think Cease is another who has it.”
When I read that quote back to Cease, who the White Sox acquired in the Quintana trade, he was at a loss for words.
“I don’t even know what to say. That’s awesome. I really appreciate him saying that,” Cease said. “I want to get better everyday. I want to grow. Wherever that takes me, I’m excited.”
Hansen believes the White Sox have “four or five” possible aces, with him being one of them. He’d personally like to see him and Kopech be 1-2 in a future White Sox rotation.
“It sounds good to say that, and I hope that happens because I think that could be really special,” he said of a Kopech-Hansen combo.
We’ll let them decide who’s 1 and who’s 2. But right now, Hansen knows it’s just talk. Both are miles away from reaching such heights. They’ll need to match those words with action.
“Everyone’s got potential. It’s just a matter of fulfilling it,” Hansen said. “Who’s going to do what it takes to fulfill their potential?”
That’s the big question. If most of these prospects hit their ceiling, the White Sox will love the final answer.
“It’s exciting that we’re all at the same point of our careers,” Kopech said. “I’m really excited to see what the future has in store for us.”