At first, Alec Hansen wasn’t picking up his phone. Who the heck was calling him from Tennessee?
But Don Cooper has a way of getting people on the horn.
“I got three missed calls from a Tennessee number, and I’m like, ‘who’s calling me from Tennessee?’” Hansen said while making calls to ticket holders Thursday ahead of this weekend’s SoxFest festivities. “And he was finally like, ‘answer the phone, this is your coach starting Feb. 14.’ He’s got a lot of excitement. I think that’s just kind of how he is. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Like the rebuild-loving White Sox fans, the team’s pitching coach is excited for the future on the South Side. And while Rick Hahn has received much of the spotlight for assembling such an impressive group of prospects in the last year-plus, it’s coaches like Cooper who will soon take center stage as all this young talent starts making its way to the big leagues.
Cooper, in particular, will be tasked with helping to develop a large number of these guys into impact major leaguers. The White Sox pitching rotation of the future is a crowded one as names like Hansen, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning all figure to vie for spots on that staff.
“I’m anxious to see all of them,” Cooper said. “When I talk to those guys on the phone, and I’ve been talking a lot to them on the phone, it’s inevitable — and I’m already kind of excited — they make me more excited because you can hear it in their voice, you hear it in their words. And we’re about to start an important undertaking, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Hansen is especially exciting for fans who saw what he did last season in the minor leagues. The right-handed hurler, a second-round pick in 2016, struck out a jaw-dropping 191 batters in 141.1 innings while splitting time between Class A Kannapolis, Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.
And if those numbers don’t do it for you, maybe Cooper’s scouting report will.
“I think he’s a big, strong guy that throws the ball in the mid to upper 90s, got a curveball that breaks like a freaking firecracker, a slider that’s hard and sharp and a changeup that’s continually progressing,” Cooper said. “I think he’s a guy that has more work to do, like everybody.”
While South Side baseball fans are clamoring to know when rebuild stars like Kopech and Eloy Jimenez will make it to the big leagues, they shouldn’t be sleeping on Hansen, who also hopes to be on that major league roster by season’s end.
“I want to make it up to the major league club this year and contribute and just get to know a bunch of these guys around here and get to know the major league staff and people in the front office,” he said. “Just make connections.”
And chances are that if you’re not quite sure what Hansen looks like, he’ll be easy to spot at SoxFest. He is 6-foot-7, after all.
“I saw Hansen at the airport when I landed, I talked to him, and it’s the first time I talked to him. And I was craning my neck. I left and when home to my apartment, and I was thinking, ‘that’s a big dude right there,’” Cooper said. “Bigger, stronger. But he’s a big part of our future, that’s for sure, and we’ve got plans for him.”