Michael Kopech gives White Sox cover for season-opening assignment

Struggles should be short-lived, but they're pronounced enough to make Charlotte sensible

No matter what measure one uses — minor-league track record, scouting reports, spring training stats — Ronald Acuna is ready for the majors. The top prospect in baseball is hitting .432/.519/.727 this spring after demolishing the high minors last year.

And yet the Braves lumped him in the same round of cuts as Rob Brantly.

Because of business considerations, Acuna won’t be making his debut for a couple weeks. Delaying his start so he doesn’t accrue a full year of service time buys the Braves a full year of team control on the back end. It happens every so often, whether it’s Kris Bryant, Buster Posey, etc. While it makes sense from the team’s angle, it’s always a farce.

And when it comes to farces, people don’t always find them funny:

Michael Kopech spared the White Sox from a similar story. The White Sox reassigned him to minor-league camp on Tuesday, but without similar backlash. He’s definitely one of the five-most talented starting pitchers the White Sox have, and he could probably iron out any issues in the majors given some time, so the Sox could have been called out along similar lines.

But two terrible outings offset an encouraging first two, including a disaster against the A’s on Sunday that caused his numbers to balloon.

  • Sunday: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 1 K
  • Spring: 7 IP, 11, 13 R, 9 ER, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 7 BB, 7 K

(This slip happened around the same time his relationship with his girlfriend allegedly dissolved, and you can learn more about it when the seventh season of “Don’t Be Tardy” airs.)

If the season were a sprint instead of a marathon, the Sox would still want Kopech up for a month. But his spring took such a sharp turn that it’s more than cover to let Kopech right himself with a couple of low-stakes starts, even if Charlotte was going to be in his cards no matter how well he pitched.

Kopech even provided his own assignment, something the Braves would have appreciated with Acuna instead of reaching for “get into the flow.”

“I feel like I did a good job of it last year, but this spring my composure clearly hasn’t been there,” Kopech said. “I take responsibility for that. I’m a guy that needs to move on to the next pitch and I’m too worried about making every pitch perfect right now that I’m not able to do that. I know there’s a lot to take from that and I see James [Shields] do it, I see a lot of guys do it. [Tyler] Saladino was constantly in my ear today telling me that I need to take a breath to catch my composure and I wasn’t doing a good job of that. I need to work on that.”

When it comes to promoting prospects, it’s nice when a team can capitalize on a sense of inevitability. Acuna seems destined for stardom along the lines of Bryant, Posey and Mike Trout (who was held back from an Opening Day lineup for slightly different reasons). Holding him back detracts from the whole point of baseball when you have to put business concerns ahead of entertainment, especially when the former requires faith in ownership that hasn’t been earned.

Thanks to an 11.57 ERA and an equal number of walks and strikeouts during his time in the Cactus League, Kopech didn’t yet attain that manifest destiny. If he starts his time in Charlotte with a couple of gems, the Sox should have the freedom to ride his upswing into a momentous debut, avoiding the whole “what-are-we-waiting-for” period.

I prefer midseason timetables for this reason. Eloy Jimenez could probably start in left field ahead of Nicky Delmonico if service time never existed, but since he hasn’t yet reached Triple-A, the Sox are acting within both their rights and reason to wait until he gets some exposure at Charlotte, or at least wrecks Birmingham beyond a small sample. Granted, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez spent more time in Charlotte than they needed, but they also had accrued service time from previous stops. From here on out, the White Sox will get the opportunity to start everybody’s clocks themselves. The hope is that the business, player and fan interests overlap accordingly.

Following up:

*Kevan Smith had to be carted off the field after spraining his ankle rounding second on Tuesday. X-rays were negative, and he could walk after the game, but it doesn’t reduce the chips stacked against him when it comes to the backup catcher battle.

*Jose Abreu also left Tuesday’s game with tightness in his left hamstring, but Rick Renteria described it as “just cramping up, or maybe just a light stretch.”

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Patrick Nolan

Gonna have to ask my wife to check out Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen this Sunday.

35Shields

The estimated Super Two deadline for Kopech and Jimenez would pass around the start of June right?

I could see Kopech coming up earlier, but I don’t think Eloy will. April in Birmingham, May in Charlotte and a June debut seems like the fastest track that he’d get.

zerobs

I’d happily go to an otherwise meaningless game in June rather than April.

Lurker Laura

That NBC Sports article about Acuna is excellent. The writer makes very strong points.

Anohito

Isn’t it worrying to see Kopey say something like “I know there’s a lot to take from that and I see James [Shields] do it” hahaha…

In all seriousness though, good to hear both injuries were fairly minor to both Jose and Kevan.

PauliePaulie

The 2021 CBA will be a fight about service time. Owners better be willing to give some ground. It’s becoming too easy to root for the players on this. Also can’t believe there’s a link to a Bravo reality show on my baseball blog.

Lurker Laura

This is the same blog that brought you a curling game thread, after all.

PauliePaulie

Hope everyone realizes it was a comment on the world we live in, not the blog.

Lurker Laura

Of course! It all blends together – baseball, curling, Bravo…

Ruptured tendon

Does anyone else think that a reality show is something our future “ace” shouldn’t have in his back pocket right now? To me his girlfriend and her lifestyle is going to be more of a problem for the focus and attention that Michael will need to be the “ace” of the Sox. 

jorgefabregas

I assume that breakups cause performance issues, especially in young players, not infrequently. But we usually don’t know the cause because we usually don’t know the breakup is happening.

Patrick Nolan

::glares hard at person with ominous name, particularly after the spring we’ve had, for pete’s sake::

Ruptured tendon

The name has more meaning than the question?

Right Size Wrong Shape

Yes

Trooper Galactus

If I’m the MLBPA, I’m fighting for any service time (beyond one day callups for injury or doubleheaders) prior to expanded rosters in September to count as a full season, period, and only the first September callup is exempt. Fans deserve to see the best players on Opening Day without all the service time consternation, and all the crazy manipulation of the system being done by teams really needs to stop. I was pulling my hair out last season waiting for guys like Moncada to finally get called up.

Jer-in-Az

Unfortunately we wouldn’t see Eloy or Kopech this year then or if someone gets hurt a scrub would come up not a prospect. It is so hard to say what is the most fair, I feel like this system is not ideal but everyone knows what they are getting into when they get drafted/signed.

Trooper Galactus

I could see that, but if a team spent an entire season avoiding a call-up for a highly regarded prospect like Kopech and giving the nod to obviously less qualified players (i.e.-Chris Volstad), that would be ridiculously transparent and probably grounds for a grievance, especially if the league wants to punish teams who are being purposefully non-competitive like the NBA is trying to do right now. Regardless, if they held him down all this year and just had him on Opening Day next year, his service time would still come to an end at the same time and the White Sox would risk stunting his development and possibly obliterating any chance they might have of extending him or re-signing him. I think this way at least it forces more pressure on teams to bring their top prospects up right away, especially on contending teams.

Patrick Nolan

I think that there’s going to be gaming of service time as long as a hard cutoff exists.

One thing that I definitely think would help would be changing the Super Two rules such that it’s not a hard cutoff at the top 22% of players between 2 and 3 years of service; I think it should be some sort of prorated phase in. That would at least eliminate the need to keep Kopech and Jimenez down until at least early June, and would probably have allowed Moncada and Lopez to come up earlier last year.

With years of control, it’s tougher to find a good solution since unlike money, you can’t give a team a partial year of control.

PauliePaulie

“An 11.57ERA and 7BB/7K’s?” “That Dude’s dealing!!” -Carson Fulmer

jorgefabregas

Leury Garcia was pulled from today’s game from personal reasons. Engel replaced him, then was pulled because of a stiff neck if I understand the sequence of events correctly.

PauliePaulie

Sickels released new Farm System rankings. Sox 7th.