It takes a Kopech Day to build the Kopech Years

As the wait for Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez dragged on past most reasonable limits, I began to think a Rick Hahn comment at SoxFest was a Chekov’s Gun.

Hahn said back in January that Jimenez could spend the entire year in Birmingham and Kopech in Charlotte, and their seasons could still be considered a “success.” I assumed it was an attempt at creating a cushion for his top two prospects that stretched into falsehood,  but it crept back into my mind as Hahn resisted promoting Kopech and Jimenez, and a fair amount of fans lined up behind pro-management interests with concerns about the 2025 payroll.

I could imagine the day after Labor Day coming and going with no further prospects called up to the club, and Hahn saying, “I was very clear at SoxFest that Kopech could spend the entire season at Charlotte…”

Fortunately, I couldn’t imagine how the front office would tell Kopech that he hadn’t earned a promotion while calling up other pitchers from the Charlotte staff as part of September expansion. Without concerns over Triple-A experience or workload to hide behind, Hahn would have no other explanation that could even compete with “exercising our right to suppress your earning trajectory,” and the Sox don’t usually operate that callously.

The jury is still out on Jimenez — he’s only played 41 games at Charlotte! — but Kopech Chekov’d the remaining boxes on his list, and now he’ll make his MLB debut tonight against Jose Berrios and the Twins.

It’s a big deal for the rebuild. No reconstruction should ever hinge on the success and health of one pitching prospect, but Kopech is one of a few guys who can determine how easily it can come together. He arrives in Chicago at the height of his prospect powers, even if his changeup is still a work in progress. Carlos Rodon will tell you that if you can throw your slider at multiple speeds with multiple tilts, a changeup isn’t necessary on Day One.

For me, Rodon has more or less set the template for my general initial Kopech expectations, where efficiency is a bigger issue than effectiveness. Kopech will have it a little bit tougher because while his fastball-slider combination is upper-level, hitters have seen pitchers like him before, even if it’s just for an inning at a time. With Rodon, even future Hall of Famers like Albert Pujols couldn’t anticipate facing a 91 mph slider from the left side. They had to figure out Rodon on the fly, even if “figuring it out” was really “fighting it off,” and waiting for 100 pitches was the real goal.

I’m steeled for Kopech to stumble, just because the stuttering, sputtering starts of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez show the difficulties of sticking. It would behoove one of them to present himself as a future fixture by the end of this season so doubts about the Sox’ ability to finish prospects don’t smother the winter. If not, at least the Sox sunk 2019 expectations enough that the prospects will have a lot more runway ahead of them for takeoff.

Kopech seems cut out — chiseled, even — for a front-line role, and sooner rather than later. He puts himself out there more than the other prospects, in more ways than one:

The dalliances with celebrity will be used against him if he struggles initially, but it’s indicative of a certain level of confidence in his ability and/or indifference to outside perception, and both probably help more than they hurt at this stage in the game.

Fans responded to the Kopech promotion by buying thousands of tickets over the past couple days, but the call-up is more than a cookie. It brings a greater sense of priorities to the winner-building business, which had devolved to random benchings as it buckled under the weight of an unnecessary talent shortage.

The most direct path to winning goes through Kopech, and potentially Jimenez in short order. The sooner they settle in, the easier it is to conceive contending. The sooner they can conceive contending, the sooner the spending, and only then will we get a real idea of what the next decade might actually look like.

Author

  • 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.

    View all posts
Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
13 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
karkovice squad

Sox fans both rooting for the #3 pick and for extending the exploitation of minor league labor seem like the obvious low point for the rebuild.

With luck, Kopech’s start is the second point in a new, upward trendline. We’ll backdate the beginning of the turnaround to the start of Rodon’s stretch of dominance in July and forget all about this bit of unseemliness.

Lurker Laura

Unseemliness, indeed. And I like your upward trend line. Point #3 will be Eloy’s promotion, and Point #4 will be Moncada’s improvement in 2019 (because with Eloy up, Moncada will no longer be the focus of attention, which he does not seem to thrive under).

AirTrafficAJ

Agree completely. Plus, Tim Anderson hitting his stride offensively and defensively helps.

karkovice squad

Eloy’s promotion, if he hits the ground running, could also be contagious. The positive pressure of friendly competition.

Smclean09

You don’t think Engel’s putting enough friendly competition out to go around?

jorgefabregas

Eloy not playing so far in a Charlotte today

sgp2204

They haven’t played so far in Charlotte today… 

IllinoisJones

so he was right, then.

sgp2204

Technically speaking, I suppose so. 

jorgefabregas

Gotcha. The MLB.com version of mlbfarm.com is showing the box score of the suspended game that they’re planning to resume today, I guess.

Gutteridge70

i just hope Kopech is able to give the Sox a quality start which results in a winner. The Twins would probably like nothing better than to kick his ass and try to erase their 2018 status as the biggest underachievers in the Al central which is really saying something.

sgp2204

I mean, it’s only fair. We did just embarrass one of their best prospects in his debut.