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What To Make Of Kopech’s Debuts?

Michael Kopech #34 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning in his MLB debut game at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Before we delve into Kopech’s first two starts, let’s dismiss the notion that the Sox are unreasonably slow-playing the promotion of any of their prospects. If you ignore the big league team’s needs, which the Sox have every reason to do right now, then it’s perfectly justified to expect a player to show clear, repeatable ownership of each minor league level before you move him up.

You want to make sure that a guy has learned all he can before you add a new set of challenges to his plate, as each promotion does. At some point a player can learn more by struggling at a higher level rather than just getting by on pure talent, but that’s not an easy determination to make.

Specific to Kopech’s case, the kid has thrown very well since coming to the ChiSox last year, but it made perfect sense to start him in AAA this season. He was only 22, had made just three starts there in a token call up last season, and had shown some consistent walk issues even while excelling at every level.

And when Kopech got off to a hot start, it continued to make sense to see whether what he was doing was repeatable. Could he continue to dominate AAA? The answer was no – Kopech went through a pretty ugly stretch mid-season. The front office was right that this kid, despite the early gaudy numbers, needed more minor league seasoning.

That seasoning allowed Kopech to get back into a groove, to show he could handle adversity, and make the improvements necessary – mentally and physically – to get back to the top of his game. Who knows how the rest of his development will go, but I am very happy with the decisions the Sox have made in regard to Kopech.

And that includes the decision to give him up to 8 big league starts to continue his rise to front of the rotation starter. Even though it will be a small sample size, I’m excited to see what Kopech can do.

So far, so good. It would have been exciting to watch a bit more in his initial start than the two innings we got thanks to the hour rain delay. But you could also argue that having the chance to get the jitters out the first time around, to meet an initial challenge and come away unscathed, and then to call it a night before having to do much more was just about the ideal scenario.

Kopech certainly built on that performance in his second start. He was far from perfect, self-admittedly not having his best stuff, but again he worked his way out of the jams he created.

In the first game, first inning, Kopech was introduced to the bigs by a pair of back-to-back singles. Then after going 2-1 with the Twins’ #3 hitter, the kid just kept pumping fastballs until he got a fly-out, then followed it up with his first ever punch-out.

Maybe most impressively, after burying himself 3-0 to a semi-dangerous hitter with two runners on, Kopech worked back to a 3-2 count before inducing the inning-ending fly-out.

His second inning also featured a self-made jam, as after striking out the first two batters and going 0-2 on the next, Kopech missed on two pitches and then plunked the guy. A single thereafter meant another two-on situation, this time against multi-time batting champion Joe Mauer.

It’s easy to overstate the significance of single events, but Kopech has been faulted for both his control and his mental/emotional make-up. Yet here he didn’t get down on himself for creating a jam out of a 2-out, 0-2 count situation. He didn’t sweat that he was up against a still very dangerous professional batsmen. Even as the at-bat went five, six, pitches deep, Kopech battled, and ultimately, on pitch seven, sent Mauer down swinging.

It’s just two innings, but I liked what I saw. Even more so in light of what he just did in his first full start. The 1st, 3rd, and 5th innings were all three-up, three-down, so Kopech showed that he can keep runners off the bases.

But in the 2nd, 4th, and 6th, the Tigers got two, three, and four runners on, respectively. Still, Kopech just continued to make the pitches he had to. In the 4th, that meant getting the K with first and third, one out, then finishing things off without any runners across.

In the 6th, that meant battling back after finding himself with first and second, no outs, and one run already in. Kopech got that first out without letting the runner advance, which became crucial when the next guy singled, but only to load the bases.

From there Kopech did his best work, even after he got down 3-0 with the bases loaded and only one out. He delivered the next strike and then induced an inning-ending double play to conclude his day.

It’s only 8 total innings, but Kopech has yet to walk anyone, yet to be taken yard. He’s throwing far more strikes than balls and has shown repeatedly that he’s just as effective dealing with runners on than without. He’s also getting punch-outs and inducing weak contact when needed. That’s the kind of stuff you look for every bit as much as runs allowed.

Sure, the Twins and Tigers aren’t exactly the Astros and BoSox, but they are still big league lineups used to seeing big league pitching, and they did nothing against Kopech to suggest he’s out of his element. Given the success the kid has had in his minor league career, especially the way he obliterated AAA in the past month plus (including zero walks in August), I think it’s OK to be excited about what we have here.

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.