“I don’t want to smile too big right now because I might knock the lights out of this place, but we’re very excited,” Manager Rick Renteria said to the media on Wednesday, the day that Michael Kopech made his visit to Guaranteed Rate Field.
“This is the first time I actually got to see the stadium,” Kopech said as he sat in the dugout and gazed upon his future playing field. “So, for me, this was the coolest part [of Chicago]. It’s what I really wanted to see.”
Kopech, standing at 6’3” with a sturdy frame, signature golden blonde locks and piercing blue eyes, brought with him the confidence of someone who had set foot in a major league dugout plenty of times before.
“He’s a very even-keeled young man,” Renteria said of Kopech. “He’s very mature. I think he’s growing in confidence. Obviously anybody we’ve spoken to about him shares that he is a confident man who trusts in the stuff that he has and that continues to grow. And not in an arrogant way but in a quiet, confident type of approach which we love.”
Kopech discussed many topics but the central focus was certainly around how satisfied he was with the successful season he had in Birmingham while completing a full workload for the first time in his career—something he’ll need to be prepared for come next season.
“To me, I think it was such a big goal because, it wasn’t only a goal for me it felt like a group goal,” Kopech told White Sox Weekly about completing 134 innings of work this season. “It felt like an organization goal. Everybody wanted to see me get that full innings load and I finally got it—finished healthy. I didn’t finish with much fatigue. Just the fact that I was able to reach that milestone and get ready for next year, I think coming from the organization [it’s] a very important part and for me a very important part considering I threw more this year than I did the last two seasons combined.”
Kopech had a lot of accomplishments to be proud of in his short time as part of the White Sox organization so far, including his well-warranted promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.
“Especially with the couple months that I had done well in Birmingham, I don’t want to say I felt like I deserved [the promotion] but at the same time,” Kopech said, “to see that the organization was just as excited about what I was doing as I was, it meant a lot to me.”
Kopech admits that it hasn’t been an easy journey to become the pitcher he is today; one who finished the season as the White Sox’s minor-league pitcher of the month for September with 172 strikeouts in 134 innings. He was quick to point out his struggles in June—a month in which he had a 6.95 ERA.
“June was a rough time for me,” Kopech said. “I still got invited to an All-Star game, shortly after that to the Futures Game. I think it was throwing more strikes early in counts [was key]. It really helped me get deeper in games. It helped me get ahead of guys early and helped me create outs earlier in counts. That really helped me move along in games.”
“In Birmingham I got into a rhythm, a groove almost to where I felt like I was almost unhittable,” Kopech continued. “And it wasn’t anything special, I wasn’t doing anything different, I was just throwing more strikes. I realized that as simple as it sounds, filling up a zone is going to put the pressure on the hitter versus the pitcher and when I was able to do that, it felt like I was in control of the whole game.”
As a high-velocity pitcher, something the White Sox have experience working with during the Chris Sale years, Renteria isn’t concerned about tweaking anything Kopech does right now. That comes with time. “I think with experience, I think when you have the kind of stuff that he has, he does have swing and miss stuff and we all know that guys that have swing and miss stuff many times end up driving their pitch counts up and you let them get a foul ball here and there, but I think experience will start to show them what they need to know in terms of what kind of mix they need to present in that particular at bat,” Renteria said. “I think you allow a stallion to run and then you make adjustments.”
As far as that stallion being let loose on the playing field, Kopech is ready. “I brought my glove if they need me,” Kopech said. But patience is a virtue that Kopech had to learn. “I would talk to the other guys on our staff down there, we were going through the same thing,” he said.
“We’re thinking about a promotion, we’re thinking about the next start, you’re trying to balance out what’s most important to focus on at the time and it almost got to the point where I had to forget about being promoted at all. I had to think that this is where I’m going to finish the year, this is what I’m going to do. All I’m going to do is go out there and compete my best my next start. So when I got into that mindset to just go start by start I really think that was what kind of locked me in for the rest of the year.”
Kopech has had an interesting path to the majors, but his makeup, and extremely underrated yet vital aspect of joining a major league club with success, was on display for all to see on Wednesday. For the White Sox, their future is on the horizon, and the picture is coming together rapidly. And it certainly is a pretty one.