Al Leiter's advice to Michael Kopech could transform him from a thrower into a pitcher

Al Leiter's advice to Michael Kopech could transform him from a thrower into a pitcher

Part of Michael Kopech’s All-Star experience last weekend was advice from Al Leiter that he immediately finds more comfort with his secondary pitches.

The pitching great and current MLB Network analyst spent 20-25 minutes with the White Sox No. 1 pitching prospect shagging fly balls during batting practice before the All-Star Futures Game on July 9. Leiter -- who averaged 3.1 f-Wins Above Replacement from 1994-2004 -- suggested Kopech take advantage of his time in the minor leagues to learn how to use his slider and changeup and rely less on his fastball in critical situations. Leiter believes Kopech -- ranked the No. 11 prospect in baseball by MLBPipeline.com -- has a great future that could be even brighter if he learns how to become more of a pitcher instead of a thrower.

“Even with exceptional fastballs, you need to have a complement to your fastball and your number one secondary pitch,” Leiter said. “I’m a big advocate of having pitchers like Kopech believe you’re not giving in and you’re not wimping out by throwing offspeed pitches. It actually empowers you more because of the breadth of your options and the confidence you have in it, in particular slider/changeup, that he would have other places to go. And the only way you do that is that you have to trust it and the only way you trust it is if you use it.”

Leiter would probably be pleased to hear Kopech followed that plan in his first post-Futures Game start on Friday. The franchise’s minor league pitcher of the month for April produced his best start since May by incorporating a steady diet of sliders with a few changeups into his 97-pitch effort. Kopech threw 31 sliders and six changeups as he allowed a run, four hits and walked two with five strikeouts in six innings at Biloxi. While Leiter would prefer a higher number of changeups --- ideally 15 with 20-25 sliders --- the concept is to get away from heavy reliance on the fastball.

Kopech will make mistakes, of course, by hanging a slider or a changeup, Leiter said. But now is the time to make those mistakes so Kopech can be more well-rounded by the time he reaches the majors.

“I’ll let you pick your spot,” Leiter said. “But I want you to throw it not as an emergency but for you to feel and recognize that it’s an important pitch.

“If he brings out a slider early and a changeup early and gets results, he now gets more empowered on pitches other than his fastball.

“The reason why he needs to experience it on the mound and not on the side is you have to see the results. You have to get positive results to reinforce what everybody is telling you. The only way you do it is there.

“Don’t give up on it because at some point he will need it. He’s going to need it to be dominant.”

Kopech said the two also spent a fair amount of time talking about getting ahead in the count. The right-hander has 106 strikeouts this season in 84 1/3 innings. But he also has issued 55 walks, which in part has run up his pitch count and prevented Kopech from going deeper into games. Through 17 starts, Kopech is averaging a tick under five innings per start.

He said the Futures Game experience was enhanced by his discussion with Leiter and thinks the entire day would give him a boost to finish his second half on a strong note.

“(Leiter) said in his career that he had a lot of walks, too,” Kopech said. “Just the keys that helped him get ahead in counts and to not worry so much when I am walking guys. Play to my strengths, but don’t put too much pressure on myself.

“To get a chance to talk to a big leaguer about pitching, to be in the big league environment, it’s really everything I wanted.”

“We all get to kind of experience big league lifestyle for a day and, hopefully, get a taste of what it's really like. That's all we really want to experience out of this, is kind of get a taste of the big leagues. It kind of makes us a little more hungry for the real thing.”

Cubs and White Sox release lineups for Game 1 of Crosstown Classic

Cubs and White Sox release lineups for Game 1 of Crosstown Classic

It's about that time again: the Crosstown Classic.

The Cubs (51-46) and White Sox (38-57) released their lineups ahead of Monday's series opener at Wrigley Field.

Kyle Hendricks (4-3, 4.09 ERA) will square off against Miguel Gonzalez (4-9, 4.89 ERA).

Here's how Joe Maddon's Cubs will line up behind Hendricks, who's back after missing six weeks.

CUBS

1. Jason Heyward - RF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Kyle Schwarber - LF
6. Ben Zobrist - 2B
7. Jon Jay - CF
8. Javy Baez - SS
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

On the South Side, Rick Renteria is shuffling things up a little bit, as top prospect Yoan Moncada has moved to the No. 2 spot. Melky Cabrera is also back in the lineup after leaving Sunday's game early.

WHITE SOX

1. Melky Cabrera - LF
2. Yoan Moncada - 2B
3. Jose Abreu - 1B
4. Avisail Garcia - RF
5. Matt Davidson - 3B
6. Tim Anderson - SS
7. Adam Engel - CF
8. Kevan Smith - C
9. Miguel Gonzalez - P

A reminder that Crosstown coverage begins at 12 p.m. with White Sox Pregame Live on CSN and streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anthony Swarzak held a high-leverage audition for a potential contender on Sunday long before the Kansas City Royals walked off the White Sox.

The nonroster invitee to big league camp continued a stellar campaign as he took over in a critical spot midgame and helped the White Sox escape with the lead. The White Sox bullpen ultimately relinquished the lead and Brandon Moss sent them to their ninth straight loss — Kansas City won 5-4 — with an RBI double in the ninth inning.

But Swarzak continues to thrive in the opportunities handed to him and could make for an interesting trade chip before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

“He’s been excellent,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s become for us, with (Nate Jones) going down and (Jake Petricka) going down he’s actually become a fireman. He’s come in in some of the highest-leverage situations we could possibly get. And then we use him for multiple innings.”

A free agent after the season, Swarzak has 50 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 47 innings for the White Sox this season. He also has only allowed nine of 33 inherited runners to score (27.2 percent), including two on Sunday. The American League average for inherited runners scoring entering Sunday was 30 percent, according to baseball-reference.com.

All this has come in a season where Swarzak went to camp with the White Sox with no certainty of making the 25-man roster. The right-hander not only thrived in camp, he came out strong in April with 19 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. Combined with early injuries to Jones and Zach Putnam, Swarzak’s performance helped him climb the totem pole in the White Sox bullpen from the outset. His stature has grown even more of late with the injury to Petricka as well as the trades of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.

“As far personal expectations, I’m right where I want to be,” Swarzak said. “More to accomplish for this year, absolutely. But I like what I’ve done so far and I like the opportunity that I have to accomplish even more.

“That’s the situation we all work so hard. That’s the situation we want and it’s why we all work so hard in the offseason in general is for situations like that.”

Swarzak took over for starter Derek Holland in the fifth inning with the White Sox ahead 4-3 and runners on the corners. He threw three straight sliders to Jorge Bonifacio and struck him out to strand the pair.

“It was huge, what he did coming in right there,” Holland said.

As significant as it was, it only held off the Royals for the time being. And as much as Swarzak has enjoyed things on a personal level, it isn’t making what the thinned-out White Sox roster is experiencing any easier to handle.

“Everything going on around here right now is pretty hard to swallow,” Swarzak said. “We’re going out there losing 8-0, 6-0, we’re up 6-0 and we end up losing. We lost a 1-0 game against the Dodgers and the next night we lose 10-1. We’re kind of losing all types of ways right now, which is really hard to swallow because as a bullpen guy we take pride in holding the lead and right now it seems like we’re not getting it done at all, any aspect of it, as a group.”

With eight more shopping days left before the deadline, chances are high that Swarzak may not be part of the current group much longer. He has already seen the departures of Robertson and Kahnle and knows his impending free agency could result in a trade elsewhere. But the veteran reliever is doing his best to keep his focus on the mound.

“It all comes back to quality pitches and getting guys out,” Swarzak said. “If you’re getting guys out, you’re going to get some attention from the league and if you’re not they’re going to close the book on you. It’s very straight forward for a pitcher, for a major league baseball player in general: Do better. Get it done and you’re going to play for a long time and you’re going to have the success that goes along with getting it done. That’s really all I’m worried about is continuing to make good pitches and hopefully get the results I’m looking for.”