Chicago White Sox

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.”

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Just how valuable is Jose Abreu to the White Sox?

Well, whenever you join Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only baseball players ever to do something, you must be pretty darn valuable.

Abreu joined that elite company Saturday night, driving in both runs in the White Sox forgettable 8-2 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals. Those RBIs brought his total to 100 on the season, making him the third major leaguer ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in his first four seasons.

“Every year after a season I meet with my family and we review my season and my stats. Last year when we had the meeting, I told them next year I’m gonna hit 30 homers, I’m gonna drive in at least 100 and I did it,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was able to do it and that’s something that made me feel proud of myself and proud of my family, too, because they have been the ones who have been supported me through my whole career."

Abreu’s known as an extremely hard worker, a template to follow for many if not all of the youngsters coming up as the future stars of the White Sox rebuild. And so it makes this moment all the sweeter for him and those around him.

“It is especially important not just for me but for my family and my team,” Abreu said. “I think that this is a reward for the effort and all the work you put in for preparation for your season. It’s special when you get this kind of result and consistency in your stats. But the most important thing is it’s a reward for my family. And this organization, maybe we are not in the position we want to be right now as a team, but I know that better times are to come.”

“He works extremely hard,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think everybody was feeling it for him tonight. He’s been pushing. He fouled a ball off of his left shin the other day, and you see him kind of gimping around there. … He’s not one to do anything to deter from continuing to help the team win first and foremost, but along the way he’s able to collect some individual merit points, so to speak. And put himself in a very special class.”

The big question surrounding Abreu isn’t whether he’s worthy of being the leader the young White Sox of the future need to turn rebuilding mode into contending mode a few years down the line. The question is whether he’ll still be around by then. His final year of arbitration is 2019, meaning if the White Sox are looking at 2020 as the year of true contention, it will take a new contract to keep Abreu in town.

A few things factor into that, of course. No. 1, Abreu could continue this consistently terrific pace and be lured away by another team willing to spend more to acquire his services. No. 2, though, is his age. He’ll be 33 years old when the 2020 season starts, and while that’s not old by most standards, it means he’ll demand a big contract — and likely a lengthy one — as he reaches the latter part of his prime. It’s not to suggest Abreu will dramatically slow down in terms of production, but it will most definitely be under consideration as the White Sox look to keep their window of contention open as long as possible.

For what it’s worth, Abreu is constantly thanking the White Sox organization for the opportunity to do what he’s done over the past four seasons, and he’s said how much he wants to keep playing for this franchise.

What is of no question, however, is Abreu’s worth as a top-of-the-line offensive player. His totals with a week’s worth of games left in the 2017 season: 31 homers, 100 RBIs and a .305/.356/.551 slash line. All those percentages would be his highest since his outstanding rookie season in 2014.

And his worth as a leader, as a guy who could be a rallying point for all these young players, that’s pretty darn valuable, too.

“I haven’t (tonight) made light of what I believe he’s becoming as part of this organization and what he is as far as what he does for the team,” Renteria said. “You got a couple of young men in there that are growing up and becoming a part of what I believe are leaders within that clubhouse. And he’s one of them. He’s certainly deserves it. He’s earned it. He’s worked for it. He’s been in this organization since the inception of his major league career. He’s someone that we all are happy is a part of us.”

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

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USA TODAY

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since Carlos Rodon was shut down for the season, one day after he was scratched from a start with shoulder inflammation.

And while we know Rodon won’t pitch again in 2017 — a season with just a little more than a week remaining for the rebuilding White Sox — the team still doesn’t know, or still isn’t ready to say, exactly what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick.

“We’re just trying to get it right,” Rodon said before Saturday night’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals. “Still trying to figure everything out and take everything we can and put it all together to get the most information and do what’s best for me and for this team.”

That kind of non-update might raise some red flags in the minds of White Sox fans, curious as to what is the latest ailment for a pitcher who missed three months this season while recovering from biceps bursitis.

Rodon was slated to get reevaluated shortly after that early September injury. He was, but no news came of it, at least not yet.

“Pretty similar to what our doc said,” Rodon said of that follow-up evaluation. “Like I said, we’re trying to still gather all the information and figure out what we’re going to do from there.”

Rodon ended his third season in the bigs with a 4.15 ERA in 69.1 innings of work. And while the White Sox still believe he’ll be a huge part of their starting staff moving forward, it’s plenty acceptable to wonder what kind of effects this season of injuries will have on Rodon as the franchise’s rebuild chugs along.

“He continues to be a big part of what we believe is the future of the organization,” manager Rick Renteria said after explaining several times that the team is still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Rodon. “Unfortunately, this year he's been down quite a bit. So assuming he comes back in a good situation and is healthy and is capable of going out and performing, he fits into one of the five guys that are going to be out there for us next season.”

For his part, Rodon is 100-percent confident he’ll be good to go for next year’s campaign.

“I just know that I’ll be ready for next season,” Rodon said. “The goal is to be ready for next year and be healthy through all of next season.”

That, though, will be the million-dollar question as the White Sox starting rotation of the future begins to take shape. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already penciled in for 2018, and Michael Kopech’s 2017 campaign in the minors was so sensational, he could potentially pitch himself into that starting five, too. With younger names like Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning also doing work in the minors, someone’s going to be the odd man out.

Rodon still has the confidence of his organization. But will he have the health to make that confidence pay off?