Pair of White Sox top pitching prospects promoted

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USA TODAY

Pair of White Sox top pitching prospects promoted

White Sox fans located in Chicago and Charlotte will get a glimpse into the future next week.

The White Sox announced they will promote pitching prospect Lucas Giolito to the majors and he will start in Monday's doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. Michael Kopech, the White Sox No. 3 overall prospect, has been promoted to Triple-A Charlotte and will start on Monday night against Norfolk, the team also announced on Friday.

Giolito, who the White Sox acquired along with Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning in an offseason trade from the Washington Nationals for Adam Eaton, is MLB Pipeline's No. 59 overall prospect.

After a shaky start to begin the 2017 season, Giolito has turned the corner as of late.

In his last five starts with the Knights, Giolito has a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched. During that span, Giolito has a 28/11 K/BB ratio and opposing hitters are slashing just .221/.288/.319. The 23-year-old Giolito has a 6-10 record with a 4.48 ERA in 24 starts in 2017.

Giolito, a former first round pick of the Nationals in 2012, had a brief stint in the majors last season and had a 6.75 ERA in six games with Washington.

Kopech, who was a key piece the White Sox acquired in a blockbuster offseason deal with the Boston Red Sox for Chris Sale, has been nothing short of dominant in the minors.

Kopech has a 0.66 ERA with 54 strikeouts and seven walks in his last 41 innings with the Birmingham Barons. In 22 minor league starts this season, Kopech has a 2.87 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP with 155 strikeouts in 119.1 innings.

Kopech is currently MLB Pipeline's No. 1 pitching prospect in the minors.

Aggressive Carlos Rodon eyes status as 'top-tier' pitcher

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USA TODAY

Aggressive Carlos Rodon eyes status as 'top-tier' pitcher

Carlos Rodon has graduated from a “belittling” stretch where hitters dared him to throw strikes to one of the most dominant periods of his career.

Including his most recent start, Rodon has faced 81 consecutive batters without issuing a walk, the longest stretch in his three seasons. Though he has resembled an ace the past three starts Rodon said on Friday that he’s only looking ahead. Of course, Rodon sees the positives from outings like Thursday and wants to build off them. But he also figures that moving forward is exactly what he needs to do to achieve his goal of evolving into a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

“I want to be in the top tier,” Rodon said. “I want to be a guy like Sale, like Scherzer, like Kershaw, like Bumgarner, like Verlander, all those guys. I’ve still got a way to go. Those guys are very good. They do it every night. They might have a mishap once a year, two times a year and every other start is six innings or more. I’ve still got a way to go to get there.”

Rodon is definitely headed in the right direction.

The left-hander has a 2.01 ERA with 24 strikeouts and only two walks in 22 1/3 innings over his last three starts, all of which came against first-place clubs.

It’s quite the turnaround from Rodon’s slow start after he returned from a three-month trip to the disabled list with bursitis in his left shoulder. While Rodon flashed ability at times -- he struck out 10 at Oakland on July 3 and 11 against the Cubs on July 25 -- he also was inconsistent and frustrated. One point that frustrated Rodon often was his inability to throw strikes when he wanted to.

“It’s very frustrating,” Rodon said last month. “Seventy percent strikes (at Oakland) and then the next two games you’re out there and you’re at 70 pitches in three innings, like ‘What the hell happened?’

“They’re laying off sliders. You’re 2-1 every time. You’re fighting back. It’s 3-0, 3-2 count and then you’re getting back into even counts, but obviously a lot of times, hitter’s counts as well. The pitches are just going up. They’re not swinging, they’re taking. They’re going to make you throw strikes, which is frustrating. It’s almost belittling sometimes.”

Rodon and pitching coach Don Cooper have worked on several aspects over the last few weeks in the bullpen. While their primary focus has always been fastball command -- Rodon said the message is the same as it has always been -- Cooper has stressed to Rodon he needs to stay upbeat during any down periods.

“It’s easy to get down,” Cooper said in late July. “Wins are hard to come by. But I’m not going to walk around mired in negativity or being down or being disappointed because we’re not winning games. As much as we come wanting to win games, we’re still going to do that. I’m going to be focused on what we can accomplish.

“He wants to be one of the best. What’s the common denominators for being one of the best? That’s what we’re searching for and trying to get after. The top guys, they throw first-pitch strikes. The batting average is down after you throw one strike. You throw two and it goes down a little more. We saw the other day that when he gets ahead he kills. Certainly, that’s going to be the goal.”

Recently, Rodon has collected multiple samples of what happens when he gets ahead. On Thursday, Houston Astros hitters took an aggressive approach knowing Rodon was attacking the zone at will. Rodon threw strikes on 70 of 98 pitches. He threw only four pitches in the eighth inning because Houston swung early -- and Avisail Garcia ended the inning with an outfield assist.

But either way, Rodon knows how he’d like to move forward.

“You can see it,” Rodon said. “They’re more aggressive now, swinging early.

“The more I’m in the zone, the more aggressive they’re going to be and that can work into my favor, but also could play into their hand as well because they’re swinging the bat.

“Just stick to the positives and positive things are going to happen. Look for the good in everything and go from there.”

Carlos Rodon shows the Red Sox why Chris Sale thinks 'he could be as good as anybody'

Carlos Rodon shows the Red Sox why Chris Sale thinks 'he could be as good as anybody'

BOSTON — This is the exactly the type of Carlos Rodon outing Chris Sale had in mind when he heaped heavy praise on his fellow southpaw a day ago.

The Boston Red Sox ace said his former White Sox teammate has unlimited potential if he can figure out how to tap into it. Rodon did just that when he pitched at Fenway Park for the first time on Friday night and produced one of the best starts of his young career. Rodon matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts and walked nobody as the White Sox lost 3-2 in 11 innings to the Boston Red Sox.

“He could be as good as anybody,” Sale said. “He’s got a sturdy frame. For longevity, that’s really good. I’ve seen him throw 100 mph. I’ve seen him throw sliders at 90 or 91 with really good depth. It’s just about finding it yourself, too.”

Rodon has definitely found something the past two outings as he’s racked up 20 strikeouts and walked only two batters in 14 1/3 innings. With the exception of red hot Eduardo Nunez, Rodon excelled on Friday and kept a talented Red Sox offense under wraps. He allowed two earned runs and six hits and completed 7 2/3 innings — the longest outing of his career in which he didn’t issue a walk.

Prior to that, Rodon struck out 11 against the Cubs on July 25, but lasted only four innings because command issues ran his pitch count up quickly.

Following that start, Rodon and pitching coach Don Cooper reviewed a bunch of the youngster’s best moments and tried to define the common denominators in each of those instances. Cooper then asked Rodon to focus on those specific items rather than think about everything else. The idea is to simplify things for Rodon.

“He was thinking about 100 different things and he’s just jamming himself up mentally,” Cooper said.

Rodon said the new approach has been to focus on key phrases that he and Cooper and bullpen coach Curt Hasler have talked about 1,000 different times.

“It really is focus,” Rodon said. “He says the same things a lot, but he’s trying to get it into my head. He’s said that for almost three years now.”

[MORE: Why Chris Sale thinks White Sox are in good shape with Rick Renteria]

Rodon said he continued to repeat those “key words” often on Friday and they helped him dominate. The left-hander retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced. He ran into trouble in the fifth inning when Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Chris Young each singled to cut the White Sox lead to 2-1. But Rodon bounced back to escape with the lead intact, striking out Christian Vazquez and Andrew Benitendi. He also got Mookie Betts to ground into a bases-loaded fielder’s choice in between.

“There’s a key there, key words that are in my head that they repeat often and the catchers repeat to me that I think when I’m out there,” Rodon said. “It helps me stay in the zone and stay consistent.

“Just like I said the key word is clicking in my head, just clicking when I step on the rubber and to the plate it’s happening. You keep it going.”

Manager Rick Renteria said he’s impressed with how Rodon has adjusted. The White Sox continually have pointed to the fact that Rodon has only made seven starts this season after he missed the first three months with bursitis in his left shoulder. They know what he’s capable of after a dominant stretch to finish the 2016 season. Now they’re hoping he can find that consistency once again.

“I think he has really taken a hold of it,” Renteria said. “It’s simplified, actually. He has been able to repeat and do things he needs to do in order to get through it. Hopefully it continues. Every outing is different, but spectacular outing today against a very good ballclub.”

Rodon threw strikes on 73 of 113 pitches and constantly got ahead of hitters and put them away when he did. He loved the electric atmosphere at Fenway Park and wanted to be on the mound for ‘Sweet Caroline’ before the bottom of the eighth inning. He also wanted one more crack at Nunez, who hit a game-tying solo homer off him in the sixth.  

This is the kind of outing the White Sox had in mind when they used the third pick of the 2014 draft to select Rodon. It’s the kind of one Sale was talking about on Thursday when he said the sky is the limit for Rodon.

“Once it all clicks for him, it’s going to be really fun to watch,” Sale said.