Don Cooper sees positives after White Sox prospects take lumps in first outings

Don Cooper sees positives after White Sox prospects take lumps in first outings

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Upon further review, Don Cooper and his two young pitchers felt a little better about their previous day's rough outings on Wednesday.

The White Sox pitching coach said he took several positives from watching video of top pitching prospects Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez, both of whom were hit hard in starting performances on Tuesday. Cooper not only identified several areas where the pitchers performed well, but he also takes into account the context -- that each youngster, including Lucas Giolito at the Cubs on Monday, made their first-ever appearance for the White Sox.

Kopech allowed four earned runs in an inning, Lopez allowed five runs in 1 1/3 innings and Giolito allowed a run and three hits in two innings.

"If anybody has a tough outing in the first one it's like a mulligan for me," Cooper said. "You gotta understand, some of these guys it's their first big league camp. Some of them are 20 years old so you're anxious. You want to go show everybody what you do and you might be revving it a little too high sometimes, but that's part of the learning process, too."

Kopech and Lopez both had the same reaction to their reviews on Wednesday -- they didn't miss as often as they thought. Pitching against Seattle, Kopech wasn't pleased with himself after he allowed a three-run homer on an 0-2 slider he left up to Mitch Haniger.

But Kopech said his session with Cooper left him feeling more positive when he realized that out of nearly 30 pitches he only missed his spot four times.

Lopez said he wondered on Tuesday why some of his pitches seemed flatter than normal. He realized he left his shoulder open a number of times. Lopez, 23, said he has used video for the past three years since Single-A and realizes the value it brings to the process.

"I thought yesterday that I hung out some pitches but today watching the video I saw they were located," Lopez said through an interpreter. "They just hit it."

"It's really important because when you're in the game because you don't have time to realize or identify what is going good and what is going wrong. Once you have time to review the video and speak with your pitching coach, you understand what you did good or what you did bad and then you try to build from that point on."

Said Cooper: "Really it's just plot a course for each guy. It's exciting because we got guys with good arms and they're going to be a part of our future and let's lay the ground work now."

The general consensus among White Sox coaches and staff is that Kopech showed plenty of positives during his two-strikeout performance. They want him to focus on how to improve for next time rather than worry if he'll get another shot.

"It's not the end of the world when things like that happen," manager Rick Renteria said. "He's going to get the ball again and get out there and obviously try to continue to execute.

"We talk about pitchers with good arms. The thing they still have to do is command. Yesterday's experience was good. He was out there on a big league field facing a really good lineup and it shows you if you make mistakes there's a chance it might get hit."

Cooper looks forward to the next round of outings, which begins with Giolito on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels. He continues to be impressed with all three pitchers, including Kopech whom Cooper said "my eyes lit up," the first time he watched video.

"I'll take his future any day," Cooper said.
 

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He maybe doesn't receive the same hype as some of his peers, but the White Sox think Reynaldo Lopez deserves plenty of attention.

A highly-touted prospect for two seasons now, Lopez took a big leap forward in a 2016 season that resulted in two promotions, including a trip to the big leagues.

While Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito have garnered much of the attention, Lopez, who was acquired with Giolito in the Adam Eaton trade, is right on their heels if not equal. Lopez -- who produced a 3.21 ERA in 19 minor-league starts last season and struck out 42 batters in 44 innings in the majors -- is rated the No. 31 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and 38th by MLB.com.

"He's looked good from the get-go," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "The bottom line is we like all three of them. I didn't hear a lot (about him). When people are asking me questions it's usually about Giolito and Kopech. I'm not sure why because he's a gifted kid. He's got some stuff."

Lopez, 23, already has pitched in 11 regular season games (six starts) and made a playoff appearance. He earned those outings by excelling in a season that began at Double-A Harrisburg. Two seasons after he put up outstanding numbers at Single-A, Lopez dominated the Eastern League with 100 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings and 3.18 ERA. He attributes his success to calming himself down in game situations.

"I just kept my focus in the game," Lopez said through an interpreter. "Before, I thought a lot about things and I couldn't think. And then I realized to keep my focus on the game. Sometimes if someone hit me or something, my mind got stuck in that moment. But then I understood you have to have a short memory and just let the things that are happening (be) in the past and focus on what's happening."

Lopez, 23, said he has taken the same approach to handling his trade to the White Sox. The right-hander admits he was shocked at first when he heard he was traded by the Washington Nationals, who signed him for $17,000 in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic.

But the more he thought about it, Lopez realized how good of an opportunity he has in front of him with the rebuilding White Sox. The club intends to try Lopez out as a starter --- there's debate among scouting analysts whether he's meant for the bullpen or rotation --- at Triple-A Charlotte this season. Asked what he prefers, Lopez said he's a starter.

And rather than try to impress the club by overthrowing a fastball that MLB.com graded 70 on the 20-80 scale, Lopez has worked on location early in camp. Those efforts haven't gone unnoticed by Cooper and manager Rick Renteria.

"Lopez is a guy who maybe goes under the radar a little bit, but when you see his bullpen work, he's pretty clean, pretty efficient," Renteria said. "He hits his spots."

Through four throwing sessions, Cooper said he likes how Lopez has located his fastball and curveball. Cooper thinks the changeup, which is the lowest graded of his three pitches (45 out of 80), is where the most work is needed. But Cooper is pleased with how Lopez has worked in the bullpen and batting practice and looks forward to seeing how it carries over once the exhibition season begins.

Lopez likes how he has fit in with the White Sox through the first week and a half. An aggressive pitcher by nature --- "I like to get ahead in the count," he said --- Lopez has tried to work down in the zone in the early part of camp. He said that was one of his main takeaways from pitching in the majors.

"I learned a lot from that experience," Lopez said. "I learned how to pitch. It's not just throw hard. You have to locate your pitches and be smart. I think that was the most important thing for me, from that experience."

White Sox prospect Michael Kopech is hair today, focused on tomorrow

White Sox prospect Michael Kopech is hair today, focused on tomorrow

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The shoulder length blonde hair that is one of several noticeable similarities between Michael Kopech and Noah Syndergaard is no more.

Earlier this month, the White Sox prospect cut down a mane he’d grown for more than 18 months at the request of his new employers. But uncertain how much they wanted him to remove, Kopech said he went to the barber shop four times in a span of several weeks, including three after SoxFest.

“My girlfriend was harping on me to get it trimmed,” Kopech said. “I got it trimmed right before SoxFest. I say trimmed, it was a lot. I cut about three or four inches off and then right after SoxFest, Rick (Renteria) gave me a call and ‘That wasn’t short enough.’

“I went through that whole process again. I kept thinking about how much they wanted me to cut off. So at first I went to the barbershop and got a little cut off and thought, ‘You know what, this probably isn’t enough.’ So I went back again two days later and thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t enough either.’ So I went back again. I went to the barbershop three times in a week.”

When the deed was finally done, Kopech posted a picture of his new haircut on social media and noted “If you’re not sitting … I encourage you to do so.” White Sox teammate Tim Anderson commented that Kopech looked like “Sunshine” Ronnie Bass of ‘Remember the Titans’ fame. Kopech — who was acquired from Boston in December in the Chris Sale trade — has begun to adjust to his new hairstyle. He also told reporters earlier this week he probably won’t grow his hair as long again.

 “You’ve got to get used to the short hair thing,” he said.

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Kopech is also making adjustments on the field in his first week of big league camp.

The right-hander, who reportedly touched 105 mph on the radar gun last July, is very excited to be in big league camp for the first time. Some of that energy has resulted in Kopech “trying to throw the s*** out of it” with every pitch, pitching coach Don Cooper said. Cooper loves Kopech’s arm but said he wants his young charge to focus on fastball command, not trying to blow it by everyone.

Kopech said he’s started to heed the message and knows how important command of all his pitches will be.

“He was basically putting my mind at ease saying, ‘Hey, you're not going to win anything right away, just get settled in, get comfortable,’” Kopech said. “That's something I'm going to have to grasp the concept of.”

“Coop's preached fastballs away, gloveside. That's something I'm hit or miss on. I've been working on it quite a bit. I can go inside to a right-handed batter all I want, but going away, really hitting that location is big for me. Locating my changeup, being consistent with that is also going to be helpful. Because that's the next best pitch in baseball, other than a well-located fastball.”