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.”

Don Cooper's 'eyes lit up' watching White Sox prospect Michael Kopech

Don Cooper's 'eyes lit up' watching White Sox prospect Michael Kopech

There are bittersweet emotions because he's no longer Chris Sale's pitching coach, but Don Cooper is excited about the future of the White Sox.

The team's veteran pitching coach joined the White Sox Talk podcast on Tuesday and said even though he's sad see Sale go, it's hard to overlook the talent the team has received in return. Last month the White Sox traded their five-time All-Star to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for four prospects, including Michael Kopech. The club also added Lucas Giolito and two other pitching prospects in a trade for Adam Eaton. 

"When I saw Kopech, my eyes lit up," Cooper said. "Not only is he a big strong son of a gun, the stuff out of his hand is really good, life, energy stuff. He's just untapped talent right now. He's 20 years old. But he's already moved up the scale. 

"Delivery-wise it was like, 'Whoa.' Everything I like, he does. ...

"If he stays healthy he has a chance to be a killer."

Cooper also has high hopes for Giolito, baseball's top pitching prospect in 2016, who posted a 6.75 ERA in six big league games last season. He discounted Giolito's struggles as a small sample size and hopes to maximize the pitcher's talent.

"He still has his good stuff," Cooper said. "We've got to mix it up. We need more strikes. We need more consistency."

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Cooper also noted that the stuff of Reynaldo Lopez, acquired with Giolito and Dane Dunning from Washington for Eaton, caught his eye. Combined with the pitching prospects already in the organization, Cooper thinks the White Sox have a talented farm system.

"Looking around, all of a sudden, combined with the younger pitchers we had in the system already, the injection of these guys that Rick (Hahn) has traded for, it's giving us a stronger, stronger system," Cooper said. "We’re amassing a lot of good talent."

Cooper said Sale is the most talented pitcher he's ever coached and he'll miss their everyday relationship. He described Sale as one of the 10 best pitchers on the planet. But Cooper hasn't been surprised by any moves since the White Sox allowed Mark Buehrle to leave via free agency. 

"It's sad that Chris is gone because my individual everyday relationship with him is over as a coach," Cooper said. "But the exciting thing is one of the reasons, the excitement of the guys you get back in return.

"It was mixed. 'Listen man, I'm sad you’re leaving because of that, the relationship. The everyday relationship is no longer there. We're friends.' I know this guy. I've seen every pitch in the big leagues he's thrown. 

"When you get to see every pitch and you're with them every single day and that relationship is over, it's sad in some ways. But this has happened before. It happened to Buehrle. If it can happen to Buehrle, it can happen to everybody."