Michael Kopech has thorny introduction to Cactus League play

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech hasn't pitched above high Class A in his three seasons in the minor leagues, and the White Sox prospect hadn't participated in major-league spring training before this year.So it would have been understandable if he had...

Michael Kopech has thorny introduction to Cactus League play

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech hasn't pitched above high Class A in his three seasons in the minor leagues, and the White Sox prospect hadn't participated in major-league spring training before this year.So it would have been understandable if he had...

28 February 2017 Tuesday 19:04
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Michael Kopech has thorny introduction to Cactus League play

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech hasn't pitched above high Class A in his three seasons in the minor leagues, and the White Sox prospect hadn't participated in major-league spring training before this year.

So it would have been understandable if he had been eyeballing Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the heart of the Mariners' lineup before his Sox spring debut Tuesday at Camelback Ranch.

"In hindsight it's cool, but it's not something I was looking at before the game," Kopech said.

Afterward, however, the 20-year-old right-hander had to explain how such hitters helped give him a thorny introduction to Cactus League play. Kopech, MLB.com's No. 16 overall prospect, gave up four earned runs in one inning, including a three-run homer to Mitch Haniger.

A longer spring training has given the Sox a chance to throw their young pitchers into the fire. Over the first five spring games, the Sox have started their top four pitching prospects — Lucas Giolito, Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. But Kopech is the only one among those who has no major-league experience.

"There are some pros and cons of the extension of the spring schedule," Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "But we're able to use those guys and have them gain some experience and slow it down."

Prospect Reynaldo Lopez on his experience in the majors

White Sox prospect Reynaldo Lopez on his experience in the majors on Feb. 17, 2017. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

White Sox prospect Reynaldo Lopez on his experience in the majors on Feb. 17, 2017. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

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Kopech started off with a strikeout of Ben Gamel looking, but Jean Segura hit an infield single, Cano walked and Cruz hit an RBI double to the right-center-field fence. Haniger did the real damage when he hit a slider "right down the middle" on an 0-2 pitch over the fence in left field.

Kopech, who threw a 105 mph pitch in a minor-league game last year, topped out at 101 mph on the radar gun and went above 100 a few times. He finished his inning with his second strikeout.

"I just need to execute better," Kopech said. "Early I felt good, and then I got in my own way a little bit after a little bump didn't go my way. That's pretty much it. The name of the game is executing pitches, and I didn't do that.

"For the most part I was able to put stuff in the zone. It was just that when I did miss small I would get myself behind in counts, and when I get behind in counts that's when you need to be able to execute your stuff."

Caption White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito on his start against the Cubs

White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito on his start against the Cubs. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito on his start against the Cubs. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

Caption White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito on his start against the Cubs

White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito on his start against the Cubs. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito on his start against the Cubs. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Rick Renteria on moving on from the Cubs

White Sox manager Rick Renteria discusses moving on from the Cubs on Feb. 27, 2017. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

White Sox manager Rick Renteria discusses moving on from the Cubs on Feb. 27, 2017. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Yoan Moncada on fitting in with the White Sox

White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada discusses how he's fitting in with his new team and how he plans to improve his defense on Feb. 27, 2017. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada discusses how he's fitting in with his new team and how he plans to improve his defense on Feb. 27, 2017. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Miguel Gonzalez, Jose Quintana on their 2017 Cactus League debuts

White Sox pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Jose Quintana react after their 2017 Cactus League debuts on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, after an exhibition against the Rockies. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

White Sox pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Jose Quintana react after their 2017 Cactus League debuts on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, after an exhibition against the Rockies. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune)

Caption White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie on sitting out early spring games

White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie on sitting out early spring games. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune) 

White Sox second baseman Brett Lawrie on sitting out early spring games. (Colleen Kane/Chicago Tribune) 

Kopech did have a little fun Tuesday, however — watching opposing pitcher Felix Hernandez.

"We're not exactly the same type of pitcher, but that's what I mean by executing. Watching a guy like that, he puts stuff where he wants it," Kopech said. "He lets some stuff get away from him too every once in a while, but for the most part his misses are pretty small. That's something I look forward to being able to control."

Kopech said at the start of spring training his goal was to join the Sox as soon as he could.

But Renteria said the Sox are making it clear to Kopech what their intentions are for his path this season. They are likely to start him at either high Class A Winston Salem or Double-A Birmingham.

"There's no trying to hide where he's going to start the season," Renteria said. "He is aware of it. He is more concerned making sure he's doing what he needs to do to pitch well, to execute pitches. … All these guys know at some point in time, if things fall in place, they'll be here soon enough."

ckane@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribKane

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