MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers

South Side Morning 4: For Starters

1. Michael Kopech’s second career start and first non-rain shortened start didn’t feature a lot of the electric bat-missing stuff we saw in his abbreviated debut last week, but six innings of one-run ball with only four strikeouts still offered plenty of glimpses of why the White Sox believe he could be a front-end starter for years to come.

Kopech didn’t have his best stuff — something he was up front about to reporters after the game — as his velocity was down a bit and his command of his breaking pitches wavered, but he still managed to induce 10 swinging strikes and most importantly didn’t issue a walk. His next walk allowed will be the first at the major league level and he hasn’t issued one at either level for the entire month of August.

The fact that he hasn’t allowed a walk is the most notable thing about Kopech’s eight major league innings. Evaluators have never doubted his stuff, but his ability to command each of his pitches is what many believe will be the difference between him living up to his potential as a starter. Even in Sunday’s uneven start, Kopech pounded the zone, throwing 61 of his 86 offerings for strikes. It was just the Tigers (a common refrain throughout this article) but it’s another passing grade for Kopech.

His next start is expected to come Friday and be a much tougher challenge — the league-leading and his former franchise Boston Red Sox.

2. Is it time to start believing in Lucas Giolito again?

Saturday’s 6-inning, 1-run performance against a moribund Detroit Tigers team might not be enough to convince you just yet, but the White Sox young starter turned in perhaps his best start of the season in a 6-1 win. It was his seventh quality start in his last nine outings and the fifth time in his last six starts where he induced 10 or more swinging strikes. He’s lowered his ERA to a still bad but improving 5.85 in the process, and has seen a significant uptick in his velocity.

The fact that Giolito has survived in the rotation throughout the season is more a product of the White Sox place in the standings than anything else, but the ability to afford a young and important piece of the team’s future the opportunity to work through his struggles could prove integral in the long-term.

3. Another White Sox prospect has been shut down for the season. But this time, it’s OK!

Dylan Cease is almost undoubtedly the White Sox minor league pitcher whose taken the biggest step forward in his development this season. And that’s saying something for someone who was already generally considered a consensus Top 100 prospect in the game entering the season. Cease, who had never topped more than 93 innings pitched in any professional season, ended his minor league season a few weeks early at a career-best 124 innings pitched, flawlessly jumping from Advanced-A to Double-A without missing a beat.

After dominating the lesser level for the first half of the season, Cease was even better upon his promotion to Birmingham, putting up a 1.72 ERA with 78 strikeouts against 22 walks in 52 1/3 innings at Double-A. The talent that made him one of the top pitching prospects in the Cubs’ organization despite a limited workload and one of the White Sox targets in their trade of Jose Quintana a year ago is starting to be realized, and the 22-year-old has positioned himself well to perhaps be in line for a major league call-up by late 2019, if things continue to go as planned.

4. Omar Narvaez now has about half of a season’s of plate appearances worth of significantly above-average offensive production. In 248 plate appearances, his 126 wRC+ entering Sunday would be good for fifth best among catchers with enough plate appearances to warrant consideration, behind only Francisco Cervelli, Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, and J.T. Realmuto.

The problem continues to be his defense, at least according to some. Narvaez ranks dead last in BP’s FRAA_ADJ stat, which is a catcher-specific version of FRAA that takes into account framing. Because of this, WARP grades Narvaez as essentially a replacement level catcher (0.51, to be exact). It’s a pretty significant difference from versions of WAR that judge defense differently — bWAR has him as worth 1.4 wins and fWAR has him at 1.7.

The biggest surprise offensively for Narvaez has been his power. While he’ll never be mistaken for prime Mike Piazza, his six home runs are double his career output entering the season, and his .430 slugging percentage entering Sunday is 90 points higher than last year.

What the White Sox believe they have in Narvaez will obviously depend on how much their internal numbers regarding his defense and framing match up with the numbers we have. Either way, the catching position is an interesting one to watch, particularly with Welington Castillo’s suspension ending. The White Sox transferred Castillo to the disabled list last week and he’s currently rehabbing in Charlotte, and he’ll presumably rejoin the team once rosters expand next week. Castillo is also under contract for the next two season (2020 is a team option) so one would assume the starting position is his for the foreseeable future.

Still, Narvaez’s offensive breakout gives the White Sox options they likely didn’t envision having entering the season. And while the performances of both Zack Collins and Seby Zavala this season are reasons for optimism about the future of a position the White Sox have struggled to find production at for a long while, the combination of Narvaez and Castillo give them present production much more serviceable than expected.

Lead Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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