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Kopech set to make MLB debut tonight

White Sox prospect promoted after dominant 7-start stretch in Triple-A
MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- White Sox catcher Kevan Smith previously caught Michael Kopech at Triple-A Charlotte. So, he knows firsthand the kind of plus-stuff fans and the Twins can expect tonight when the hard-throwing right-hander -- and No. 2 White Sox prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- makes his long-awaited debut at Guaranteed Rate Field.

"Electric, I guess you could say. Heavy fastball, life toward the end. It's heavy," Smith said of Kopech's stuff. "That's something he has. The last I caught him, we were playing with his changeup a little bit, trying to get his changeup numbers up.

CHICAGO -- White Sox catcher Kevan Smith previously caught Michael Kopech at Triple-A Charlotte. So, he knows firsthand the kind of plus-stuff fans and the Twins can expect tonight when the hard-throwing right-hander -- and No. 2 White Sox prospect, according to MLB Pipeline -- makes his long-awaited debut at Guaranteed Rate Field.

"Electric, I guess you could say. Heavy fastball, life toward the end. It's heavy," Smith said of Kopech's stuff. "That's something he has. The last I caught him, we were playing with his changeup a little bit, trying to get his changeup numbers up.

"Right before I left, the changeup was getting put on the back burner a little bit. Working changeup-slider, maybe mixing in a slider. He's been throwing the ball great. I've been keeping up with what he's doing. No surprise he's here."

The White Sox have a two-game home set against Minnesota featuring Kopech in the opener and Carlos Rodon on Wednesday afternoon. A little bit of the franchise's much-anticipated future meets the present.

Even as fans and media clamored for Kopech's big league arrival, the White Sox stuck to their overall rebuild plan of letting their top prospects fulfill every possible item on an organizational checklist. There was no rush to the Majors dictated by injury or a current player struggling. Kopech's recent work made it difficult for the White Sox to keep him at Charlotte. The 22-year-old has a 7-7 record with a 3.70 ERA over 24 starts, but he posted 59 strikeouts and four walks over his last seven starts, covering 44 innings.

Dustin Garneau, a veteran catcher who has worked with Kopech at Charlotte, pointed to a July 5 start against Durham as a turning point maturity-wise. Kopech only lasted three innings in that game and had some disagreements with the home-plate umpire.

That great stretch began with his next start at Durham, where he fanned 11.

"Really good. Really good. We're going to have one of the best prospects in the game with us," said White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez through interpreter Billy Russo of Kopech's arrival. "He's one of the best and everybody thinks he's supposed to be a superstar and we're all excited."

"Obviously there's plenty of pressure on him. Everybody is expecting big things," Smith said. "You have to remember he's still young, there's still a development phase to what he's going through. We all here wish more than a ton of success for him, but there's going to be the growing pains that we're all going through."

Smith joked that Kopech is a social media star, but he would be best served to leave his phone behind on Tuesday. The news was announced on White Sox Twitter Sunday afternoon with the White Sox trailing the Royals, 6-0, at the time. They followed with a 7-0 run to grab a 7-6 victory.

Coincidence? Most likely. But many fans on Twitter were talking about purchasing Tuesday tickets minutes after the news was announced. Manager Rick Renteria indicated the team would stay with a five-man rotation, meaning the possibility of eight starts for Kopech, including potentially facing the Red Sox and the Cubs. Kopech has thrown 126 1/3 innings this year, leaving him eight short of matching his career high.

More of those specific details will come forth after his exciting debut.

"My conversation with him is going to be real simple: Welcome," Renteria said. "You know what you've been doing, you know how you've been going about doing it, we know how you've been going about doing it because we get the information.

"Have some fun. This is an experience that only comes once in a lifetime when you get that first callup. You're going to be a part of a Major League club, so enjoy it. Don't allow it to overwhelm you."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Michael Kopech