GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Don Cooper is in his 16th season as the White Sox pitching coach, and he's never seen as many power arms as the Sox have in camp. Few, if any, pitching coaches have seen a wave like Michael Kopech, Zack Burdi and the rest of the power
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Don Cooper is in his 16th season as the White Sox pitching coach, and he's never seen as many power arms as the Sox have in camp. Few, if any, pitching coaches have seen a wave like Michael Kopech, Zack Burdi and the rest of the power pitchers currently in the organization.
Including Major Leaguers Carlos Rodon, Nate Jones, Tommy Kahnle and Michael Ynoa, the White Sox have at least a dozen pitchers who can throw more than 100 mph. If half of them click as either starters or late-inning relievers, the rebuilding process the White Sox began by trading their most dominant starter could lead to a sustained run of success on the South Side.
It's Cooper's job to make this happen. But he does it in the season when the White Sox are about to retire the number worn by Mark Buehrle, who won 214 games behind a fastball that was in the high 80s on his good days.
• Spring Training:Information | Tickets | Schedule | Gear
"There are different styles of pitching,'' Cooper said. "Buehrle's everybody's favorite. How can he not be? Hit glove, change speeds.''
Cooper understands how excited fans are about Kopech, Burdi, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and he anticipates how quickly they'll fall in love with lesser-known power prospects Victor Diaz, Alec Hanson, Aaron Bummer and Connor Walsh.
Cooper saw it in 2005, when Kenny Williams, then the White Sox general manager, put in a waiver claim on 24-year-old Bobby Jenks, who made his debut in July and went on to save two games in the World Series, including the clinching 1-0 victory in Houston.
"I remember the first time he came into the game at [U.S. Cellular Field],'' Cooper said. "The scoreboard lit up at 100, and the oohs and the aahs. Here's the thing about speed, velocity. Every sport is enamored with speed.''
Jenks struck out 50 in 39 1/3 innings his rookie season. But from Cooper's standpoint, the key that allowed him to have success early in his career was that he was able to hit A.J. Pierzynski's mitt on a fairly regular basis with his triple-digit fastball. Jenks had a tolerable walk rate of only 3.1 per nine innings his first three seasons, including All-Star performances in 2006 and '07.
Hall of Famer Greg Maddux says he learned the keys to pitching from the late Ralph Meder, who taught that success comes from three things: location, movement and velocity, in that order. Meder helped Maddux figure out the arm angle that would produce the most movement.
It's the kind of work that Cooper and the other White Sox pitching coaches must do to help turn this cornucopia of power arms into more than a footnote in White Sox history.
"The first check they ever get in baseball, their bonus check, is for stuff, speed,'' Cooper said. "Every check they make in Chicago has nothing to do with speed. Their speed is their speed, whether you have it like Bobby Jenks or you have it like Mark Buehrle. It's about hitting the glove with movement and changing speeds with the stuff you have, whether it's 95 or 85.''
While most of the attention this spring falls on Kopech, Giolito and the others acquired when Rick Hahn sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals, this is a critical season for Rodon.
The North Carolina State ace who was the third overall pick in the 2014 Draft has thrown over 300 innings since being rushed to the Major Leagues, but he hasn't hit his stride. Rodon delivered a 4.04 ERA in 28 starts last season, giving up more hits as a tradeoff for throwing more strikes. His fastball touched 100 mph in some starts in August and September. Yet for the season, Rodon yielded a .349 average on four-seamers and a .304 average on sinkers, limiting the impact of his wipeout slider.
Carson Fulmer, the White Sox first-rounder from Vanderbilt in 2015, also carries high expectations, but he hasn't had immediate success. He had a 4.63 ERA in 21 starts between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he was generally wild and ineffective with his mid-90s fastball when the Sox used him out of their bullpen for a stretch in July and August.
"A lot of people were expecting everything from Carson Fulmer and everything from Rodon,'' Cooper said. "I remember having Jon Garland, first-round pick from 100 years ago. When we got to Chicago, everybody was expecting him to do this that or the other thing. He wasn't ready to give. He had to go through the process, some ups and downs, some hard knocks. And two years later, he was part of a championship team. We're hoping that holds true again.''
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.