White Sox: Tempering Michael Kopech expectations necessary
By Phil Watson
White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech has fans excited for 2021
All signs point to Michael Kopech being ready to go for the 2021 season and is a strong candidate to earn a spot in the Chicago White Sox starting rotation.
The way things shake out right now, Lucas Giolito is at the top of that rotation, with veterans Dallas Keuchel and newly acquired Lance Lynn in the next two slots.
After that, you have Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez, both right-handers in their mid-20s.
Kopech at his best would be an upgrade and has top-of-the-rotation potential. He’s got a plus fastball that regularly hits the high 90s and has topped out at 102 mph. Throw in an improving slider and an average two-seamer and changeup and you’ve got a kid with the tool box necessary to produce a lot of outs.
But for all the great expectations for the Texas native, there is a caveat. After a strong spring training in 2020, Kopech opted out of the delayed and shortened season. Kopech had missed the start of the summer camp when MLB was getting set to return in late July 2020 before he decided to withdraw last season.
And that’s why there should be reason to tamp down expectations just a bit.
Kopach hasn’t pitched in a game that counts since Sept. 5, 2018, when he came out after facing 20 batters and getting rocked for seven runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings by the Detroit Tigers. That appearance was followed by Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his 2019 season.
He pitched a career-high 140.2 innings in 2018 between his 24 starts at Triple-A Charlotte and four starts for the White Sox.
Kopech showed huge potential in his first three big league starts, even working under tight pitch limitations.
He had a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings over those three appearances, striking out nine with a 1.091 WHIP (11 hits, one walk). He did hit five batters in three starts, however.
He threw 52 pitches in his major-league debut Aug. 21, 2018, against the Minnesota Twins and was lifted after two scoreless innings.
Kopech upped that count to 86 on Aug. 26, 2018, at Detroit, allowing one run on seven hits in six innings and earning his first major-league victory.
On Aug. 31, 2018, he threw 36 pitches in three one-hit innings against the Boston Red Sox.
He’ll be 2½ years removed from Tommy John surgery by the time spring training is supposed to open next month (hey, it’s still a COVID-19 world, so nothing is carved in stone). At this point, the elbow should be fine.
But the White Sox brass may want to give Kopech some time at Charlotte before adding him to the major-league mix and in any event, they are likely to handle him with great care considering the long absence and his only being stretched out to 140 or so innings thus far in his career.
In a perfect world, Michael Kopech will be healthy and become a key cog with Giolito and Keuchel at the top of the rotation. That, in turn, would go a long way toward propelling the Sox to the top of the American League Central … and beyond.