White Sox righty Michael Kopech says he’s more than good to go in 2020
Kopech, who had Tommy John surgery in 2018, said he physically “feels better than I have since I was drafted.”
Baseball America’s release of its top 100 prospects Wednesday was a reminder that White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech is still just that, even though it seems he has been around long enough to be rid of that status.
Kopech has, after all, appeared in only four major-league games. Those came after much fanfare and anticipation at the end of the 2018 season, which ended horribly for Kopech when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and required Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of last season.
Sixteen months later, Kopech finds himself ranked 33rd among prospects (he was ranked 10th by MLB Pipeline when he made his Sox debut) and eagerly awaiting the start of spring training in less than three weeks, where he is expected to throw without restriction.
Is there a spot in the starting rotation waiting for him? Probably not, especially because the Sox won’t rush him. There is nothing to gain by pushing him, and a rotation of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez should suffice in late March and April.
Some innings, perhaps at Class AAA Charlotte, might be in order after spring training.
‘‘I assume that’s kind of what everyone is thinking, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t probably thinking the same thing,’’ Kopech, 23, said Wednesday. ‘‘But I’m still going to give myself that chance [to make the big-league rotation] if it presents itself.
‘‘I got to pitch in a couple of games toward the end of the season last year in the Instructional League, and really getting to compete there was just that taste I was looking for. And hopefully this spring we’ll shake off any rust that I might have and I’ll get my chance . . . to at least be in the conversation.’’
Kopech was in town with his new bride, actress Vanessa Morgan, getting his shoulder-length hair cut to a buzz to conclude ‘‘Kopech’s Big Kut,’’ a charity sweepstakes supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities.
‘‘I hate to take too much credit for something that’s much bigger than me,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘I just want to make a contribution to something that has a purpose. . . . If I can do anything to kind of put families [dealing with serious health issues] in a good mindset, if nothing else, then I’m doing more than just playing baseball, which is important to me.’’
Aside from his Instructional League outings, Kopech hasn’t played baseball since 2018. When he gets back, there’s no guarantee the 100 mph-plus fastball he once possessed will be there, although Tommy John patients usually recover well and get their velocity back. But Kopech’s infatuation with popping triple digits is probably a thing of the past.
‘‘I don’t know if I’m going to necessarily be that type of power pitcher again in my career,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m going to be a little bit smarter and cautious about how I pitch. That being said, velocity will always be a part of my game.’’
The encouraging news is the arm feels good — maybe better than ever.
‘‘Physically, I feel great,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘Better than I probably have felt my entire baseball career since I was drafted. Mentally, I’m in a place that I think is stable and confident and prepared.’’
As for the Sox’ expectations in 2020, which will be a hot topic this weekend at SoxFest, Kopech is taking the team’s offseason additions to go with a talented young core in stride.
‘‘I don’t think any of us are too worried about the expectations people are putting on us because we always put high expectations on ourselves,’’ he said. ‘‘And if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are. We embrace that.’’
NOTE: After clearing waivers, right-hander Dylan Covey rejected an outright assignment to Class AAA Charlotte and became a minor-league free agent.