Sox Six-Pack: Michael Kopech’s Role in 2020

With the return of the 2020 MLB season, there are few intriguing storylines that we will see play out over the next few weeks, and much like everyday life has become, these uncertainties are only posed to the White Sox because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When we last saw the White Sox, they were basking in the vibes of a team that felt it was on the cusp of something special. Maybe a playoff push, or maybe just the first step in the dawn of a new era of White Sox baseball. Either way, the roster, and the coaching staff felt pretty darn good about where they were heading back in late February.

In an early media session at Camelback Ranch, White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn had this to say, “I think we can objectively sit here today and feel like… we have three of arguably the most exciting young players in the American League under control for at least the next six years.”

While all that remains true, ‘Spring Training 2.0’ or ‘Summer Camp’ as I’ve seen it referred to by’s Scott Merkin, will pose Rick Hahn with a few questions that the club might not have had to face in early this spring.

We’re going to try to answer some of those questions in a six-part mini-series, titled “Sox Six-Pack,” and today we begin with what Michael Kopech‘s role might look like in 2020.

When we last saw Michael Kopech, he was lighting up the Camelback Ranch radar gun in his spring debut against the Texas Rangers. The 23-year-old right-hander crossed the century mark on six of his 11 pitches to the top three hitters in the Texas Rangers’ lineup.

Here’s what his 11 pitches looked like;

  1. FB: 100 MPH
  2. FB: 101 MPH
  3. FB: 100 MPH
  4. FB: 101 MPH
  5. CB: 82 MPH
  6. FB: 101 MPH
  7. FB: 98 MPH
  8. CB: 81 MPH
  9. SL: 90 MPH
  10. SL: 89 MPH
  11. FB: 101 MPH

For those without a calculator handy, Kopech averaged 100.2 MPH on his seven fastballs.

Just think about that for a second.

A 23-year-old, post-Tommy John surgery and making his first major-league start since September of 2018, sat 100-plus on his fastball.

“The first step, obviously. It feels nice to be able to compete again. Eighteen months out, I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to compete the way I like to and the way I know I can, and having that ability today, even in a short stint, it’s relieving.”

White Sox RHP Michael Kopech on his March 10 outing against the Texas Rangers

The original plan was for Kopech to make a couple more Cactus League outings, and then go down to Triple-A to open the season. They wanted to shelter him from the harsh cold-weather spring of Chicago, while they eased him back into a starter’s innings workload.

With the club now being in a position where they’re in a 60-game sprint, rather than a 162-game marathon, that has to change.

As it stands now, the projected starting rotation before baseball was shut down, was Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, and Gio Gonzalez. Now you have Michael Kopech to factor in because there’s no minor league season for him to execute the original plan with.

The White Sox could conceivably have a six-man rotation for some or even much of this condensed season. I could see them opening with a six-man rotation, and sliding the weakest performer into the bullpen as they approach the final half or third of the regular season, especially if the club is in contention for the American League Central title.

If the White Sox employed a six-man rotation for the entirety of the schedule, Kopech would make at most, 10 starts in the regular season. You figure that six innings will be the goal for those starts, and you’re talking about 60 innings of work for Kopech, who is now nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery.

If the White Sox open with a six-man, and reduce it to five at the halfway point, Kopech could make as many as 11-12 starts. Again, if we stick with the six innings per start goal, that’s only 66-72 innings of work.

With the cold spring concern now a non-issue, and health, workload management not an issue, there’s no reason for Michael Kopech not to be included in the Opening Day rotation next month.

If you listened to the excitement that Kopech had back in March about being back on a big-league mound, you know that he’s more than ready to get back to work. “I feel like I’m a part of the team again, for the most part, I never felt like I was not a part of it, but when you’re not competing a lot of times you feel more like a fan. Getting the high fives, the greeting at the step of the dugout…it’s a good feeling.”

With Kopech being completely healthy, he has to be in the Opening Day rotation come July 24. He’s too good not to be, especially for a team that is fancying themselves as a competitive ball club.

Feature Photo: Ron Vesely/Getty Images

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