As the 2021 White Sox continue spring training, much talk has been centered on the last two spots of their pitching rotation. While Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Dallas Keuchel look solid in the first three spots, the last two are unresolved. In fact, the Sox have as many questions as they do options as they fill out the rotation. If the Sox succeed with these two spots, they will be dangerous.
2021 White Sox: Rotation Options
In looking at the options, there are at least five names that jump out as possible fourth and fifth starters. All five of them have pitched previously for the South Siders. Additionally, each of them has been highly regarded by the organization at one point or another. Yet, here we are, barreling toward Opening Day, and an unsettled rotation. The known candidates at this point seem to be Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon, and Jonathan Stiever.
There may be more candidates that are unknown at this point, but these five would seem to be the most prominent. While a case can be made for each of them (as well as against), the focus here will be on just one of them. Of these five, none has been discussed more frequently or more passionately than Kopech. He was a key piece in the first trade of the team’s rebuild, the Chris Sale trade. He is also the most gifted potential starter the 2021 White Sox could run to the mound. The Sox need him to reach his potential.
Michael Kopech: Background
Michael Kopech has been a highly touted pitching prospect since the Sox acquired him. The 6’3″ 225-pound right-hander boasts a plus fastball, as well as an excellent slider. He has been working on developing his changeup, which would complement his fastball and slider. He was drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Boston Red Sox. He will turn 25 in April.
Kopech made his long-awaited MLB debut in August of 2018 with the White Sox. He struck out four batters over two innings before the rains came. He did not come back out when the game resumed. He made a total of four starts, throwing 14.1 innings before experience some discomfort. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September of 2018 and sat out the entire 2019 season.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward
Kopech started off 2020 by marrying actress Vanessa Morgan in January. The nuptials did not deter him from reporting to spring training on time, and preparing for a comeback season. In his first spring training appearance, Kopech displayed the power fastball that has had the Sox buzzing for years. He threw over 100 mph and pitched a 1-2-3 inning. All signs were pointing to a triumphant return for Kopech, and a big 2020 season.
When Covid-19 hit, everything was shut down, and players were left to work out on their own, hoping for some sort of shortened season. When the revised schedule finally came out, games were scheduled for late July. However, on July 10th, Kopech announced that he would sit out the 2020 season, for “personal reasons.” There was much speculation about the specific reasons at the time. Whatever the reasons, the practical result is that Kopech would miss a whole season, a blow for both him and the team.
2021 White Sox: Kopech Returns
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, Michael Kopech is once again preparing to get his MLB career going in earnest. He and Morgan welcomed their son, River, to the world in January, and he is once again motivated to become the pitcher fans hope he can be. Referring to sitting out the 2020 season, he explains “It’s made me regain the motivation to get back out there,” he added, “along with some other things that have happened in my life.” Hopefully, this will allow him to be a contributor to the 2021 White Sox. That would be welcome by Sox fans everywhere.
White Sox Want To Be “Creative” With Kopech
So, Kopech is healthy, motivated, and ready to go. New Sox manager Tony LaRussa has been impressed with Kopech in the early stages of spring training. Kopech is hungry to show all concerned that he is ready for the challenges ahead. Sox management and fans are looking forward to that, as well. It seems the biggest question facing Kopech and the Sox is just how he will be used. What is the plan for Michael Kopech in 2021?
Whatever that plan is, it is being kept tightly under wraps by LaRussa and GM Rick Hahn. The Sox use the term “creative” when talking about the plan for Kopech. It would appear that the Sox envision Kopech in the rotation at some point. However, it also seems likely that he will not be a part of the rotation for the 2021 White Sox on Opening Day. Then again, it is hard to say with any degree of certainty just how Kopech will be utilized. Perhaps the most promising statement is Hahn’s comment that “We want him strong and contributing through October.” That is something on which Sox fans can hang their collective hats.
To a certain degree, the Sox’s caution with Kopech makes some sense. After all, he has not pitched against live hitters in an MLB game in over two years. Most pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery have seen their innings limited in their first year back. So, Sox fans wanting to see Kopech in a regular rotation spot will have to be patient. If healthy, he will be a part of the 2021 White Sox in some capacity. That has to be good enough for now.
Michael Kopech: The Wait Is Over
No matter what happens with the 2021 White Sox, one thing is certain. Sox fans, after waiting for four years, are looking for big things from Michael Kopech. Whether it is in the bullpen, the rotation, or even Charlotte, fans want to see what their flamethrower can do. Hopefully, he will be on an MLB mound sooner than later. 2021 has to be his year. For Michael Kopech, it is go time.
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