Michael Kopech’s journey as a starting pitcher has been full of twists and turns as he battled injury and opted out of the 2020 season for personal reasons. So where does Kopech end up in 2022 and going forward?
Kopech was drafted in 2014 by the Boston Red Sox in the first round, 33rd overall. He spent the next two years playing through the Red Sox farm system before breaking his right hand during Spring Training in 2016.
Upon returning to the Lowell Spinners (Class A Short Season) for the season opener, Kopech was quickly promoted to the Salem Red Sox. Kopech was named the Carolina League Player of the Month for August.
According to Baseball America, Kopech threw one of the fastest pitches in professional baseball history against the Wilmington Blue Rocks on July 13, 2016. Kopech sat at 98 mph in the game, and touched 100 mph and beyond on a regular basis until a 105 mph pitch was double-checked by different radar guns in the Salem ballpark.
On August 18, 2017, the White Sox promoted Kopech to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights after he posted a 2.87 ERA over 119+1⁄3 innings in 22 starts with 155 strikeouts in Low A Birmingham.
The White Sox promoted Kopech to the major leagues on August 21, and he made his debut that day.
Kopech underwent Tommy John surgery on September 18, putting him out for the rest of the 2018 season and all of 2019 as well. On July 10, 2020, Kopech announced he would be sitting out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 2, Kopech made his 2021 debut against the Angels coming out of the bullpen going two innings, and getting the win. On May 26, Kopech threw a pitch and then slipped and fell off the mound and was limping into the dugout. He was placed on the 10-Day IL with a strained left hamstring.
Overall in 2021, Kopech appeared in 44 games while starting in four with an ERA of 3.50 in 69.1 innings, striking out 103 batters.
So where does Kopech go from here? He was developed as a starting pitcher and has certainly had success as one.
Tony La Russa and Ethan Katz have never quite established a real plan for Kopech in 2021. It seemed as though he’d be stretched out via coming out of the bullpen, but the short leash and minimal innings seemed to push that idea out.
With Dallas Keuchel struggling all year, and Carlos Rodón battling soreness, Kopech had a chance to potentially cover as the season was winding down, especially as the division title was in the bag for the White Sox, but Reynaldo López, fresh off eye surgery, made spot starts instead.
Kopech has a chance to start again if he’s adequately stretched out during the 2022 season, but the one to two innings a week won’t get his back on that trajectory.
With an arm that can toss the ball in the 100’s, he can become an elite closer. However, Liam Hendriks has been paid an astronomical amount to do just that, and with Craig Kimbrel’s plans not yet known, that doesn’t make a lot of sense right now.
Yet that all depends on if Kopech can successfully get into that mindset and stay healthy.
Personally, I’d rather see him stretched out and starting by the halfway point in 2022. It doesn’t seem like we’ve seen his full potential yet, and the idea of wasting that potential while the White Sox already has a strong bullpen seems foolish.
Perhaps I’m wrong, and that’s why I don’t manage the White Sox. But at the very least, it’s worth trying and cultivating the best pitchers.