On the first day of "Summer Camp" workouts at Guaranteed Rate Field, there was one important absentee.
Michael Kopech has not yet reported to the second round of spring training ahead of the abbreviated, 60-game 2020 season, and the team has no timetable on when he'll rejoin the club.
General manager Rick Hahn said Friday that Kopech, who missed the entirety of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, is dealing with a personal matter. Recognizing that speculation could immediately turn to COVID-19, Hahn assured that the 24-year-old flamethrower is healthy.
"It's obviously never ideal when any individual is dealing with off-field matters," Hahn said. "It's easy, I suppose, at times, to lose sight of the fact that you're dealing with human beings here. People have lives, people have families. People have all the same assortment of items to attend to that each and every other individual has. And this is obviously a very unique time we're all living through.
"It's not ideal, but fundamentally, we're looking to put all our players in the best position they can be to perform and maximize their abilities on the field, and if there's anything standing in the way of that, we're going to provide them with whatever support and resources they need to help address those matters. ... We fully support Michael and are going to provide him with whatever time and resources he needs and look forward to seeing him in the future."
Kopech missing more time is certainly unfortunate, especially when considering the long layoff he had following the surgery at the end of the 2018 season. He spent all of 2019 in recovery mode and participated in spring training earlier this year, throwing one inning of Cactus League action — and a pretty spectacular one at that — before baseball was abruptly shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, Kopech was expected to begin the season in the minor leagues, building arm strength with so much time between competitive games. When the season was squeezed down to 60 games in two months, it appeared Kopech, three more months removed from the surgery, could have been utilized as a full-season option for the White Sox. Other pitchers, such as Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning, could also be part of expanded pitching depth for the White Sox that they wouldn't have had if the season started in March, as scheduled.
But with no idea how long Kopech will be away from the team, those plans could again be forced to change.
It's already a huge question what shape starting pitchers will be in after a halted spring, a three-month layoff and only three weeks' worth of ramping up before the regular season begins. Pitchers might be only capable of throwing three or four innings per start as opposed to their usual six or seven as they take time to get back into in-season mode. Who knows how Kopech, individually, has kept himself in shape during the layoff, or how large a benefit "Summer Camp" will provide for pitchers.
While the White Sox continue to have options with guys like Rodon, Dunning and Jimmy Lambert to go along with their starting rotation of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez and Gio Gonzalez, Kopech was expected to play a role of some significance either as a member of the rotation, a "piggybacking" starter out of the bullpen or even, potentially, as a late-inning option.
Any of that can still happen, but Kopech's beginning-of-camp absence adds another unknown into a season already full of them.