Michael Kopech’s injury late in the 2018 season was a setback for the White Sox rebuild.
Players make full recoveries from Tommy John surgery all the time now, but there always remains a risk that they don’t. That’s why Kopech’s debut in instructional league ball on Thursday was such a big deal.
According to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Kopech still has that upper 90s velocity that was part of his enticing arsenal.
96-100, slider 84-88, late bite, plus. One Curveball at 78mph. Cmmd/ctrl rusty.— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) October 3, 2019
Rusty command isn’t a surprise for someone who hasn’t pitched in over a year. That rustiness may remain for a while, but the fact that Kopech’s elite stuff appears unharmed by the surgery is a good sign.
Here’s some video of Kopech pitching in Arizona, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’ Steve Givarz.
Here he is striking out Bobby Witt Jr on a Slider. pic.twitter.com/g4t9kn5MaM— Steve Givarz (@SteveGivarz) October 3, 2019
Givarz reported that Kopech threw nearly 30 pitches and hit 100 multiple times. Kopech said that the surgery was the "best thing to ever happen" to him. Seeing him pitch like this starts to back up that claim.
Kopech was the top pitching prospect in the White Sox system when he made his MLB debut on Aug. 21, 2018. He endured two rain-shortened starts in his first three outings.
Kopech then pitched through the rain in his fourth start, in which he got hammered for seven runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Tigers. His velocity was down and he gave up four home runs. After that fourth start, it was revealed Kopech would need Tommy John surgery.
As the White Sox enter 2020 hoping to look like a contending team for the first time in years, a healthy, fully-operational Kopech would be a huge boost to the team. If Kopech is throwing upper 90s consistently in October, there’s a good chance he could be good to go to break camp with the White Sox on Opening Day.