Here’s a bit of a head-scratcher from Michael Kopech.
“I think Tommy John has been the best thing to ever happen to me.”
Really? The White Sox and their fan base might beg to disagree, the promising young pitcher having what was supposed to be his first full season in the majors delayed until 2020 thanks to the surgery and the recovery thereafter.
But Kopech has used the time to recover, refocus and ready himself to be a part of something big on the South Side.
While getting Kopech back for 2020 is certainly a positive — as well as something that could help the White Sox transform their rotation and shift into contention mode — there are legitimate questions about what will happen once he returns to action.
As hyped as Kopech is as a fireballing pitching prospect, his next start will be just his fifth appearance as a big leaguer and will come 18 months after his last. We don’t know what kind of pitcher he’ll be in the aftermath of his recovery. We don’t know if he’ll need the same kind of time to get acclimated to the bigs that Lucas Giolito needed, that Dylan Cease is currently needing. There are plenty of unknowns.
One certainty is that Kopech is ready to return.
“I am about as ready as I can be,” he said during a conference call Thursday. “I’ve done everything I can to prepare. It’s been a long time coming, I feel like. But yeah, I feel ready to go, ready for next spring.
“Being part of the rotation is just going to be a relief once I’m able to work my way back there. First thing’s first, I have to come to spring and compete for that job.”
General manager Rick Hahn has addressed the possibility of Kopech beginning the season in the minor leagues if spring training isn’t enough to work him back to full strength, but the team expects Kopech to be ready to go once the team gets to Glendale, Arizona, in February. He’ll be a part of a very different-looking rotation for these White Sox, who have starting pitching on their offseason shopping list.
Only time will tell what Kopech will look like on a big league mound following his recovery. But he’s got nothing but great things to say about the recovery process. And he specifically touched on the effects on the mental side of his game, something that Giolito focused on last offseason and used to transform himself into an All Star.
“I’ve really been able to take a step back away from the game and allow life to catch up and for the game to slow down,” he said. “I’m taking a results-based mentality I’ve taken for most of my career and kind of rewired that. The results are only as good as the preparation I’ve put in.
“I’m trying to make sure I’m fully prepared and a well-rounded athlete, not just a hard-throwing pitcher, and come back next year with the velocity I already had as a tool but also some well polished tools I’ve tried to develop over my rehab here.
“It’s kind of tough to do with this kind of adversity, especially when you see the team sort of starting to click and you desperately want to be a part of it. And it’s what we worked hard for, to be a part of it. But at the end of the day we’re all getting a different perspective about the game altogether. And we’re getting time to work on our weaknesses.
“Absolutely, I think Tommy John has been the best thing to ever happen to me. Not just for baseball but in general.”
It’s great to hear somebody take such positivity out of something that was initially met with such dread, and Kopech speaks with plenty of confidence — no surprise there — about the future and his ability to make a successful return.
His return also adds to the growing list of reasons to be excited about the 2020 edition of the White Sox, who have the ingredients to make their long-awaited transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode. The steps forward for Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez this season, the consistent production of Jose Abreu, the huge minor league campaigns for Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, the expected moves this offseason, it all adds up to high hopes for the White Sox next season.
And Kopech is ready to be a part of that.
“To see everything coming together and what everyone has done — Timmy is going to win the batting title, Jose is going to do what Jose does, Giolito had a hell of a season — it’s just going to be a lot of fun to be a part of.
“We’re realizing how good we can be.”