Ethan Katz helped turn Lucas Giolito’s career around.
Now the White Sox are asking him to do the same with some more of their talented youngsters.
Katz, who coached Giolito in high school and has worked with him since, was announced as the team’s new pitching coach Tuesday, and his tallest task will come fast as the White Sox head into 2021 with championship expectations.
The South Siders were jettisoned from the playoffs after just three games in October because they didn’t have a reliable third starting-pitching option behind Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo López were all plagued by inconsistencies during the shortened 2020 season, all having their worst moments right before the franchise’s first postseason series in a dozen years. Michael Kopech didn’t even pitch in 2020 while dealing with personal matters.
Though as of this moment, the White Sox will still have to lean on some combination of that quartet in 2021. Of course, an offseason’s worth of moves awaits, and the team is on the hunt for starting pitching. Plenty of fans are clamoring for a significant facelift in the form of free agent Trevor Bauer or potential trade targets like Blake Snell or Sonny Gray.
But whether it’s three spots in the rotation or two, the White Sox will need multiple of their young arms to emerge as reliable options. That’s the job staring Katz in the face as he leads a major league staff for the first time.
It will come as positive news, then, that he’s already hard at work.
“I've been in contact with those three guys (Cease, López and Kopech) a lot. We've got some stuff brewing,” Katz said Tuesday. “They're working hard, they're sending video. I've had great conversations about what I envision they need to be doing this offseason and what I plan on working (on) with them. And they've been very receptive, very excited.
“A lot of it is going to have to do with the work we get done this offseason … so we can go into spring training and take a big step forward. If they're willing to put in the work, which they've shown they are, I think we're going to be in a great spot. It's going to take a lot of work, and they've given me no reasons why I don't think they will take these steps forward.
“So we'll be putting in the work, and hopefully we'll be able to get a lot of things done and be able to help this team while they still grow.”
Indeed, that group of young pitchers is allowed to still be growing. Though the team has ascended to the point where rebuilding is in the rear-view mirror, López is the only one among the four who has a large amount of big league experience. Cease’s 26 major league starts don’t even add up to a full season’s worth. Dunning made the first seven outings of his big league career in 2020. And Kopech has just four major league starts under his belt, with none since 2018.
It’s reasonable for them to still be figuring out what it’s like pitching against big league batters. But it’s also reasonable to expect the White Sox to have championship-caliber starting pitching if they want to have championship-level expectations. It’s Katz’s job to deliver that, whether he’s blessed with Bauer or Snell or not.
His experience helping transform Giolito from the pitcher with the worst numbers in baseball into an All Star and the ace of the South Side staff brings confidence he can get it done now that he’s in charge of the entire squad.
“When the White Sox were in the hiring process and I was starting to think that, ‘OK, there’s a really serious good chance that Ethan gets this job,’” Giolito said Tuesday, “I was reaching out to various guys on the team and saying, ‘Hey, I think that Ethan might be coming aboard. Get ready, he’s going to bring a lot of good stuff to the table.’”
The White Sox are counting on it. And their ability to reach the World Series in 2021? It might just depend on it.