How will the Chicago White Sox use Garrett Crochet in 2022?
The front office is still trying to figure that out, or at least it was when general manager Rick Hahn spoke at the GM meetings earlier this month in Southern California.
The White Sox made Crochet the No. 11 pick in the 2020 draft, the fireballing lefty dazzling fans and onlookers alike when he raced to the big leagues and was pitching out of the South Side bullpen — and throwing 101 mile an hour gas — without a single minor league game under his belt. In 2021, he was a mainstay in the relief corps, and though that eye-popping velocity was down, he was one of Tony La Russa's most regularly called upon arms by season's end.
Crochet wasn't drafted so highly to do that, though, eyed as a member of the starting rotation of the future, with Hahn saying at the outset of the 2021 campaign that the plan was to move Crochet back onto a starter's path, whether in the minor leagues or as a member of the major league starting staff, in 2022. After all, if he's going to be the long-term starting pitcher the White Sox still think he can be, he's going to have to start getting ready for it at some point.
But with 2022 on the horizon and the White Sox' bullpen well depleted by offseason departures, there's a pretty strong case to make that Crochet should stay right where he is and serve the major league team in a relief capacity as it gears up to chase a championship next summer.
So what are the White Sox to do?
"I don't have a great answer to that just yet," Hahn said in California. "He had a very good year, which does make you hesitant to move him out of something that's working, because he is valuable in that role. That said, we still very much believe in his potential to be an impactful starter, too. That's just something we want to find a way to possibly bring out of him.
"What I don't have a good answer on yet is exactly how we're going to balance that on the '22 club."
Of course, Crochet wasn't the only 2021 reliever forecasted to make the switch to starting in 2022.
Michael Kopech is being elevated to the rotation for next year after throwing out of the bullpen in 2021 to ease him into things in the wake of back-to-back missed seasons. Kopech's usage was a storyline throughout the campaign, and the White Sox seemed to alter his role every couple months, using him as a middle reliever/spot starter early on (with much success), then following that up by inserting him into their late-inning mix before stretching him out at season's end to throw multiple innings at a time in the playoffs.
Whether that was the "creative" usage Hahn envisioned when he talked about Kopech in the preseason, who knows. But it seemed to do the job of getting a decent enough amount of innings under Kopech's belt so the team feels comfortable making him a starter in 2022.
A similar fate could await Crochet, but that's just one possible outcome.
"Obviously, we had Kopech probably deeper into his professional development entering the '21 season than Crochet was, but we were able to find a way to use him in the bullpen but still get him the occasional start, get him stretched out some and put him in a decent position entering this season to be in the rotation," Hahn said. "So it's possible that's what we do with Garrett next year. That's one option.
"There is a path that would have him starting in the minors for a certain amount of time and then maybe potentially joining the bullpen at some point later in the year. That's just one (hypothetical). Nothing along those lines has been determined at all. It's just trying to be creative in a way to maximize this kid's talent."
Part of the reason this is such a head-scratcher is because Crochet has proven very effective as a reliever. While he wasn't blowing guys away like he did in his small taste of the majors in 2020, he still finished the 2021 season with a 2.82 ERA and 65 strikeouts over 54.1 relief innings.
With Craig Kimbrel being openly discussed as a trade candidate, Ryan Tepera and Evan Marshall gone via free agency and Kopech heading to the rotation, there are some gaping holes in the White Sox' bullpen, holes that would be made even larger by Crochet being plucked away, as well.
While Hahn discussed developing young arms like Kopech and Crochet as a key to the White Sox' planned contention beyond the 2022 season, as well as those two being important contributors in the moment, he has to put together a bullpen that can stand up behind Liam Hendriks and Aaron Bummer if the South Siders are going to be championship contenders next season.
The best way to do that might be to keep Crochet where he is, though the reason Hahn & Co. haven't settled on that quite yet likely has to do with what other arms they can add to the relief corps.
"We'll see" is never a popular answer among hungry fans during Hot Stove season. But when it comes to Crochet and how the White Sox will use him next season, much might depend on how the team's offseason work goes to the point that it's the only available answer right now.