One game does not a career make.
Michael Kopech will make his White Sox debut Tuesday, with the hype surrounding it unparalleled in team history. There have been a lot of good and exciting pitchers in the organization over the years, but the attention being paid to prospects is at an all-time high, what with the access we now have to minor league reports, scouting reports, and video — not to mention the more conspicuous manner in which teams rebuild these days. Couple that all together and you have arguably the most anticipated debut the White Sox have ever seen.
What Kopech does on Tuesday will not define his career, of course. Baseball just doesn’t work that way. Nothing he does — good or bad — will give us a clear signal of how his career will wind up. Still, debuts are exciting. So let’s look back at some other notable White Sox pitching debuts from recent team history.
First start: May 19, 2015 vs. Cincinnati
The line: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8 K
Rodon’s first start with the White Sox wasn’t his first appearance. The White Sox have on occasion had starting pitching prospects throw out of the bullpen initially, and Rodon did exactly that, making three relief appearances totally 6 1/3 innings before making his first start in the second game of a doubleheader against the Reds.
Rodon’s debut is the most obvious rival to Kopech’s in terms of anticipation, but the difference was that he spent such a short time in the minors — 74 total innings before promotion compared to Kopech’s five years and nearly 400 innings, including 260 since joining the organization — that we didn’t exactly have time for the anticipation to build in a similar fashion.
Don’t get me wrong, Rodon’s promotion was a big deal. He was the No. 3 pick in the MLB Draft less than a year before his debut and was always ticketed as someone with ace stuff. Against the Reds, he flashed everything that made him that exciting as well as the command issues he’s battled (along with injuries) in the three years since. He induced 12 swinging strikes in a 108-pitch effort, and despite the walks got tagged for only two runs when Joey Votto followed a walk and a pair of singles with a two-run single of his own. The White Sox gave Rodon his first career win by beating up on Jason Marquis.
First start: April 9, 2012 at Cleveland
The line: 6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
Sale was kept in the bullpen even longer, as you probably remember. After tossing all of 10 minor league innings, Sale joined the White Sox bullpen toward the end of the 2010 season and made 79 appearances there through the following season, posting a 2.58 ERA and striking out 111 in 94 1/3 innings. Just think, the White Sox could’ve had their very own Josh Hader!
Sale joined the rotation in 2012, which also happened to be the season he kicked off his now seven straight All-Star seasons and likely seven straight Top 6 Cy Young finishes. His first start came in the team’s fourth game of the season against the Indians. The swing-and-miss stuff that has become the best in baseball wasn’t fully on display in that start, as he struck out just five and got eight swinging strikes on the day. He was sharp enough to keep Cleveland mostly off the scoreboard, however, as the only tally against him came when he hit Shin-Soo Choo, who promptly stole second and was driven in on a single by Carlos Santana.
Two starts later Sale struck out 11 Mariners. A month later he had to fight to keep his rotation spot. In his ninth start he struck out 15 Rays and the rest, as they say, is history.
First start: May 25, 2012 vs. Cleveland
The line: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
I wanted to include Quintana not because his first start was hyped but because of the exact opposite — I couldn’t have told you what Quintana did in his first career start if my life depended on it. He was about as unheralded as they come, as you undoubtedly know.
Quintana’s first appearance with the White Sox came about three weeks prior to his first start, when he relieved Philip Humber (who had been smacked for 8 ER in 2 1/3 innings) against Cleveland and promptly threw 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just one hit. His first start came against those same Indians and is was mostly unmemorable, as the White Sox (and probably everyone) likely didn’t know they were looking at the beginning of a steadily productive five-year run with the team.
Quintana allowed a double and a single to the first two hitters he faced that day, but limited the damage during his six innings of work as he was tagged for just a pair of RBI singles. Fun fact: Quintana’s opposing starter that day was current White Sox reliever Jeanmar Gomez.
First start: May 22, 2005 at Cubs
The line: 5 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
McCarthy was the White Sox top pitching prospect while they were on their way to the 2005 World Series and is the answer to the trivia question of the only pitcher outside of the original starting five to make a start for the team that season. He’ll also be the last member of the 2005 team to retire when he calls it quits after this season.
McCarthy was also the subject of trade rumors throughout his tenure given his status (he was a global Top 50 prospect prior to the 2005 season by Baseball America) and the White Sox status as contenders.
His first start was early enough in the season that the White Sox were still considered a “surprising start” more than “legitimate contenders” as a 30-13 team facing their crosstown rivals. Oh, and he was opposed by some guy named Mark Prior. His lone blemish came in the form of a solo homer by Henry Blanco (the other was an inherited run when Luis Vizcaino allowed a HBP to come around and score on a two-run homer), but it was mostly passing grades as McCarthy struck out the first batter he faced en route to a six-strikeout performance.
McCarthy was a spot starter throughout the World Series season and pitched mostly in relief the next season as trade rumors continued to swirl — including a memorable report that the White Sox were on the verge of sending him to Washington in exchange for Alfonso Soriano. That offseason, he was traded to the Rangers for three young pitchers, one of whom was John Danks.
First start: July 19, 2000 vs. Minnesota
The line: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Buehrle also pitched mostly in relief in his first season with the White Sox. He made 28 appearances and only three were starts, but the first of those three came in just his second outing.
You know the Buehrle story by now. Him making even one major league start would’ve been considered a success considering he was a 37th round pick. His first start came for a team that was a surprising 25 games above .500 and on their way to a division title. And he did kind of what he became known for doing throughout his career, tossing seven efficient innings in a White Sox win. The Twins were bad at the time, but a young David Ortiz went 4-for-4 against the combination of Buehrle, Bill Simas, and Keith Foulke.
Buehrle went back to the bullpen after the start and made just two more starts the rest of the season. The next year, he joined the rotation for good began a stretch of 14 straight seasons with at least 200 innings pitched.
First start: Aug. 2, 1999 at Detroit
The line: 5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 1 ER (2 R), 2 BB, 4 K
Wells had a long but mostly unmemorable career, bouncing around the league to nine different teams in a 12-year career, so it’s easy to forget he was once BA’s No. 14 prospect in the league. The White Sox took him 16th overall in the 1998 draft out of Baylor and he was fast-tracked to the majors, making his debut a little more than a year later.
Wells’ final line was nothing overly memorable but it was enough to leave you confident in his future, as he pounded the strike zone and induced 12 swinging strikes in 89 pitches. He struck out two in his first inning of work and gave up just one run on a solo homer by Juan Encarnacion. He made seven starts down the stretch for the White Sox, giving up more than two earned runs just once but had a K/BB of less than 2/1 and failed to get through six innings on every occasion except one (although some of that may have been workload manipulation as he never topped the 100-pitch mark).
Wells pitched parts of two more seasons with the White Sox and never lived up to the hype, ending his tenure with a 5.14 ERA in 267 2/3 innings before being traded to the Pirates in a deal that brought back Todd Ritchie.
First start: July 4, 2000 at Kansas City
The line: 3 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Garland joins Quintana as the only pitcher on this list who didn’t start his career with the White Sox, as they acquired the former No. 10 overall pick from the Cubs in exchange for reliever Matt Karchner at the 1998 trade deadline. Garland reached as high as No. 32 on BA’s Top 100 prior to the 2000 season and that year, made his major league debut as just a 20-year-old after posting a 2.43 ERA in 103 innings at Triple-A.
Garland’s first career starts came about two weeks prior to Buehrle’s and it quite frankly couldn’t have gone worse. The White Sox actually staked him to a 4-1 lead thanks to homers by Ray Durham, Jose Valentin, and Frank Thomas, but he allowed a bases loaded double to Johnny Damon in the bottom of the second and was battered by some guy named Jermaine Dye, among others, in the third inning before being put out of his misery.
Garland was, of course, never known for his bat-missing prowess, striking out just 4.8 batters per nine throughout his career in Chicago, and in his debut season he finished with 42 strikeouts against 40 walks in 69 innings. He, of course, settled in as a solid mid-rotation piece for the White Sox throughout the 2000s, making his lone All-Star appearance during the 2005 World Series season.