This was supposed to be one of the happy write ups. One of the coveted Year in Reviews that you have to be the first person who signs into the Google Doc to claim. One of (if not the) top pitching prospects in all of baseball with electric stuff, charisma, and he’s ours? The stuff of dreams. Until September hit. But let’s start with the good stuff.
Kopech came into the season a unanimous Top 20 prospect (No. 11 by Baseball America, No. 10 by MLB Pipeline, No. 17 by Baseball Prospectus). Everyone knew he’d be in Charlotte for at least a few months because baseball is baseball and the service time clock must be gamed. Apart from a few minor hiccups, Triple-A wasn’t much of a challenge. The only real blemish you can find on his stat line from Charlotte is a BB/9 of 4.3 but that’s a lot less of an issue when you’re still managing to strike out almost three hitters for every one that walk (12.1 K/9). You can only say “he needs to stay down to get a better feel for his secondary stuff” for so long once it’s established that none of the hitters he’s facing can provide any further challenge. And so the White Sox finally bit the bullet and called up one of their top prospects.
The fans rewarded them with 23,133 tickets sold for a late August Tuesday night game against the similarly moribund Minnesota Twins. Kopech didn’t disappoint. Four strikeouts over two innings with three hits allowed before Mother Nature decided that was enough for the young flamethrower. We would only get a minor taste, but it was good. God, it was good.
Five days later we got a proper show. Six innings against Detroit, four strikeouts, one earned run allowed. Sure, he hit two batters but jitters are jitters. The offense actually picked him up and Kopech earned his first career win. Elation. Absolute elation. Followed by more rain. Three innings against Boston before another storm put the early kibosh on his evening after a mere three innings. But he only allowed three baserunners (two via HBP) against the best team in the American League so it was hard to care.
August turned into September. Things fell apart. The center could not hold. Mere anarchy was loosed upon the world. Kopech only managed to go 3.1 innings against the same paper Tigers while giving up 7 hits. Something was clearly wrong.
Torn ACL. Everything’s bad.
I remember reading one of the dumber takes of the season shortly after it was announced Kopech would need Tommy John surgery. It was something along the lines of “I hope all the people who wanted Kopech called up to pitch in some meaningless games are happy now”. I don’t need to explain to you why that’s stupid, but I will because you are my audience and that’s kind of my job. Assuming his elbow wouldn’t have exploded in Charlotte instead of Chicago is stupid. It’s the logical argument of either a child who doesn’t yet know better or an adult refusing to speak in good faith. You’re an adult. You shouldn’t be engaging those kind of folks.
The White Sox did the right thing in calling Kopech up when they did. Honestly, they should have called him up sooner. You can’t protect your prospects forever. Eventually they have to be thrown into the fire. It sucks that Kopech won’t pitch again for the White Sox until 2020. It’s an awful outcome from a reasonable process. It just means there’s one fewer bright spot in 2019.
Lead Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports