White Sox general manager Chris Getz spoke with reporters this morning. His implication that Dylan Cease was likely to remain on the roster into the season was the most notable development, but Getz also addressed a pair of Cease’s potential rotation mates.
The first-year GM said he still views Michael Kopech as a starting pitcher (link via James Fegan of Sox Machine). Chicago moved the hard-throwing righty to the bullpen at the tail end of a dismal 2023 campaign. Kopech posted a 5.16 ERA while walking more than 15% of opposing hitters in 26 starts through the first week of September. Manager Pedro Grifol deployed him in short stints — three relief appearances and a deliberately brief start as an opener — to close the year. Kopech was tagged for seven runs in 3 2/3 frames before undergoing a season-ending knee procedure.
That was a minor cyst removal surgery that isn’t expected to affect Kopech’s preparation for the season. The bigger question is whether he’ll be able to rebound from a performance perspective. Kopech showed some promise over 25 starts two seasons ago. He turned in a 3.54 ERA, albeit with a middling 21.3% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk percentage, in 2022. That was Kopech’s first full season working from the rotation. The hope was that he’d take a step forward with greater experience in the role. It did not happen last year.
Kopech built up to starting after working in relief in the early portion of his MLB career. Injuries, most notably a Tommy John procedure, wiped out his 2019-20 campaigns. The Sox used him out of the bullpen in ’21 to keep his workload in check. He was quite good in that capacity, turning in a 3.50 ERA with a massive 36.1% strikeout percentage and a much more manageable 8.4% walk rate over 69 1/3 innings.
That general playbook is one which Garrett Crochet is hoping to follow. The former first-round pick has come out of the bullpen for all 72 of his MLB appearances dating back to 2020. An elbow ligament replacement cost him the ’22 season and the first six weeks last year. Shoulder inflammation sent him back to the injured list a month after he returned and kept him on the shelf into September. The Tennessee product finished the year with 12 2/3 innings over 13 appearances.
Crochet has nevertheless been vocal about his desire to battle for a rotation spot. The Sox certainly aren’t going to expect him to make 30+ starts given his limited reps over the past two seasons. However, Getz left the door open for Crochet to compete for an Opening Day rotation job.
“It was very clear he was excited to get a look as a starter and when you’ve got a player that has that type of conviction, I think you’re doing the player a disservice to ignore that,” the GM told reporters. “He needs to be built up further. He hasn’t had too many starter innings under his belt. That’s even going back to college. But he’s a special arm. He’s shown three pitches in the past, so he’s got the starter kit.” Fegan writes that Getz indicated Crochet could spend some time on optional assignment to Triple-A Charlotte as the southpaw trains for a heavier workload.
Cease leads the staff, while KBO returnee Erick Fedde slots into the middle. Kopech and Crochet join Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster (acquired from Atlanta in the Aaron Bummer trade), free agent pickup Chris Flexen, and incumbent depth starters Jesse Scholtens and Touki Toussaint in competition for rotation work.