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Kopech feels good enough to pitch, but won't

White Sox prospect plays catch, remains on track in rehab process
February 15, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- How good does Michael Kopech feel approximately five months removed from Tommy John surgery?Let the 22-year-old right-hander explain those positive vibes from White Sox camp on Friday morning at Camelback Ranch.:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::"I feel like I could pitch if I needed

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- How good does Michael Kopech feel approximately five months removed from Tommy John surgery?
Let the 22-year-old right-hander explain those positive vibes from White Sox camp on Friday morning at Camelback Ranch.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
"I feel like I could pitch if I needed to," said Kopech, ranked as the club's No. 2 prospect and baseball's No. 18 overall by MLB Pipeline. "But honestly, I know that's not in the cards."
Kopech won't pitch during the 2019 season after having a UCL tear repaired last September. He remains on track in his rehab process after playing catch again on Friday.
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He's throwing at about 50 percent, "easing up on the throttle," as described by Kopech. The goal is nothing too strenuous at this point, but just getting his arm used to what it needs to be doing in the early stages.
"It's baby steps and it's looking at every progression as a stepping stone, and not being too worried about how small the steps are," Kopech said. "I know that the throwing I'm doing right now doesn't look very significant from the outside looking in, but to me it's a very big step.

"So, I'm excited about where I'm at. I know we've got a longways to go, but I feel good for the time being."
Carlos Rodón is one of those White Sox hurlers who can relate to the process Kopech is following. The southpaw had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder at the end of the 2017 season, and Rodon didn't return to the mound for Chicago until June 9, 2018.
As Rodon explained, some guys coming off an injury want to go hard and lift big, and those are the same guys that might need to be pulled back a little bit. That responsibility falls upon trainers and strength coaches, with Rodon adding he never wants to tell a guy to back down.
"I've been here for about a month now and he was here before me. He already has his whole routine," Rodon said. "Kopech is a guy you are not going to worry about because he's a guy who works so hard that you know he's going to come back probably even stronger."
"We'll be the ones who slow it down," manager Rick Renteria said. "We understand it. Every player who has ever put on a uniform wants to get back on the field and do everything they can. He's no different. He's actually a little more driven than most."
Getting to throw for Kopech was both relieving and filled a void that was missing as he watched his teammates work on a daily basis. Kopech points to bullpens as his next milestone, although he doesn't know when that time comes.
In the long run, as in next February when he's fully back in action, Kopech will be better for having gone through the process.
"Yeah, I'm probably doing a lot more of the tedious stuff I didn't do so well before," Kopech said. "I'm going to be better in the long run because of it and not going to have to really worry about what the future is going to be.
"More cautious on my shoulder program, really just more caution. I feel like I did everything pretty well before. Maybe I went a little too fast on reps when I was doing the shoulder program. Maybe I didn't really activate my [scapula] the way I needed to. It's just the small stuff that I didn't really focus on before that I am now, that will pay off in the long run."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.