Tommy John likely for No. 13 prospect Kopech

Right-hander will seek 2nd opinion on torn UCL

September 7th, 2018

CHICAGO -- As a dejected but certainly far from defeated sat in the White Sox dugout Friday, he began to recite a litany of 2018 personal accomplishments to the media surrounding him.

"You know, after a rough beginning to the season for me, turning it around is really big," Kopech said. "It's exciting for me. I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. I cut down my walks. I went deeper in games. I pitched more efficiently. I got myself to the big leagues.

"It's been a whirlwind of emotions for me in the past couple of weeks, obviously. From just about my absolute peak to the absolute rock bottom for me."

That rock bottom referred to by the 22-year-old hard-throwing right-hander was an announcement Friday of the rather significant tear in Kopech's ulnar collateral ligament as diagnosed by Dr. Nik Verma following an examination. Kopech will seek a second opinion, but the initial recommendation is Tommy John surgery, which would keep Kopech out of action until Spring Training 2020. Kopech is the No. 2 prospect in the White Sox system and ranked No. 13 overall by MLB Pipeline.

"To say it's unexpected would be an understatement," Kopech said. "It sucks. That's it. It sucks."

"This is obviously a blow and something that we are still digesting. We only received this news within the last two hours or so," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "We do know [we] believe Michael will be fully without restriction at the start of the 2020 season and in a position to build off what we feel is a very bright future for a long time in a White Sox uniform."

According to Hahn, Kopech reached out to the White Sox after having trouble getting loose in his last start Wednesday against Detroit at Guaranteed Rate Field. The White Sox recommended, for precautionary reasons, an extensive examination with their doctors Friday.

In that last start -- which featured a rain delay, as did his first two home starts -- Kopech allowed seven runs on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings. Four of those hits were home runs, including three in the fourth, which turned out to be the last 2018 inning for Kopech. Kopech's velocity was noticeably down, although Kopech blamed preparation postgame and manager Rick Renteria pointed more to bad location for the tough outing.

Little did Kopech and the White Sox know he was pitching with a significant UCL tear.

"I just kind of assumed after every start it was soreness, and then some starts I thought it might be a little more sore than others," Kopech said. "I just didn't ever put it in the category of pain. I put it in the category of soreness. I wouldn't be able to pinpoint a time.

"It may have been [a few weeks ago]. It may have just happened the other night. It's just been a little bit of discomfort I've been throwing through. I never thought it was this serious."

Hahn stressed Kopech, who fanned 170 over 126 1/3 innings for Triple-A Charlotte and then struck out 15 against two walks over four starts and 14 1/3 innings for the White Sox, continues to profile as a starter. One silver lining is the timing of the diagnosis, as anything a little later could have jeopardized both '19 and '20 for Kopech.

Even in a bit of shock Friday, Kopech, who is known for his intense work ethic, reinforced his commitment to fighting through this setback.

"It's unfortunate and sucks but I don't think my work ethic has ever been in question," Kopech said. "If it has, then I'm here to prove that it shouldn't be and I'll come back stronger than before."

"Probably speaks to how strong this kid really is," said Hahn of Kopech, who struck out six and hit 96.1 mph Wednesday even with his injury. "You can tell it from looking at him and you can see him on the mound and you see him walking around and his workout regimen. But he was pitching with a pretty significant tear in there and he was pitching pretty effectively at the big league level with it, it seems."