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Kopech's injury won't delay White Sox plans

MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- There have been times this season when Lucas Giolito and his White Sox teammates looked out on the field at the players around them and thought about the organization's bright future ahead.

The same held true for catcher Zack Collins during his time at Double-A Birmingham.

CHICAGO -- There have been times this season when Lucas Giolito and his White Sox teammates looked out on the field at the players around them and thought about the organization's bright future ahead.

The same held true for catcher Zack Collins during his time at Double-A Birmingham.

"Sometimes, you are sitting in the dugout or whatever," Giolito said, "and we are looking around and we are like, 'We are going to be really nasty soon.'"

"There's definitely a lot of talk about it in Minor League locker rooms," Collins said. "We kind of put our team together, what we think it's going to be. You never know from year to year."

Actually, the team never knows from week to week or day to day.

It was Aug. 21, when Michael Kopech -- the team's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and No. 13 in all of baseball -- made his exciting Major League debut at Guaranteed Rate Field. An extra boost of energy came with the arrival of this electric talent.

Video: MIN@CWS: Kopech K's 4 in MLB debut

On Sept. 7, two days after Kopech yielded seven earned runs over 3 1/3 innings with a slight drop in velocity against Detroit, general manager Rick Hahn announced a significant tear in Kopech's right ulnar collateral ligament had been found and Tommy John surgery was recommended. That procedure will sideline Kopech until Spring Training 2020.

Hahn looked shocked, understandably, with the news so fresh on that Friday. The same clearly could be said for Kopech, who was disappointed but certainly not defeated when he spoke to the media.

Some fans asserted the rebuild's growth was delayed because of Kopech's injury, as the White Sox temporarily lost their No. 2 starter and a valuable development year for the 22-year-old right-hander. But while the setback certainly changes the landscape, the rebuild plan does not waver.

Video: CWS@DET: Kopech tosses 6 strong vs. Tigers

"Part of this entire program from the start was making sure we had enough depth to withstand the inevitable setbacks that occur over the course of any Major League season," said Hahn on the day of Kopech's injury announcement. "It's disappointing because of the momentum he had built and the excitement he had created about the immediate future. But again, he's still going to be very much a part of our long-term future, and we're still very much excited about that."

Carlos Rodon presently is locked down as the staff ace, followed by Reynaldo Lopez and Giolito. It's not a huge stretch to project Dylan Cease, MLB Pipeline's 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, as part of that same rotation at some point in '19.

That configuration leaves two spots to fill early for Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams and the White Sox front office. Internal options such as Dylan Covey, Spencer Adams (No. 26-ranked prospect) and/or Jordan Stephens (No. 20) will be in play, but at this stage of the rebuild, the White Sox also would benefit from going outside the organization for a pitcher to strengthen that front five.

Video: Top Prospects: Dylan Cease, White Sox, RHP

According to Cot's Contracts, the White Sox have only $10.9 million committed contractually in 2019, $4.5 million in '20 and $7.25 million in '21. Free agency is an option, targeting a veteran in the 27-31 age range who not only could help in Kopech's absence but be primed for the planned contending years.

Names such as Patrick Corbin (29 years old) or Dallas Keuchel (30) jump off that list going into 2019. The White Sox also could search for a veteran fill for a year or two, package some of their young talent in a trade for another controllable arm or stick from within.

Even with this extremely tough news, the team should survive and advance in Kopech's absence. It has players such as Giolito in place who excitedly glance into the future while gaining valuable experience in the present.

"Yes, this is going to be a challenge," Hahn said. "But in the coming weeks and months, we will respond to it and put ourselves in the best position for the long term."

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

Chicago White Sox, Michael Kopech