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Kopech elects not to play during 2020 season

@scottmerkin
July 10, 2020

CHICAGO -- White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech will not participate in the 2020 season, the club announced Friday. “Michael Kopech has informed us of his decision to not participate in the 2020 season,” White Sox GM Rick Hahn said in a statement. “We recognize that reaching this decision is incredibly

CHICAGO -- White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech will not participate in the 2020 season, the club announced Friday.

“Michael Kopech has informed us of his decision to not participate in the 2020 season,” White Sox GM Rick Hahn said in a statement. “We recognize that reaching this decision is incredibly difficult for any competitive athlete, and our organization is understanding and supportive. We will work with Michael to assure his development continues throughout 2020, and we look forward to welcoming him back into our clubhouse for the 2021 season.”

Players categorized as “high risk” are able to opt out of the season and receive pay and service time, and they may return at any point during the 2020 season. Kopech is not in that category, and by electing not to play this season, he is ineligible to return until the '21 campaign.

On the first day of Summer Camp last Friday, Hahn announced Kopech had been excused with permission from the club to not report on Day 1 so he could attend to a personal matter.

“Look, it's obviously never ideal when any individual is dealing with off-field matters,” Hahn said during last Friday’s Zoom call. “It's easy, I suppose, at times, to lose sight of the fact that you're dealing with human beings here. And this is obviously a very unique time we're all living through.

“So, again, it's not ideal, but fundamentally, we're looking to put all our players in the best position they can be to perform and maximize their abilities on the field. And if there's anything standing in the way of that, we're going to provide them with whatever support and resources they need to help address those matters. I know it's very general and I'm not going to get more specific than that, other than we fully support Michael and are going to provide him whatever time and resources he needs and look forward to seeing him in the future.”

Kopech, 24, has not pitched in a regular-season White Sox contest since Sept. 5, 2018, as he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after that appearance. The No. 3 White Sox prospect, per MLB Pipeline, threw one Cactus League inning on March 10 against the Rangers and looked dominant in that glimpse, with six of his pitches hitting 100 mph or above on the Camelback Ranch radar gun.

If the season had not been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kopech would have started the year with Triple-A Charlotte for a chance to build up his innings total again. The three-plus-month delay gave him more time to recover, and he would have entered Summer Camp without restrictions, although it’s uncertain if he’d have had enough time to build up the endurance necessary to start by the beginning of the 60-game season.

Nevertheless, Kopech could have been a weapon for the White Sox with his electric stuff; capable of serving as an opener, piggy-backing on a starter or strictly handling bullpen work.

Kopech was upbeat during SoxFest in late January and throughout Spring Training, where he discussed becoming a more complete pitcher during his time recovering, and not being as reliant on his powerful fastball. He was acquired from Boston in the Chris Sale deal as part of a four-player return, along with third baseman Yoán Moncada and outfielder Luis Basabe, a deal which basically began the club’s rebuild on Dec. 6, 2016.

Moncada, the other central piece of that trade, and right-handed reliever José Ruiz were placed on the 10-day injured list Friday. The White Sox provided no additional information on those moves.

Major League Baseball has instituted a COVID-19 list this season, although clubs will not announce which players are placed on it due to privacy laws regarding individuals’ health. Players may address their status if they wish, though they are not required to do so. Merely being placed on an injured list without further explanation is not confirmation that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. For example, potential exposure to a person who has the virus can be sufficient cause.

Even without Kopech, the White Sox rotation remains deep, featuring All-Star Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Renaldo López, Dylan Cease and Gio González. López and Cease are scheduled to start in Saturday’s intrasquad contest, while Carlos Rodón is set to work in relief.

Rodón, who is pitching without restriction after undergoing Tommy John surgery last May, could move his way into the rotation having made 90 of 93 career appearances as a starter. Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert, two other top young hurlers returning from Tommy John surgery, could also be rotation options or significcant parts of the 2020 staff.

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