Sox eyeing flexible roles for Kopech, Crochet

February 18th, 2021

The White Sox view and as long-term members of their rotation.

Not just as starters, but potentially elite starters as the organization’s No. 2 and No. 4 prospects, respectively. But even with those long-term goals firmly in mind, the 2021 season’s short-term might feature this talented duo in a variety of roles.

“We're going to feel pretty good -- knock on wood -- with the 13 guys, 13 pitchers. Assuming that's the number that gets on the plane with us to Anaheim,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn during his Wednesday Zoom. “There are going to be quality arms from top to bottom. And while some of them might not be in the role that they're ultimately going to be in for the bulk of their career, having that depth of talent and the flexibility to deploy them in different ways could serve us very well.”

Hahn spoke about Kopech and Crochet in more broad terms, stating the team had a plan laid out for both but preferring to discuss these plans face to face with the two before sharing the details publicly. Hahn did say that Crochet, the left-hander with the high octane fastball, will start 2021 from the bullpen.

Crochet, 21, was the team’s top pick in the 2020 MLB Draft and after a stint at the White Sox alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill., made a strong big league debut by fanning eight over six scoreless innings across five games. His 45 pitches thrown at 100 mph or faster ranked second in Major League Baseball to the Dodgers' Brusdar Graterol, but Crochet also threw 9 1/3 innings last season between stops at the University of Tennessee and the White Sox.

Kopech, 24, was the White Sox starter in their last Cactus League contest played on March 10, 2020, and he strung together an impressive scoreless inning against the Rangers at Camelback Ranch in his ongoing comeback from 2018 Tommy John surgery. Kopech elected not to pitch in the restart of ’20, so he has really not faced hitters in a game since Sept. 5, 2018, against the Tigers.

Kopech will have an innings limit, as neither he nor Crochet have that important innings base under them. They aren’t so much limits as much as Chicago's plan to have a high-impact component at his best going into September and October.

“As a team with fairly lofty expectations, we want [Kopech] strong and contributing through October,” Hahn said. “So we have to be a little bit creative about how we're going to use him in order to get him helping us in Chicago and continuing his development and finishing the year strong and able to contribute, ideally, to a World Series championship. Long term, we still view him as a premium starter and look forward to him fulfilling that potential in a White Sox uniform over the next several years.”

“[Kopech] has to move at the right pace. Can't rush into it, can't try too hard,” White Sox ace Lucas Giolito said. “Nothing good ever comes from that. [Pitching coach] Ethan [Katz] will definitely be pretty hands-on with him as far as his progression and where he needs to be. I have full confidence in his ability, and I'm looking forward to having him on the team soon.”

Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn form a formidable front three for the rotation, followed by a young talent in Dylan Cease and young veterans in Carlos Rodón and Reynaldo López. The White Sox have flexibility to make moves before or at the Trade Deadline if needed.

Options such as using an opener are possible via Kopech and Crochet, or maybe even using a finisher, much as the Dodgers' Julio Urias was employed in knocking out the Rays during the 2020 World Series, although Chicago has closer Liam Hendriks in place. Creativity will be key in the quest for individual development, combined with a quest for a championship. Big league creativity might ultimately make better sense than a season-opening trip to the Minors.

“You have a long-term goal in mind, and you have short-term things you're trying to accomplish, and you want to balance those two,” Hahn said. “Long term, we are trying to balance a little bit in development of premium talent with the idea that it’s important to win as many games [as we can] this season and have guys fresh in October.”