CHICAGO -- Ask Michael Kopech about his 2018 season, which featured his Major League debut, and the No. 2 White Sox prospect and No. 19 prospect overall, per MLB Pipeline, brings up the phrase "rollercoaster of emotions."The 22-year-old right-hander, who will be sidelined for the 2019 campaign following Tommy John
CHICAGO -- Ask Michael Kopech about his 2018 season, which featured his Major League debut, and the No. 2 White Sox prospect and No. 19 prospect overall, per MLB Pipeline, brings up the phrase "rollercoaster of emotions."
The 22-year-old right-hander, who will be sidelined for the 2019 campaign following Tommy John surgery in September, provided an honest look into that up-and-down ride.
"I went from having the yips for a month and a half to getting my big league call to blowing out my elbow and not getting to pitch again," Kopech told MLB.com by phone from Matt Davidson's charity event in Yucaipa, Calif. "It was kind of a crash and rebuild and then crash again. But it was definitely an unforgettable season."
Kopech's ulnar collateral ligament tear was diagnosed after his fourth start for the White Sox when he allowed seven runs on nine hits, including four home runs, over 3 1/3 innings against the Tigers. It was a stark contrast to the one run allowed over Kopech's first three starts (two of which were shortened by rain), which saw him strike out nine with just one walk and no homers allowed.
A noticeably stunned White Sox general manager Rick Hahn made the announcement about Kopech's injury two days after that game against Detroit. Kopech is now two months removed from surgery and no longer wearing the brace he had for the first month during his rehab in Culver City, Calif.
Having the injury set in and getting into the nuts and bolts of the work -- Kopech has mobility and his arm feels good enough to throw although he understands he's not ready -- doesn't necessarily make a positive Kopech feel any better.
"Honestly, it makes you feel worse and worse as the days go on," Kopech said. "It's going to be a mental struggle for me. I know that. I'm ready for it. I'm just going to do what I can to get better mentally in the time being.
"It's depressing. There's no way around it. As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, it's a situation where I have to be aware of myself. I have to know what's going on and I have to be willing to say, 'OK, I'm not going to play next year. Let's get better this year meanwhile and get ready for 2020.' It has to be something where I come to realistic thoughts with myself. I'm in the process of doing that but it is going to be difficult."
Daily meditation helps Kopech, who said he's become a "little guru about meditation," and he's making sure his mind is as clear as it can be all the time. That concept returns us to the yips plaguing Kopech during his stint with Triple-A Charlotte.
From April 9-July 5, Kopech walked 56 batters over 82 1/3 innings. But the problem manifested itself in more than finding the strike zone.
"I was having trouble figuring out how to throw a baseball," Kopech said. "I felt like I had never done it before, and I was having to figure some things out. It depended on the first pitch of the game for me. If the first pitch of the game for me was a strike, then most likely the next pitch was going to be a strike and most likely I would be able to get through that start.
"If the first pitch was a ball, then it was going to escalate. There was a point where I walked eight or nine in 2 1/3 innings or something like that (eight walks in three innings on June 14) and I just had no idea where the ball was going. It was my own mental struggles.
"That didn't have anything to do with my arm or mechanics or anything like that. I was seeking for answers the wrong way. It's really hard to put into words how I felt physically. I mean, I couldn't feel my legs. My arm felt like it wasn't attached to my body. It was a really tough time for me physically, but more so mentally than anything."
When Kopech eventually figured out important mental cues, he felt better than ever and posted a 59-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his final seven Triple-A starts. It's a learning experience he can use when he returns in 2020.
"Mentally, I felt like a completely different guy and that's what earned me my callup," Kopech said. "It was absolutely something I needed to have happen before I got to the big leagues. I know that sounds silly to say I needed to get the yips. That experience made me grow as a pitcher so I'm glad it happened."
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.