A rough season for the 56-84 Chicago White Sox just got even worse. The team announced Friday that top rookie pitcher Michael Kopech has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and will likely need UCL reconstruction (“Tommy John”) surgery. The recovery time associated with that means he would miss the entire 2019 season. They’ll seek a second opinion, but it seems likely he’ll be out until 2020.
This is awful news for Kopech, a highly-touted prospect (currently ranked 13th by MLB.com) who only made his MLB debut Aug. 21. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round (33rd overall) back in 2014, and has spent much of four years in the minors, being sent to the White Sox in the December 2016 Chris Sale trade. He spent most of this season with the triple-A Charlotte Knights, going 7-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts. He also has an incredibly powerful arm; he was clocked at 105 miles per hour during his time in the Red Sox organization, was clocked at 110 mph during a workout last January, and said last year he was aiming to be able to get up around 107 mph regularly.
In his four MLB starts to date, Kopech has gone 1-1 with a 5.02 ERA, but has shown some promise, particularly with 15 strikeouts against just two walks. And he’s delivered some great fastballs in particular. But this is a big blow to him, and Kopech told The Chicago Tribune he was devastated by the diagnosis:
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions for me,” the rookie said. “This is rock bottom. To say it was unexpected is an understatement.”
Kopech reported feeling tight before his start against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday. He went to doctor on Friday and a UCL tear was found.
He said his velocity was down but he thought it was time of the year, not an injury.
Oddly enough, this news comes on a day when the White Sox are playing the Los Angeles Angels, who have their own star power pitcher facing potential Tommy John surgery in Shohei Ohtani. But there are more questions about what’s next for Ohtani given his value as a hitter, which doesn’t necessarily depend on an intact UCL; in fact, on Wednesday, the same day he was diagnosed with a torn UCL, he stayed in the lineup as a hitter and went four-for-four with two home runs and a walk. For Kopech, there are less options. He is just 22, so there may still be a lot ahead for him, but this is certainly a significant setback.