The White Sox face some questions about their starting rotation this offseason, with the group’s lack of depth needing to be addressed from the outside. Dylan Cease doubled down on his 2021 breakout to finish second in AL Cy Young voting. He’s a true ace, while Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn will look to bounce back from uncharacteristically middling seasons to reestablish themselves as above-average arms in the middle of the staff.
Michael Kopech figures to assume the #4 rotation spot, but the club doesn’t have a great option at fifth starter after seeing Johnny Cueto hit free agency. Davis Martin is the in-house favorite for that role, but general manager Rick Hahn told reporters at last week’s GM Meetings the club would look to plug the hole with an outside addition.
One option that does not seem to be on the table is stretching left-hander Garrett Crochet out as a starter at any point next season. Pitching coach Ethan Katz told reporters this afternoon he doesn’t “think starting is in the cards next year” for the hard-throwing 23-year-old (link via James Fegan of the Athletic). Crochet underwent Tommy John surgery this past April. He’s presently stretched out to throwing from 120 feet, tweets MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, but he nevertheless seems unlikely to be on the Opening Day roster just 12 months removed from surgery. Once he’s healthy, it looks as if the White Sox will return him to a bullpen role in which he’s had plenty of success in his young career.
The 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Crochet made his big league debut as a reliever with the Sox just a few months after coming out of the University of Tennessee. He mostly stayed in that role for 2021, working 54 1/3 innings of 2.82 ERA ball over 54 appearances. There was some thought the Sox could consider lengthening Crochet into rotation work this past season, but he was diagnosed with the ligament damage in his elbow a few days before the start of the season. He went under the knife just before Opening Day and didn’t pitch this year.
Crochet only made one 3 1/3-inning start during his final season of college. He missed the first few weeks of that season with injury, and the pandemic resulted in the cancelation of the college baseball season almost immediately upon his return to the mound. With no minor league campaign that year, he threw a combined 9 1/3 innings between college and MLB. Factor in his 54 1/3 frames last year, and Crochet has just 63 2/3 innings under his belt since the end of the 2019 campaign.
With such a limited platform, it’s sensible for the White Sox to opt against trying to build him towards a rotation workload at any point in 2023. At the same time, it also raises the question of whether such a move will ever be practicable. Many prospect evaluators suggested Crochet could be better suited for relief work dating back to his time in Knoxville, but the White Sox presumably wouldn’t have drafted him so highly if they didn’t feel he had at least some chance of starting. The unfortunately-timed Tommy John surgery has killed any possibility of that to this point, and Crochet will have already topped three years of MLB service by the end of next season.
Of course, Crochet can be a valuable piece of the Sox’s pitching staff even if he’s limited to shorter stints. He’s already demonstrated the capacity to handle big league hitters, punching out 28.3% of opponents behind an 11.9% swinging strike rate and a fastball that averaged just under 97 MPH in 2021. Crochet only once faced more than eight batters in an outing that year, but Katz indicated the club could deploy him a multi-inning relief role next season.
The White Sox have some experience in building a talented power arm back gradually from an extended layoff. Kopech followed a fairly similar path. He started his first four big league games in 2018 but underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of that year. He spent all of 2019 rehabbing and then opted out of the 2020 season. The Sox worked him back from that two-year absence as a multi-inning reliever, giving him 69 1/3 innings through 44 appearances in 2021. He made the full-time move to the rotation this past season, building to 119 1/3 frames over 25 starts.
Kopech’s year was cut short by injury. Originally placed on the injured list in mid-September with a shoulder strain, he underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee just before the season ended. The initial expectation was the right-hander would be ready for Spring Training, and while that may still be the case, Katz conceded today Kopech’s recovery has involved “a little slower progression than we originally thought.” The pitching coach noted the team still expects Kopech to have sufficient time to build up to five-inning appearances by the end of exhibition play, but any uncertainty on that front would only increase the team’s urgency to add rotation depth this offseason.