Michael Kopech
Michael Kopech of the White Sox is Returning to the MLB After Two-Year Absence (John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

24-year-old right-hander Michael Kopech of the Chicago White Sox will be making his return to the MLB this year in 2021. Kopech made four starts for the White Sox in 2018 but ended up suffering an injury that prompted him to get Tommy John surgery in September of that same year.  Then, he elected to sit out for all of the 2020 season.

Kopech’s Two-Year Journey

As the 2020 season approached, Kopech was healthy to start playing again, but he opted out among almost 20 other big names. Kopech cited mental health and personal concerns along with the risk of the COVID-19 breakout as to why he chose to omit the 2020 season.

“I think I learned that I need this game a lot more than I realized,” Kopech said, reflecting back on his time off from baseball.

Michael Kopech spoke with the media this past Saturday over zoom from the White Sox’ spring training facility in Arizona, and he was very candid about his hiatus from baseball. 

When asked about his time off, he said, “I’ve been pretty candid in the past about my mental health being important and prioritizing that so I can be the best version of myself on the field. That’s a lot of what it came down to as well”

Aside from the mental health side of things, Kopech and his now ex-wife Vanessa Morgan celebrated the birth of their son, River, back in late January of this year. Being a father also factored into Kopech’s decision. 

“My career doesn’t just dictate my future anymore,” Kopech said,  “But it dictates my son’s. That’s kind of all the motivation I need.”

Kopech’s teammates and coach also spoke very highly of him, and they seemed to be in full support of Kopech’s decision to step away from the game temporarily. 

“They respected my decision,” Kopech said, “They allowed me to spend some time getting better on myself, and since I’ve been back they’ve been nothing but helpful with me getting ready for the season.

Outlook for 2021

Now that Kopech has returned, he will have to find his place on a roster that already has a plethora of pitchers with starting-capability. He will be alongside pitchers with established careers such as Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn, both of whom had terrific campaigns in 2020. 

During the 2020 COVID-plagued season without Kopech, the White Sox posted a formidable record of 35-25 and even made the postseason for the first time since 2008. The team is currently on the rise, and Kopech knows it. 

“This is a team that can clearly win without me,” Kopech said, “But I want to be a part of a winning team and as long as they want me to be a part of it, that’s exciting.”

Chicago narrowly missed the AL Central division title in 2020, finishing just one game behind the Minnesota Twins. The White Sox also made a few significant offseason moves to push them over the edge in 2021. 

They signed reliever Liam Hendriks to their bullpen, signed Jonathan Lucroy to a minor league deal, and even brought back manager Tony La Russa, who has been out of baseball since 2011 and has had some off-field issues with DUI’s. La Russa also managed in the south side of Chicago from 1979-1986, making 2021 the start of his second stint with the franchise.

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