Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)


Sox pitching coach Cooper sounds alarm about prized prospect: ‘I’m concerned he’s not OK’

- DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN dvanschouw­ | @CST_soxvan

Michael Kopech’s decision to not play baseball this season remains a mystery because Kopech hasn’t spoken — not to teammates and not to his pitching coach, who knows the prized right-hander is healthy. But Don Cooper says he is concerned. “I don’t know what is going on with Michael, but I know he deals with some anxiety and depression, and my thought is, I sure hope he’s OK,” Cooper told the Chicago SunTimes on Saturday. “And I hope he gets to where he needs to be, where he’s feeling good and wants to come back, because we will welcome him back with open arms.”

Knowing Kopech, 24, has openly discussed his anxiety and depression issues makes Cooper a bit uneasy. On an encouragin­g note, Kopech talked about being on the right side of those issues in the winter and early spring.

“Last time I saw him in spring training, he was in a great place,” Cooper said. “But let me put it this way: I sure hope the kid is OK. “I’m concerned that he’s not OK.”

Sox management isn’t saying any more about why Kopech opted out of the 2020 season other than what general manager Rick Hahn issued in a statement Friday. The Sox say they will allow Kopech to explain his rationale.

That would be a welcome event to alleviate everyone’s concerns.

“We recognize that reaching this decision is incredibly difficult for any competitiv­e athlete, and our organizati­on is understand­ing and supportive,” Hahn said in the statement. “We will work with Michael to assure his developmen­t continues throughout 2020, and we look forward to welcoming him back into our clubhouse for the 2021 season.”

Because of the coronaviru­s, high-risk players will be paid if they opt out. But Kopech is healthy, Hahn said. And he is not at high risk for the coronaviru­s, which means the Sox won’t have to pay him, nor will he accrue service time.

Kopech had Tommy John surgery last September, but he was progressin­g, touching 100 mph several times in his only spring-training start. If his reasoning for not playing is because of a concern about the risk of injury in a threeweek ramp-up period to the shortened season, as has been reported, it’s news to Cooper.

“I have not heard anything about that,” Cooper said. “I got nothing to say about that because ‘it’s been reported.’ I want to hear it from Michael’s mouth; I don’t want to hear it from Michael’s camp.”

In the meantime, Cooper has a pitching staff to get ready without Kopech, who would have added a premium arm to a rotation mix of Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Rodon, Gio Gonzalez, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez. Without Kopech, the belief is there is still enough depth to form a solid rotation.

“Look, I’m concerned for him like I would anybody else,” Cooper said, “but we have 24 other guys we’re starting the season with on [July] 24, and we have to focus on the people we have. Michael’s tools and assets are not going to be of service to us right now, and my focus has to be on the guys that are here.”

“It’s Michael’s decision,” Rodon said Saturday, “and we have no idea what’s going on in his world, and as a team, we support him 100 percent. It’s a tough loss. He’s a guy who can boost our rotation or wherever he would line up in the row of arms. But looking forward to having him back next year.”

Bench coach Joe McEwing, subbing for manager Rick Renteria, who is away for a funeral, echoed that sentiment.

“He opted out,’’ McEwing said, ‘‘and that’s a personal decision. We support him 100 percent as an organizati­on.”

At some point, Kopech will let us know why he’s not with his teammates. It’s a personal, private matter, and until then, he deserves whatever space he needs.

“Michael has been pretty open and available to [the media] on a lot of tough topics, but he’s not in the mood to talk right now,” Cooper said. “When Michael is ready to talk, then you are going to get the real deal.’’

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 ?? AP PHOTOS ?? White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper says he doesn’t know what is going on with righty Michael Kopech (inset).
AP PHOTOS White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper says he doesn’t know what is going on with righty Michael Kopech (inset).
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