Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

Vinnie Duber
NBC Sports Chicago

On the eve of the most anticipated SoxFest in recent memory, Michael Kopech got a haircut.

He likely won't be the only one sporting a fresh look when the White Sox gather for the annual fan convention this weekend at McCormick Place. But he's probably the only one who had his restyling attended by the local media.

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Kopech got his trademark flowing locks clipped off Wednesday as part of a charity event that raised $20,000 for the Ronald McDonald House and White Sox charities, meaning there'll be a noticeable difference the next time he steps on a major league mound. There was bound to be a difference, considering he last pitched in a big league game in September of 2018. But how much of a difference there will be in his pitching style remains to be seen.

Kopech has long been promised as a flamethrower that can touch ungodly speeds like 101, 102 and 103 miles an hour on the radar gun. He'll still be able to do that, he says, but there will be a difference.

"I don't know if I'm going to necessarily be that type of power pitcher again in my career," he said Wednesday. "I think I'm going to be a little bit smarter and cautious about how I pitch. That being said, velocity will always be a part of my game."

We'll have to wait and see exactly how Kopech will attack opposing hitters after his recovery from Tommy John surgery. "Wait and see" will be a theme of at least the early portion of Kopech's 2020 campaign. The White Sox have signaled that he'll be limited in some capacity in an effort not to overwork him - remember that his next major league appearance will be only his fifth - but we don't know what that will look like yet. Will he be part of the rotation, but be skipped at times? Will he pitch out of the bullpen for a little bit? Will he start the season in the minor leagues?

According to Kopech, he doesn't know the plan, either, knowing only that he feels great and will be looking to earn a roster spot in spring training.

"Not really," he said, asked if he's talked with the team about what it has planned for him. "My plan for myself is to be competitive in the spring and give my team a chance to win, and hopefully that's giving myself the best chance I can.

"But for what the team has in store for me, I really don't know those answers. I'm just going to do my best when I get there."

Between the moves Rick Hahn's front office has made this winter and the way so many of the White Sox young, core players broke out in 2019, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side for the first time in a long time, with the expectation being that the team will make its long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. Kopech would figure to be a big part of that, still ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Even with plans to limit his workload, the White Sox would figure to want him to be pitching in meaningful games if they should roll around in August and September, or even October.

Of course, these kinds of expectations are nothing new for these White Sox players, who have long been willing to express their confidence in the organization's bright future. Kopech has talked about wanting to win the 2020 World Series. Eloy Jimenez has talked about being a part of a championship outfield. Lucas Giolito, "sick of losing," has been talking playoffs since the end of last year's 89-loss season. And the freshly extended Luis Robert is talking about winning multiple championships.

This group has always been about setting lofty goals. But now the fan base is buying in to all that, too, and setting its own set of expectations, ones that end with the White Sox reaching the postseason. Kopech can already feel a different vibe surrounding this team, though added that the expectations inside the clubhouse haven't changed from what they've always been.

"We were just talking about that a couple of days ago. We were out playing catch, me, Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, Grandal was out there. It was that camaraderie, but more so, the underlining competitiveness in all of us. It felt like a different energy, was the word that was used," Kopech said. "We were all pulling in the same direction, which I think is kind of a glimpse to us what the future is going to look like.

"Not to look too far ahead, but I think we all are pulling in the same direction, not that that wasn't the case before. We're all starting to get that taste, sort of speak.

"(Playoff expectations are) what we've put on ourselves, as well. We're always going to want to be a competitive team, and we're going to want to be a competitive team at the highest level and that's to be in the playoffs.

"Those expectations that people are putting on us, we're going to also put on ourselves and try to achieve that."

It's still a bit of an unknown when and in what capacity we'll first see Kopech contributing toward reaching those expectations. But don't adjust your television set when he does make his first appearance. That's him, all right. Just lighter now without all that extra hair.

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Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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