Rebuilds are sure to have their surprises. Maybe one of the big surprises of the White Sox rebuild is happening right in front of our eyes.
Dylan Covey is dominating opposing lineups, including a couple playoff-bound ones in the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. He's out-dueling some of the American League's finest arms in Chris Sale and Trevor Bauer. He's got a 2.29 ERA.
That's about as big a surprise as you're going to see on the South Side this season.
Seriously, this is a guy who had an objectively terrible 2017 season, finishing with a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings of work. He gave up 20 homers and walked 34 hitters. He went 0-7. And because of those numbers, he figured to be a total non-factor when it came to the White Sox long-term plans.
With a wealth of highly ranked pitching prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Dylan Cease and a trio of young big league arms in Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, why would that crowded competition have any room for someone like Covey, who's first taste of the majors was a disaster?
Well, that's why this has been so surprising.
"I'm just super comfortable," he said Wednesday night after pitching seven innings of two-run ball against the visiting Indians. "With my mechanics, with my pitches. I'm throwing off-speeds for strikes, I'm throwing my curveball for strikes. It's just all about comfort for me right now."
A Rule 5 pick, Covey never pitched beyond Double-A before getting thrown into the major league deep end last season. That rapid acceleration in his timeline, forced by rule, was not helpful. While there were surely things he learned pitching at the big league level, it didn't appear to be the level his development required him to pitch at in 2017.
So he finally went to Triple-A at the outset of this season, and it helped a great deal.
"I think it was really big because I came off of last year having a pretty tough year and I was able to work some things out down there and get to where I am now," Covey said. "I just feel really good, confident and comfortable."
One offseason and seven starts at Triple-A produced this? It's been a dramatic transformation, not just in how he's pitching but in the results he's getting.
"Just strikes," manager Rick Renteria said when asked what the difference has been for Covey. "He's allowing the action that he creates in his pitches to work, and they're more effective in the zone. So even if he's trying to hit a spot and that ball dives, it's got action. It allows (opposing hitters) to try to put their eye on it and try to put a swing on it and sometimes it gets a miss, sometimes it gets a ground ball, sometimes it's anything that we need in order to get an out.
"Strikes create outs. Getting guys to swing the bat and trusting his stuff, he's thrown a lot more strikes it seems like. They're offering at a lot more pitches. His breaking ball, he's throwing it closer to the plate now, more manageable. He's able to mix and go to both sides of the plate a little bit. Some of them he hits or will miss off or run the other way. His action, his natural action, is what's allowing him to continue to have the success he's having."
Covey's got just six starts under his belt this season for the major league team, and things can certainly change as opposing teams do their homework. But this has been an unbelievable development for a White Sox starting staff that struggled so much through the first couple months of the campaign. Covey's emergence, improved performance from James Shields, a consistently good season from Reynaldo Lopez and the return of Carlos Rodon have made for a pretty good-looking rotation at the moment.
The continued calls for Michael Kopech now have a counter argument: Where would you put him?
If this continues from Covey, where does he fit in this rebuilding effort? He's 26 years old and is under team control through the 2022 season. A handful of good starts in a rebuilding season won't make Covey a long-term fixture. And certainly that fleet of aforementioned youngsters will have plenty to say once they're all major league ready. But that could be a while, so why shouldn't Covey try to take advantage of the opportunity he has right now?
Rebuilds are full of surprises. And the ultimate determination of who is and who isn't part of this team's long-term future is performance.
"You've heard me say probably too many times that the baseball gods can be cruel," general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this week. "Not everyone's going to hit their potential. Some guys are going to get hurt, unexpected things are going to happen. There actually is a positive corollary to that in that some people are going to surprise us.
"We're a team that is obviously in transition that is providing opportunities for a lot of young players. Regardless of their pedigree or how we acquired the player, whether it's off waivers or through the Rule 5 or a major trade involving a former star, we have no biases as far as who winds up being the 25 guys that help us win a championship. So if one of these guys is seizing this opportunity and wants to etch his name in stone, so to speak, going forward, that's fantastic."
Fantastic. That's what Covey has been for the White Sox so far this season.