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Prospect Week at Sox Machine continues with the worst post of the bunch — the players who saw their seasons defined by significant injuries.
Glass half full, 75 percent of the guys on this list were also in the same group last year. Glass half empty … 75 percent of the guys on this list were also in the same group last year.
I’d say it’s worse at the individual level. Maybe it’d just feel like a matter of poor timing if there were more cases like Michael Kopech, who happened to be injured in the small window of 2018 that would automatically cost him all of 2019. Alas, he’s outnumbered by prospects who never fully came back from a first surgery before a second one shelved them for months.
System-wide, it’s probably better to have season-defining injuries concentrated in a smaller pool of players over a two- or three-year stretch, but that’s only if there are enough success stories to overcome the toll. That hasn’t happened yet.
Michael Kopech: Tommy John surgery
As expected, Kopech missed the entirety of the 2019 regular season as he recovered from the elbow surgery he underwent in September of 2018. He did manage to surface in instructional league, and he brought his stuff with him. James Fegan relayed Danny Farquhar’s impressions:
Farquhar jumped to break down how Michael Kopech looked during his rehab outings in instructs by referencing his Trackman data.
“You look at his numbers there and they’re incredible,” Farquhar said during a panel. “He passes the eye test. It’s absolutely electric stuff. I think he’s got an incredible future.”
Kopech intends to come back from surgery as a guy who knows how to manage his resources, rather than someone who airs it out for five innings and see what happens afterward. That’s great, but after seeing other Tommy John surgeries stall, I’m hoping he can at least throw down a couple hundos early just to show he has it.
On a matter only tangentially related to his surgery, he got married this winter.
Dane Dunning: Tommy John surgery
Dunning tried his best to avoid the procedure by sitting out the last two months of the 2018 season, but he experienced a setback with his forearm in late February and ended up visiting the dreaded Dr. James Andrews in March.
He appears to be on a standard timeline to return thus far. At SoxFest, Rick Hahn established “June-ish” as a rough return for Dunning to affiliated ball.
On a matter only tangentially related to his surgery, he got engaged this winter.
Jimmy Lambert: Tommy John surgery
Unlike the two aforementioned righties, Lambert actually pitched in recorded games for the White Sox in 2019. He started the season in Birmingham, hoping to build upon his breakout five-start sample the previous season. He ended up experiencing diminishing returns through 11 starts before succumbing to Tommy John surgery in late June.
He also appears to be on a normal timeline, which would give him a shot at seeing action at the end of the regular season. It doesn’t appear that he had any relationship news to share.
Micker Adolfo: Tommy John surgery aftermath
After putting off surgery on his damaged elbow long enough to get some sorely needed reps and progress in Winston-Salem in 2018, Adolfo underwent the procedure that July in order to ensure a recovery in time for a full 2019.
Or so everybody thought. Adolfo was able to start the season in Birmingham, but his throwing arm still hadn’t recovered enough to play any outfield. After scuffling through a strikeout-heavy April, he went back under the knife for a debridement and nerve transposition procedure. He was able to return to action in August, but only as a DH for the Arizona Rookie League affiliate.
He also played 15 games in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .167/.262/.389 with 27 strikeouts over 15 games. He did, however, make 10 appearances in right field. All is not lost, especially since he qualifies for a fourth option year.
Luis Basabe: Broken hamate bone, quad issues
Basabe enters this season in his third and presumably final option year, unless he encounters some kind of major hardship that Adolfo experienced. His three years in the White Sox organization have sandwiched a healthy, ascendant season between two injury-marred grinds. In this one, he hit just .246/.324/.336 over 69 games for Birmingham, a significant step back from his .734 OPS in his Double-A debut the year before.
The hand injury delayed his start to the season, and then he missed both the beginning and end of June with leg tightness. One could expect diminished power thanks to the hamate injury, but 17 extra-base hits was quite a drop from 44 the year before.
The underlying skills of a switch-hitting center fielder remain, but there’s a lot of scar tissue surrounding his prospecthood to clear out. He’s still just 23, which puts him firmly on the curve instead of ahead of it. He’s just at a greater risk of being thrown from it with one more bout of misfortune.
Zack Burdi: Tommy John surgery aftermath, knee surgery
Two and a half seasons after his Tommy John surgery, Burdi’s fastball is still a few ticks below his collegiate best, and he still hasn’t pitched in consecutive games. There was a point in early June where it looked like he might’ve found his groove — four consecutive scoreless, walkness innings — but two outings later, he hit the shelf with a torn patellar tendon and missed the rest of the season. The injury locked in ugly numbers across the board, whether traditional (6.75 ERA, five homers over 19⅔ innings) or advanced (6.15 FIP, 13.4% walk rate against a 24.7 percent strikeout rate).
Right before his injury, the idea was that Burdi’s velocity was still on the rise, but it was a gradual process that required him to build up the strength and weight lost while recovering from Tommy John. I’m not sure how a second surgery helps, even if it’s a part of his body that’s not directly related.
Ian Hamilton: Final Destination-assed season
Hamilton’s 2019 started with a car accident that jammed his shoulder and delayed the start to his season.
After 16 tough outings trying to find a groove in Charlotte, his season ended with a foul ball that fractured his face and jaw while he was sitting in the dugout.
No sequels, please.
Jake Burger: Ruptured achilles aftermath
For the second consecutive season, Hahn has given June as the initial target date for Burger’s return to action.*
Last June, Hahn ended up bumping Burger’s return date to the fall, and that didn’t materialize either due to a bruised heel.
The good news is that Burger seems to be able to tolerate more physical activity than he showed at any point last season, or at least for any meaningful duration.
(*Technically, just like he did with Dunning, Hahn actually said “June-ish.” If “ish” covers a standard deviation, then the previous margin of error makes that window fairly wide.)
Later today: The relievers who weren’t injured.