Chicago White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech, who opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season after missing all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, said he has regained his motivation after two years away from baseball.
Kopech cited multiple reasons for opting out when speaking to reporters on Saturday, including concerns about his mental health.
The promising 24-year-old disclosed previously that he suffers from anxiety and depression, and he alluded Saturday to changes in his perspective brought on not just by the time away from the ballpark, but also the birth in January of his first child, a son named River.
“I think I learned that I need this game a lot more than I realized,” Kopech said. “It’s a lot easier said than done to take a step away from something you’ve done your entire life.
“It’s made me regain the motivation to get back out there,” he added, “along with some other things that have happened in my life.”
Kopech was one of nearly 20 players to opt out of last season — a list that includes All-Stars like the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ David Price, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain, the New York Mets‘ Marcus Stroman and Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman.
Price, who was traded to the Dodgers last February and watched his team win the World Series from home, said he feels comfortable returning for 2021.
“I feel like our team and MLB handled it extremely well,” Price said. “I know they had a lot of protocols they had to go through. The training staff were bending over backwards to keep guys COVID-free.
“We have a lot more information on it now. All of that played into the decision to play this year. I knew I wanted to play this year.”
Nationals right-hander Joe Ross echoed that sentiment. He hasn’t pitched since starting Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, passing on a chance to defend the title because of the uncertainties at the time about the effectiveness of MLB’s protocols.
After early-season outbreaks on the Cardinals and Marlins, MLB adjusted its safety guidelines and successfully played through the end of the season. The league has enhanced its protocols this spring, including the introduction of electronic contact tracing wristbands for players to wear around team facilities.
“Everything so far has been going great,” Ross said. “It’s kind of a normal, quote-unquote, spring training as far as being back on the field and stuff like that.”
Teams have concerns about overtaxing pitchers after last year’s abbreviated workloads, and those apprehensions are even stronger for pitchers like Ross, who didn’t pitch at all.
The Mets have similar concerns for Stroman, a 5-foot-7 right-hander who tore a muscle in his left calf last July and opted out a few weeks later. Fiery and confident as always, Stroman said he has put in the work necessary to enter the season full bore.
“I never have to get ready because I stay ready,” he said. “I’m ready to rock. I’m ready to go out there and throw 200-plus innings like I do every year. My preparations are elite.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.