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Starter-or-reliever question still following Garrett Crochet, but he has his preferred answer

Vinnie Duber Avatar
August 31, 2022

Garrett Crochet: starting pitcher or relief pitcher?

It’s a question that’s dominated the early portions of the professional career of the No. 11 pick in the 2020 draft. He was selected as a starter, obviously, but found immediate success throwing 101 miles an hour out of the big league bullpen before playing a single minor league game.

While there’s been plenty to be excited about when it comes to Crochet’s future as a starting pitcher, his immediate value as a reliever cannot be ignored for a White Sox team trying to maximize a much discussed contention window, hence his placement in the bullpen for the 2021 season.

But Tommy John surgery threw a wrench into the equation, and again it’s a wonder which route the White Sox will take with the talented left-hander who’s received Chris Sale comparisons since the night he was drafted.

Of course, Crochet has a preference, and he’s made it known to the organization as it starts making plans for 2023 and beyond.

“Mentally right now, I’m preparing myself to be a starter,” Crochet told CHGO on Tuesday. “Obviously, it will kind of (be determined by) what the team needs when the time comes. But I’m preparing every bit to be a starter.

“That’s kind of the plan that I’ve put forward to them, and it seems to have been accepted very well. So hopefully we can get moving on that plan. … Last year, I loved pitching out of the bullpen, but I really want to see how far I can go, how talented I can be and where my repertoire can take me.”

Indeed, the White Sox have heard from Crochet about his desire to be a starting pitcher sooner rather than later, and they’re very much open to the idea. There’s plenty that needs to happen first, though, before they can figure out which role best suits Crochet and the team, chiefly his full recovery from the procedure that wiped out his 2022 season before it started.

That’s going as smoothly as hoped, and Tuesday marked a milestone of sorts, with Crochet playing catch for the first time since his surgery. He made roughly 20 throws from 45 feet, far from what will be required the next time he finds himself on the mound in a major league game. But it was a big step for Crochet, personally, as he travels the road back from Tommy John.

“It’s been a long (process),” he said. “But I’m just taking it one day at a time, just trying to do everything that I have on my plate for each day and then move on to the next. But it’s been going well so far.

“It’s tough (to be patient). But getting out there today definitely helped to ease a lot of concerns I had and kind of helped show that everything I’ve been doing, everything that I’ve been sticking to has been the correct plan. Just stay committed to it.”

Crochet will be a much more common sight on the South Side for the next month or so. After doing much of his rehab work at the team’s complex in Arizona and making cameo appearances at Guaranteed Rate Field, he’ll be in Chicago for the remainder of the season. And that’s a big deal for a guy who hasn’t been able to consistently be around his fellow players for months.

That includes several guys who have been through the same thing, providing ample resources for Crochet as he continues to handle not just the physical approach to recovery but the mental one, as well.

“It’s a huge mental boost being up here around my teammates,” he said. “Michael (Kopech) and (Lucas Giolito) and (Jimmy) Lambert, a lot of the guys, really. Just a lot of positive reinforcement, seeing that they’re back to where they were, if not better than they were before the surgery. It just gives me a huge boost looking forward toward the future.

“Just being able to bounce what I’m feeling or where I’m at in my rehab process and being able to confirm that they were in a similar state at one point just gives me a lot of confidence.”

Crochet estimated that he’d be back in the bigs by the middle of next season, and as everything seems to with him, whether or not that ends up being the case will depend on whether he’s starting or relieving, with starters typically taking longer to return from TJ than relievers, given the amount of pitches they have to be able to throw each time out.

Having the stated mentality of being a starting pitcher for the White Sox at some point during the 2023 season, Crochet estimated he wouldn’t be ready come the end of spring training, though a decision to return him to a relief role could have him ready for a spot on the Opening Day roster. It all depends on how his recovery goes and which role the team wants him to play.

Crochet only made 36 total starts in three years at the University of Tennessee, his final year limited to one start when the pandemic wiped away much of the collegiate season. He hasn’t made any starts as a pro. And so it figures he’d need ample build-up work to be able to factor into the big league club’s rotation plans for 2023.

Such a role wouldn’t have him back until the middle of the season anyway, and the front office’s plans for any offseason augmentation to the starting staff – the end of Johnny Cueto’s one-year contract will create the need for at least one arm – would have to be formulated knowing Crochet would be on such a timeline.

Of course, the White Sox could decide, too, that Crochet’s greatest value is as a member of the bullpen, be it as the late-inning reliever he was in 2021 and was pegged to be in 2022 or as a swingman with the capability to make spot starts as well as eat multiple innings at a time. Crochet could very well prepare to be a starter and then be called upon to relieve, based on what the team needs more, as he mentioned would be a driving factor, if not the driving factor, in the decision over his 2023 role.

None of those plans have yet to be finalized yet, though, and that should come as no surprise. Not only will the White Sox need to make sure that Crochet’s recovery continues to progress as hoped, but Crochet’s upside in either role had the front office still guessing what his 2022 role would be well after the 2021 season came to a close.

There will be another such decision to make for 2023. And given Crochet’s importance to the team’s short- and long-term plans, it might not be an easy one.

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