Chicago White Sox Count On Bond Between Ethan Katz, Lucas Giolito

There were no screaming headlines when the White Sox promoted Don Cooper to replace Nardi Contreras as pitching coach in July, 2002. But it would prove to be one of the most critical moves made in the Ken Williams era.

There’s no way the Sox win the 2005 World Series without Cooper, who did yeoman’s work handling a patchwork pitching staff for Ozzie Guillen. It’s possible that we’ll look back on the hiring of Ethan Katz to replace Cooper the same way.

The hiring was reported by Barstool Sports on Thursday and confirmed by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. It has not been announced by the White Sox.

The team continues to wrestle with the standing of manager Tony La Russa, hired to replace Rick Renteria despite the team’s knowledge of a recent driving under the influence charge. La Russa had reportedly reached out to his long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan about joining him in Chicago but Duncan declined, giving General Manager Rick Hahn a chance to conduct a wide open search.

Cooper, the longest tenured pitching coach in the major leagues, was fired alongside Renteria after more than 30 years in the White Sox organization. He leaves a rich legacy of reclamation projects, including ’05 heroes Jose Contreras, Bobby Jenks and Cliff Politte, as well as long ties to Mark Buehrle and John Danks, among others.

Cooper helped Lucas Giolito develop into an All-Star capable of Cy Young consideration in future seasons. He’ll hand off Giolito and other 2020 holdovers to Katz, who helped Giolito, Max Fried and Jack Flaherty become first-round picks after pitching at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. 

Giolito is sure to be thrilled to be reunited with Katz.

“He really introduced a lot of things to me about the work ethic that comes with being a pitcher at a high level,’’ Giolito told Baseball America in 2016. “We worked a lot on repeating delivery. We did so many drills, so many drills to be able to repeat your mechanics well and put balls where you want them.”

Katz left Harvard-Westlake in 2013 to become a minor-league coach in the Los Angeles Angels organization. He left the Angels to coach in the Seattle Mariners organization in 2016 and in 2019 was hired as minor-league pitching coordinator for the San Francisco Giants, who promoted him to assistant pitching coach for the 2020 season.

Katz says he works hard to make sure pitchers know he is committed to helping him, not using their success to help his own resume. He’s known for bonding with the pitchers he has coached, which is why Giolito, Fried and Flaherty have continued to consult with him while experienced success in the major leagues.

“He always cares about his pitchers so much. He has an intense desire to see his pitchers have success,’’ Giolito said. “He works as hard as he can to make sure that happens, when it comes to all sorts of things. I remember him charting bullpens with pen and paper, which is not something you see very often.”

Giolito said he contacts Katz “about something I’m doing wrong, or what I’m feeling mechanically or mentally when I’m pitching.’’

Katz is arriving in Chicago at a time when the White Sox have developed a deep stable of young arms behind the 26-year-old Giolito, Michael Kopech (who opted out of the 2020 season after missing ’19 while recovering from Tommy John surgery), Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Garrett Crochet, Jonathan Stiever and Jared Kelley. 

They also have one of the best collections of young hitters in the major leagues. It was this open window for success that prompted Jerry Reinsdorf to reach out to the 76-year-old La Russa to end his retirement.

We’ll see if Reinsdorf sticks with La Russa. But whoever manages the White Sox in 2021 can look forward to seeing what develops between Katz and Giolito, as well as the rest of a pitching staff that profiles as a sleeping giant. 

Cooper showed the organization how much it can matter to have the right pitching coach.