Chicago White Sox: Getting to know Michael Kopech
One of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball will be making his debut Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. Here’s what you need to know.
Michael Kopech has made a name for himself with an electric fastball, paired with the carefree California surfer look and some not so great off the field incidents. But there’s no denying the talent, given by the baseball gods, that’s harnessed in that lanky right arm of his.
His debut will follow in the footsteps of Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, both tantalizing right-handed pitching prospects who, like Kopech, were acquired in trades to rebuild an effective and long-term pitching rotation for the next competitive Chicago White Sox squad.
So, ahead of his 8:10 pm ET debut in Chicago, here’s what you need to know about the number 13 overall prospect in all of baseball.
Kopech was drafted as the 33rd pick in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft by the Boston Red Sox, at the price of a $1.6m signing bonus that forced him to forego his University of Arizona commitment. From the beginning, he showed a propensity for the strikeout: in 2014 for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, he struck out 16 in his first 13.1 innings pitched, before striking out 70 over the course of 65 innings with the Greenville Drive for Class-A in 2015.
Against the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 2016, Kopech, who often showcased a fastball that topped at 100mph, threw a 105mph fastball that’s been recognized as one of the fastest pitches thrown in baseball history. This established himself as a hard throwing strikeout machine, drawing the interests of league-wide scouts that ultimately led to his inclusion, along with top infield prospect Yoan Moncada, in the Red Sox trade for White Sox ace Chris Sale in December 2016.
Kopech continued to progress as a strikeout artist while also refining the less flashy parts of his game. At Triple-A Charlotte, he’s 7-7 with a 3.70 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 126.1 innings pitched.
The Scouting Report
At 6’3″, 205 lbs out of Texas, Kopech is an old-school country hardballer. His fastball’s scouting grade is maxed out at 80 overall, a pitch that often sits in the upper 90s and isn’t a stranger to triple digits. Its natural run makes it difficult to square up, and he often pitches it aggressively to attack hitters before breaking out his second best pitch.
The slider. Rated on a scale of 65 out of 80, it combines both velocity and depth to keep hitters off balance. Often in the upper 80s in velocity, its ability to not only move side to side but also have a drop to it serves as a more than adequate secondary offering to pair with his elite fastball. Such a combination has become the norm in today’s game: Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Sale, Michael Kopech follows in their footsteps with two offerings that will develop into plus-plus pitches if they haven’t already.
The downside to his game is controlling the walk rates. It’s often expected from a young pitcher (he’s only 22) and with his lanky frame, it’s been easy for his lower half to become out of sync with his shoulders, thus creating an inconsistent arm slot that’s resulted in a career BB/9 of 4.4 in the minor leagues.
But there’s no question Kopech is an electric prospect whose long-awaited debut should be must-see television. He possesses one of those rare arms, a la Aroldis Chapman but from the right side, and he can follow in the footsteps of Texas-born aces Nolan Ryan or Noah Syndergaard has someone who could buzz you up and in with a fastball before twisting you into a corkscrew with a slider.
Time will tell on this kid’s career, but he’ll be must-watch baseball Tuesday night.