As we continue our tour of the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape this evening, we take a look at Chicago White Sox #3 prospect, Michael Kopech.
Well, more could be said. Selected 33rd overall in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft by the Boston Red Sox, Kopech has ascended the prospect ranks quickly with a brief but excellent 2016 campaign. He came over to the White Sox during the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings, as the second headliner, along with Yoan Moncada, in a deal that sent Chris Sale to Boston. Drafted out of Mount Pleasant High School, Kopech has lots of time to live up to his #16 overall prospect (MLB Pipeline) hype.
Kopech’s signature attribute is his fastball, which he musters from his imposing 6’3″, 205 pound frame. MLB Pipeline gives him a perfect grade of 80 for his heater, and it’s easy to see why. Unconfirmed reports claim that he once reached 105 miles per hour, but even if that’s false, his numbers are still incredibly high. Usually it sits around 96-98 mph, but often it reaches triple digits. About a month ago, a video circulated on Twitter that showed him hitting 110 mph. While this was achieved with an underloaded ball, it’s still crazy to see a human throw anything at that speed. Take a look:
Aside from the gas, Kopech also features strong off-speed pitches, with grades of 60 for his slider and 50 for his changeup. Here’s what MLB Pipeline has to say:
“Hitters can’t afford to cheat on his fastball because he can make them look silly with a slider that can top 90 mph. His sinking change-up isn’t as reliable, though at its best it shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch.”
Although Kopech promises much to be excited for, there’s been some bumps in the road for him. In the summer of 2015, he was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Kopech remarked that he never willingly took the drug, Oxilofrine, which is an amphetamine stimulant that doubles as a blood pressure/weight loss drug. Considering it wouldn’t make much sense for Kopech to take the drug, and he hasn’t had any PED issues since, it’s safe to assume that this was a one-time occurrence.
The other issue that Kopech dealt with was a broken hand after a confrontation with a teammate early on in the 2016 season.
There isn’t much to this narrative however, so for now it’s just a small blip on the radar like the suspension.
Aside from the issues off the mound, Kopech’s main pitching hindrance is his control. Obviously, his strong arm can lead to some wild pitches, and it shows with his high BB/9 rate of 4.6. If he can shore up his control, though, his arsenal seems to offer no drawbacks, which bodes well for the future.
Overall, Kopech’s negatives shouldn’t be of great concern to anyone. He was drafted out of high school and is just 20 years old, so he has plenty of time to develop and mature.
In the limited time Kopech has seen pitching in the minors, he’s definitely impressed. Spanning 36 games and 134.2 innings pitched, Kopech has racked up a high-quality stat line of a 2.61 ERA, 1.203 WHIP, 4.6 BB/9, and 11.5 K/9. What’s even better is that his 2016 numbers were superior to those career averages, with the exception of BB/9 which was only slightly worse at 5.0. So, Kopech seems to be improving as he works his way through the minors, an excellent sign for his future.
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, Kopech is relatively young for a prospect, which means we probably won’t see him until the 2018 season, and not necessarily on Opening Day of that spring either. It takes time for a flamethrower like Kopech to improve his control, and the White Sox are in no rush to utilize him in the majors. 2019 seems to be the target year for the team to compete, so a Kopech debut later on in 2018 shouldn’t bother anyone.
When he gets up, Don Cooper and the rest of the White Sox staff hope to drop Kopech into the starting rotation. While he would be an effective reliever or closer, Kopech’s potential demands that the White Sox train him as a starter. If everything works out, the Chris Sale deal would have been a huge success for the White Sox, seeing as they an ace and so much more in return.
With the blonde hair, the solid build, and the blazing fastball, Kopech really could be another Syndergaard. We’ll just have to see.