Michael Kopech

Roster Recap: Michael Kopech’s Short Season

Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! We continue to break down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of the top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.

The good news for Michael Kopech is that he’ll get to pitch this year. The 19-year-old 6’3” right-hander will hope to build on an abbreviated 2015, during which he showed enough potential to jump his way up to fifth on Baseball Prospectus’ Annual Top 10 list, which was released early today, ranking behind only 17-year-old wunderkind Anderson Espinoza among Sox pitchers. Will Kopech take a step forward this year? Time will tell, but we know one thing: he’ll be well-rested.

What Went Right in 2015

Kopech put up nice numbers as a 19-year-old for Class-A Greenville Drive, where he logged more than a strikeout an inning over 15 starts and generally overpowered hitters. He had some trouble with his control, walking 27 over 65 innings, but he only gave up a pair of home runs, which is a good sign. He hits 100 miles per hour on the radar gun with a 70-grade fastball, too, which is cool and good. The best news for the Sox last year was that they changed his mechanics for the better. Greenville pitching coach Walter Miranda told MiLB.com last year that he had never seen anyone like Kopech, especially after the tweak:

He was over-rotating, had the real high leg kick and finished to the first-base side. Now, we’ve worked on his direction, and everything starts with the lower half of the body. We quieted that down, and now he’s working over the rubber and has better direction.

As it stands now, Kopech is a two-pitch pitcher, albeit with an overpowering fastball. Here’s Chris Crawford again, from the BP list:

If you try and sit on the heater you will be made to look foolish when he throws his breaker, a pitch with the depth of a curveball but the tilt of the slider.

Kopech didn’t do a lot of work on developing a third pitch last year, which ought to be critical to his long-term success, but there’s a reason for that. Unfortunately, it’s not a good one, which brings us to…

What Went Wrong in 2016

Kopech was suspended 50 games in July for using the stimulant Oxilofrine, which is not cool and not good. He pleaded ignorance and seemed generally mystified by the whole thing, and the major loss for the Sox was the time Kopech could have been using refine secondary pitches. No one likes a Kyle Farnsworth. Here’s Crawford again:

He’ll need to make significant progress on his changeup if he’s going to start, as it’s often a 40 pitch without much deception or movement. His command also needs to get better, as he’ll beat himself with walks and often miss his spots when he is in the strike zone.

SoxPropects.com concurs:

Needs to improve consistency with delivery, command, and control and must refine secondary offerings. Has already shown feel for all three secondaries. Power pitcher profile. Can get in his own head on the mound and struggle to throw strikes in some outings.

All of which is a long way of saying he’s 19 years old and there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, methinks.

Outlook for 2016/MLB ETA

Anecdotally, it’s not ideal to have someone living in their own head trying to make up for lost time on the mound, but ultimately missing a few months shouldn’t hurt Kopech’s development too much. What happens this year might be key to his long-term profile, no matter what some of the numbers say. He’s going to have to play around with the changeup, and he may get burnt a few times.

If he’s going to ultimately become a No. 2 or 3 starter, as SoxProspects.com and others think he can be (including BP’s Bret Sayre, whose analysis is in Crawford’s piece), and not a two-pitch reliever, the journey starts now, and it may be rough in the early going (or as rough as a blue-chipper like Kopech has seen). Unless there’s a complete breakdown this year, we have every reason to stay focused on the destination, and let Kopech have room to breathe. If he can figure out the changeup while honing the slurve and maintaining the fastball, he might just leave us gasping for breath before we know it in the good, non-Farnsworthian way. From the fifth-best prospect in a system, that’s pretty damn good.

Photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com

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