Michael Kopech

Fenway’s Future: Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Kopech and More

Welcome back to Fenway’s Future. After a few-week hiatus, we’ll take a dive into two arms in the upper minors, the Red Sox’s two best prospects, Michael Kopech’s recovery and more.

Triple-A Pawtucket: Pat Light (RHP) and Henry Owens (LHP)

It’s been a weird year for Pat Light. Light made a single major league appearance at the end of April and then got another audition when the entire Red Sox bullpen was inwardly collapsing upon itself in early July. To date, those appearances haven’t gone so well. In the ridiculous 21-2 blowout at the hands of the Angels on July 2, Light allowed six runs (five earned) on five hits. The game already well out of hand by that time, John Farrell rather mercilessly left Light on the mound for a difficult 1.2 innings.

Light was sent back to Pawtucket after the game and reentered the Triple-A bullpen. When not at the major league level, he’s been very effective this season, posting a 2.22 ERA across 22 appearances, striking out 34 in 28.1 innings. Opponents have hit just .168 against him and he has amassed a 1.16 WHIP. While the Pat Light Experience in the majors has thus far been disappointing, he has been impressive at the Triple-A level. Considering that the big league club cannot seem to keep more than two relievers healthy and effective at the same time (praying for you, Koji), Light may just get another chance.

Let’s check back in on Henry Owens, shall we? A couple summers ago, the left-hander impressed at every stop in the minors and had Sox fans eagerly awaiting his Fenway debut. Then, 2016 came, and he forgot how to throw strikes. After debuting to tolerable results a year ago (a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts), Owens has made three starts for the Red Sox in 2016, accruing a WIP of 1.05 — that’s not a typo, that’s just walks per inning pitched. Owens walked more than a batter per inning.

He hasn’t been bad since being sent to Pawtucket, registering a 4.07 ERA and holding hitters to a .207 batting average against him. Unfortunately, the walks have remained a problem. He’s allowed 66 hits but surrendered 60 free passes to boot.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Owens’ last start was a very impressive one, as he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning on July 16. After getting two outs and hitting a batter, Owens allowed an infield single and walked a man to load the bases. The lanky lefty was pulled, and reliever Chandler Shepherd gave up a double that plated all three runners. So while his line showed 7.2 innings and three earned runs, he was even better than that. More importantly, his walks were down, issuing just two free passes while striking out four.

After the addition of a fourth solid starter in Drew Pomeranz, the window may be shutting for minor league starters to gain big-league opportunities this season. But if the team can’t find a fifth starter among the motley crew of Eduardo Rodriguez, Clay Buchholz and Sean O’Sullivan, another minor league pitcher like Owens could get have an opportunity down the stretch.

Quick update on Rusney Castillo (OF):

It’s easy to forget about the foolhardy $72.5 million investment the team made in Castillo considering that two of the team’s outfielders started the All-Star game last week. It’s hard not to think that Castillo, given the price tag, could and should have been the third member of a dynamic and potentially league-best outfield. Instead, as we know, the Cuban transplant has flopped. Hard. Castillo is currently hitting .230 with an OPS of .591 in Pawtucket. He has only two homers and 19 RBIs on the season.

Double-A Portland: Yoan Moncada (2B) and Andrew Benintendi (OF)

So, uh, this dude is really good. You may have seen him wallop a homer out of Petco Park in the Futures game last week en route to winning the game’s MVP award. Well, he wasn’t finished. Moncada went out and hit two more bombs Monday night, giving him six in his past 12 games. As Jared Carrabis pointed out, Moncada’s slugging percentage in July (.952) is higher than the OPS of almost everyone else at Double-A. In this 12-game span, Moncada is slashing .405/.528/.952, improving his line on the season at Double-A to .325/.416/.623. On the updated midseason prospect rankings, Baseball Prospectus listed Moncada as baseball’s second-best prospect.

Moncada, of course, isn’t the only star prospect being monitored closely in Portland. His teammate and seventh-overall pick in the 2015 draft, Andrew Benintendi, is also making waves in the Sox system. While the outfielder struggled initially following his promotion to Double-A, he has since improved his line in Portland to .277/.343/.476. Since June 10, Benintendi is hitting .327 with a 1.014 OPS, and was no. 11 on BP’s midseason prospect ranks.

These two names will likely continue be linked to one another as the team’s top-two prospects make their way to the majors. While Moncada’s numbers have been more impressive overall, it’s been Benintendi who has drawn more attention in the context of a potential promotion to the majors. Dave Dombrowski has expressed a willingness to promote players directly from Double-A to the bigs. The speculation is compounded by the question marks surrounding the team’s third outfield spot next to Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Injuries to left fielders Chris Young, Not Just A Catcher Blake Swihart, and Brock Holt left some clamoring for Benintendi to be called up sooner rather than later.

While Moncada may force his way up the ladder if he continues to tear the cover off the ball, there’s no obvious place to put him at the major league level as long as Dustin Pedroia is manning second base. At some point, it seems likely that Moncada will be moved to third (or even a corner outfield spot), where his path to playing time will be less cluttered.

We may not see either play at Fenway this season, but if they continue their torrid pace, Benintendi and Moncada may leave Dombrowski little choice but to call them up. Rob Bradford of WEEI.com wrote about bringing them both up and having them on the October roster, should the Sox make the playoffs. The possibility harkens back to Jacoby Ellsbury’s late-season addition to the 2007 team in center field, and Xander Bogaerts’ playing time in the 2013 playoffs.

Quick update on Anderson Espinoza (RHP):

Just kidding :(

High-A Salem: Michael Kopech (RHP)

While the move bolstered a rotation that desperately needed help, the acquisition of Drew Pomeranz at the expense of Anderson Espinoza was a tough pill to swallow for many Sox fans. Here’s hoping those Pedro Martinez comparisons don’t make this look like an all-time dumb trade by Dombrowski. Either way, we now turn our attention to two new pitchers for fans to salivate over as they trek through the farm system. The first is this year’s first-round pick, Jason Groome, who just signed a $3.65 million tender with the team and is headed to the Gulf Coast League to begin his career.

The second is Michael Kopech, who threw 105 MPH in a game at High-A Salem last week. While one pitch obviously isn’t what made Dombrowski comfortable to surrender Espino—wait. 105 MPH?

Yep. Kopech, the 20-year old right-hander taken in the first round in 2014 was clocked on multiple radar guns with a pitch harder than any thrown in the majors this season, save for one thrown by Aroldis Chapman on Monday night. Yikes.

Kopech missed the first couple months of the season with a broken bone in his hand suffered in an altercation with a teammate. And already has a 50-game suspension for a banned stimulant under his belt from last season. So, clearly, he’s hit some speed bumps since being drafted. But the kid can throw.

Kopech made a single start with Short Season A Lowell, going 4.2 innings without allowing a run, before being promoted to High-A Salem. There, he has made three starts totaling 14 innings, striking out 23 and just one earned run. While he ended up taking the loss, Kopech struck out nine in a five-inning performance Monday night.

Oh, and did I mention he has piercing blue eyes and serious flow, a la Noah Syndergaard? What’s that? That’s a weird thing to mention? Fine.

Throwing hard doesn’t guarantee success. Nor do facial features. But if Kopech can stay in control — on and off the mound — he’ll very soon be filling the void left by Espinoza as the Red Sox’ prized pitching prospect.

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

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