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Pleskoff Scouting Report: Michael Kopech

PEORIA, AZ - NOVEMBER 11: Surprise Saguaros Pitcher Michael Kopech (50) (BOS) pitches during the Arizona Fall League game between the Surprise Saguaros and the Mesa Solar Sox on Thursday, November 11, 2016 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
  • TEAM: Boston Red Sox
  • AGE: 20
  • POSITION: Pitcher
  • BATS: Right
  • THROWS: Right
  • HEIGHT: 6-foot-3
  • WEIGHT: 205 lbs.
  • ACQUIRED: The Boston Red Sox selected Kopech in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Mount Pleasant High School in Mount Pleasant, Texas.

*****

STRENGTHS

To put it mildly, Kopech has an incredibly powerful arm. He has very little difficulty hitting 95-98 miles per hour on a consistent basis with his four-seam fastball. And he throws strikes with that fastball.

Kopech is dominating hitters in this year’s edition of the Arizona Fall League, where he is using a very effective combination of his blazing fastball and a very solid 87 mile-per-hour slider to keep hitters off balance. He has also mixed in a changeup that arrives at the plate at 84 miles per hour. In essence, if he so desired, he can easily go from 97 to 87 miles per hour from pitch to pitch.

At this early stage of his professional career, I think Kopech is more comfortable throwing his fastball than either of his other two pitches. He just seems very confident he can miss bats with that four-seamer. His fastball has excellent late life, changing the eye level of the hitter in the process.

Kopech’s command and control of his entire repertoire has improved with experience as a professional.

He has a bit of an unorthodox delivery with high effort. His current delivery, however, has less overall movement and aggression than he showed when he first turned professional.

He hasn’t changed his mound demeanor complete, however, as he is still a bit aggressive on the mound. He comes right after the hitter, with tempting and challenging high velocity pitches that may look easier to hit than they are. The hitter can’t let his guard down a bit without having to worry about the velocity and location of the pitch on its way. Once a hitter digs in for the fastball, the slider or changeup can fool him easily.

Most solid hitters will sit on Kopech’s fastball and let the secondary pitches pass them by.

WEAKNESSES

I have been able to scout the last two of Kopech’s Arizona Fall League starts. He is impressive due to the vast speed variation and the way he can use the entire strike zone to his advantage. However, he could be even more effective if he mixed in his slider even more often and trusted his changeup as a meaningful third pitch. As it stands, he merely spots that pitch to give the hitter something to think about so the hitter doesn’t sit on the fastball. Broadening his repertoire would make Kopech even more dangerous than he is today and keep the hitter from doing what I suggest is possible, eliminating the secondary pitches and thinking only about the fastball.

Kopech missed development time due to a 50-game suspension in July 2015 for the use of banned substance.

He doesn’t have the same command of his slider as he does with his high-velocity fastball. He will have to throw that slider for strikes to improve the efficiency of his four-seamer.

NARRATIVE

An extremely highly-regarded high school pitcher, Kopech’s velocity began to increase from a high of 92 miles per hour in the beginning of his senior year to the mid- to upper-90’s late in that same year. He made some adjustment to his pithing mechanics that helped boost his velocity. Scouts took notice.

He had planned to attend the University of Arizona, but the Red Sox signed Kopech after drafting him with the 33rd pick in the 2014 draft.

In addition to his suspension, Kopech also missed three months of development time this past spring due to a broken hand he suffered in a fight with a roommate. He did begin to pitch in June, when in essence, he started his season at the Class-A Short Season Lowell team in the New York-Penn League. He was there for one start, going 4.1 innings before being promoted.

Kopech then threw 52 innings and finished his season at Class-A Advanced Salem, compiling a 4-1 Carolina League record in 11 starts. He had a very fine 2.25 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.

He may be in the Fall League to make up for innings missed, or he may be pitching in the Arizona desert because he is so far advanced in his development as a pitcher. Both may be true.

In his career to date, a couple of trends have developed in his statistical background. Kopech’s ability to overpower less advanced hitters in parts of three seasons in the Red Sox system has led to a very low number of home runs being hit against him. In fact, he has yielded only 0.2 home runs per nine innings in 134.2 innings pitched.

Kopech earns lots of swings and misses. To date, he has struck out an average of 11.5 minor league hitters per nine innings. That strikeout rate will be tough to maintain as his competition improves, but it illustrates his power arm and the good location of his pitches.

There are those that say Kopech has hit 105 miles per hour with his fastball. Based upon what I have seen, that could very well be true.

THE FUTURE FOR KOPECH

It is difficult for me to believe Kopech is only 20 years old. He pitches with much more confidence than one would expect from a man with 134.2 innings as a professional pitcher. He is extremely advanced for his age and experience.

Watching him pitch, I find very little to quibble about. Yes, I think he should use his slider and changeup more often so hitters don’t just sit on his fastball. Yes, I think he should have the same confidence in his secondary pitches that he does in his four-seam fastball. Neither of those are a big deal.

The repertoire refinement will come. If he spends one more season working on commanding a complete repertoire he should be ready for the Red Sox starting rotation in 2018. And he could even arrive sometime next season depending upon his progress and the needs of his team. That’s a long shot, but it could happen. I hope not. He needs the time seeing better quality hitters at Double-A and Triple-A to advance his career.

That said, Kopech is seeing some very high quality hitters in the Arizona Fall League. And some of them have touched him up a bit for some hits.

As of this writing Kopech has made three starts in the Fall League. He has yielded ten hits in ten innings. He has an ERA of 2.70 with one walk and 12 strikeouts. Outstanding numbers. He has given up one home run among three earned runs.

My projection of Kopech includes All-Star appearances for him. I believe he will be an effective starting pitcher with high velocity and good command to eat innings and give his team a chance to win games. Much will depend upon his willingness to broaden his repertoire and throw his secondary pitches with confidence.

CONCLUSIONS

Michael Kopech throws high-velocity fastballs with late life and good enough movement to earn swings and misses, high strikeout totals and ground ball outs.

If he further develops his overall command and refines his secondary pitches that include a slider and less-often-used changeup, he will be very difficult to beat.

Kopech pitches as if he knows he’s good. I like that. He is good.

When Kopech improves his secondary offerings, he will slot into an important role in the Red Sox rotation. His exact slot will be less important than his ability to eat innings; 96, 97, and 98 mile-per-hour arms are to be cherished and developed. That’s what’s happening with Mr. Kopech.

In the event he does not develop his slider and changeup, he can be one outstanding late-inning reliever or even a lights out, dominating closer. But I like him much better as a starting pitcher.

SCOUTING PHRASE FOR KOPECH: A star in the making that is working his way up the Red Sox food chain.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR KOPECH: 60 – An All-Star quality power pitcher

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff

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