The Red Sox have exactly one homegrown starter in their rotation. Last night Michael Kopech started his season to try and change that.
Typically, this article series has focused on the entire Red Sox minor league system. Given the problems in the Red Sox rotation this season (their 4.68 ERA ranks 21st in the majors), especially their inability to develop a starter who can produce at the major league level (except for Clay Buchholz who has been the definition of inconsistent), the start of 2014 first round draft choice Michael Kopech last night seemed the right occasion to focus on just one player.
Kopech was taken by the Boston Red Sox with the 33rd pick of the 2014 MLB draft from Mount Pleasant High School, in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Kopech was a compensation pick for the Red Sox losing Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency. Occasionally a team will draft a pitcher and get him to the majors in the same season (Brandon Finnegan 17th overall pick of the Kansas City Royals who went from pitching for TCU in the College World Series to pitching in the World Series in the same season in 2014, comes to mind), but generally the Red Sox try to develop top pitching draft choices right out of high school. Red Sox fans might remember top draft choice Craig Hansen who was rushed to the majors the same year he was drafted 26th overall in 2005. A 6.63 ERA the next season led to his being shipped out of town in 2008, after Terry Francona said maybe he was rushed to the majors too quickly.
Starting his professional career in the Gulf Coast League in 2014 Kopech pitched 13.2 innings over 11 games. Kopech allowed 11 hits, walked nine and struck out 16 while posting a 4.61 ERA. Not a spectacular debut but he moved up the ladder to the Low-A Greenville Drive for the 2015 season as a first rounder should. He was pitching well in Greenville (2.63 ERA, 70 strikeouts in 65 innings) last July when his struggles began. The young Texan tested positive for a PED and was suspended for the remainder of the season.
Kopech denied all knowledge of the PED, vowing to come back this year stronger than ever. His maturity was called into question when he broke a bone in his pitching hand in an altercation with a teammate. After his suspension last year and this needless injury, Kopech will have to grow up in a hurry to show that the Red Sox did not waste their $1.67 million bonus they gave him out of high school.
From a scouting perspective, Kopech has a typical pitcher’s build, six foot three inches tall and 195 pounds. He has a three pitch mix at present, a big fastball that sits 93 to 96 mph and can touch 98, a developing change up, and a wicked slider from which he can generate swings and misses. The team asked him to stop throwing his curveball for the time being while he develops his other pitches.
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Last night in Lowell, Massachusetts, the Short Season A level Lowell Spinners got their season underway. This seemed an ideal opportunity to get Kopech into a competitive environment for the first time in over 11 months to get him back on track. The results were what you might expect from a 20 year old who hasn’t been in a game for that span of time. He threw 79 pitches, 43 of them for strikes in 4.1 scoreless innings. He walked four and allowed four hits but no runs, able to limit damage as he had runners on base in each inning.
Kopech’s development this season will be followed each week in Red Sox Prospect Watch. Most likely, he won’t stay at Lowell for too long as he was past that level last season before his troubles with suspension and injury began. Kopech is at least two to three years away from the majors absent incredible development, but the team needs guys in the pipeline to get to the majors. Hopefully, last night was the first step in making that plan a reality.
Stay tuned to Red Sox Prospect Watch here at BoSoxInjection.com each week as the Red Sox minor league system could come into play as the pennant race heats up.