Want Some Good News? Meet Boston Red Sox Pitching Prospect Michael Kopech

Michael Kopech might be the Red Sox most promising starting pitching prospect in quite some time. photo via Reid Compton/USA TODAY Sports Images

Okay, the Red Sox lost and Andrew Benintendi is heading to the 15-day disabled list with an injury that may require a lot more than 15 days to recover from.

Onto some good news.

When the Boston Red Sox acquired starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres it came with a steep price tag.

The Red Sox had to part with Anderson Espinoza.

Espinoza is only 18-years old, when the Red Sox dealt him to the Padres he was the Sox top-rated pitching prospect. Espinoza has great stuff, and for a player his age he was already pitching at relatively high level of pro-ball.

Now that he’s with the Padres he’s not only their top rated pitching prospect, but according to MLB.com, he’s the Padres highest rated minor league prospect, period.  For those who lamented the departure of Espinoza, here’s some news that should be comforting.

Even if Espinoza had stuck around, odds are he’d no longer be the top rated pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization.

That’s because Michael Kopech has transformed himself from a guy with a positive PED test, and anger issues, into the best starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization, and possibly one of the best in all of major league baseball.

Fans of the NFL know that drafting quarterbacks is a high-risk proposition.

The major league baseball equivalent of that is drafting a high school pitching prospect.

Back in 1991 the New York Yankees selected a high school phenom by the name of Brien Taylor with the No.1 overall pick, he never ever reached the majors. The Oakland A’s famously selected high school hurler Todd Van Poppel with the No.14 overall pick in the 1990 MLB draft. Van Poppel did reach the majors, but he was never the pitcher he was hyped to be.

For the Red Sox picking high school starting pitchers has proven to be a mostly fruitless endeavor.

Trey Ball was selected No.7 overall in the 2013 draft. He’s having a solid but not spectacular season for the Red Sox single-A affiliate in Salem.

In 2011 the Red Sox selected high school pitcher Henry Owens No.36 overall. Owens advanced through the Red Sox minor league system with plenty of success. Anyone who watched last Sunday’s outing against the Detroit Tigers is well aware that Owens future as a major league starter is at-best somewhat promising.

In 2008 the Red Sox used the No.30 overall pick on high school pitcher Casey Kelly. Kelly was then shipped off to the San Diego Padres as a key part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade. He has pitched in the majors but with very little success and at this point He’s currently playing for the Atlanta Braves Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett.

Michael Kopech was the No.33 overall pick in the 2014 draft. He was selected right out of high school. At 6’3″ 205 pounds he has a physical presence on the mound.

From the time he was drafted, until this spring Kopech had provided the Red Sox with far more headaches than reasons for optimism.

In July of 2015 he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug and was suspended for 50 games. This past March Kopech got in a fight with a teammate and broke his hand.

It was June 17, 2016 when Kopech finally made his first start of the 2016 season. That start for low-A Lowell was promising enough to earn him an instant promotion to A-Level Salem.

Kopech has started 10 games for Salem, and the results have been extremely encouraging.

In fact they’ve been nothing short of remarkable.

Kopech is 4-1, his ERA is 1.23. He’s pitched 51.1 innings, walked 24, allowed 24 hits, and has yet to give-up a home run. He’s also got 81 strikeouts. That’s right, 81 strikeouts. That comes out to 4.2 hits per 9 innings pitched, and 14.2 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.

Those are the type of numbers that legitimate No.1 and No. 2 major league starters post on their paths to the majors.

Back in 2012 Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 19 years old, he spent the season pitching for the Marlins high and low A-ball squads. He finished that season with a combined record of 14-1. His ERA was 1.75 and he struck out 158 over 134 innings pitched.

In 2004 an 18-year-old top pitching prospect named Felix Hernandez spent his year pitching for the Mariners high-A and double-A squads. The future Cy Young winner was 14-4 with an ERA of 2.95, he struck out 172 in just 149.1 innings of work.

In 2007, 19-year-old Clayton Kershaw split his time between the Dodgers high-A and double-A teams. He finished his season 8-7 with an ERA of 2.95. Kershaw pitched 122 innings and struck out 163 batters.

Is Michael Kopech a future Jose Fernandez, Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw?

That’s a bit much to project at this point. Kopech’s fastball is world-class elite. Back in July he famously touched 105 miles per hour on the radar gun. That type of velocity is simply too much for the vast majority of low and even high level minor leaguers to make contact with.

The problem is that once he reaches the majors Kopech will find that he’s not going to be able to just throw the ball past opposing batters. He’s going to need to be able to consistently and effectively throw at least one, and ideally two other pitches.

For Kopech that means throwing three pitches, a slider, a curve ball, and a change-up with more effectiveness.  All of the pitches show promise, but as of now they’re not nearly as effective as his fastball.

For now, that’s working out just fine. Wednesday night while the Red Sox were losing a tough-luck extra innings contest to the Rays, Kopech was continuing to dominate A-ball hitters. He pitched a career-high seven innings, allowed one hit, walked two, gave up no runs and mowed down 10 opposing batters.

That gives Kopech 10 or more strikeouts in four of his last five starts. It also gives the Red Sox something they haven’t had in a while. A legitimate glimmer of hope that there just might be a top-notch future major league starting pitcher advancing up through the minor league system.

 

 

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro
Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog. I've previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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