White Sox: Prospect Profiles flame-throwing pitcher Michael Kopech
Ranked second in the White Sox Top 30, 13 in the MLB Top 100, Michael Kopech has been of the main headlines for the 2018 White Sox season. Unfortunately, not for the right reasons.
While Yoan Moncada headlined the blockbuster White Sox trade that sent Chris Sale to Boston, many overlooked the flame-throwing Michael Kopech who was also sent over in the deal.
But after a video of Kopech throwing a ball 110-miles per hour began to go viral, the debate about which player from the Sale trade will be better began.
Ranked 13 in the MLB Top 100, Kopech made it easy for Rick Hahn to decide to bring him up. After 24 starts at Triple-A Charlotte, he recorded a 3.70 ERA. Though it may not seem so overwhelming, Kopech recorded 170 strikeouts in 126 innings. He also kept his opponents’ batting average at .219.
There were two big concerns in regards to bringing up Kopech: his accuracy and his arm.
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About his accuracy, it is getting there. It took Kopech 19 starts before he pitched a walk-free game. Of those 19 games, he gave up one walk in three of them. He was striking out people, but walking them as well. But since that twentieth star – a five-inning outing when he did not walk anyone, his mindset must have changed.
In his last 27 innings at Triple-A Charlotte, he walked only two batters. In his last 20 innings, he walked no one. In those 27 innings, he recorded 35 punch outs with only five earned runs. Ending his Knights season on such a strong note gave Hahn no choice but to allow Kopech to begin his Big League career. Unfortunately, he only got a taste.
In the early morning of September 8, breaking news shook the White Sox fan base and perhaps the city of Chicago (and the entire MLB). Kopech tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which is the injury that requires the dreaded Tommy-John reconstructive surgery. This shutdown Kopech’s baseball activity for the remainder of this year will continue into the 2019 season.
Fortunately, the success rate of the surgery is high for players who have not had this surgery in the past. This unfortunate injury happened just 14 innings into Kopech’s Big League career. In those 14 innings, Kopech allowed only two walks, and K’d 15. Batters recorded eight earned runs and four home runs against him.
Physically, the injury may not be too much of a setback for the young 22-year-old. Yes, it is a significant and devastating injury, but as a young pitcher who has not had elbow surgery in the past, it may not be as bad as White Sox fans believe. Mentally, however, it may have more of an impact. Yes, he can come back and be ready to pitch after a time of dedicated rehabilitation, but it is challenging at a mental level to get back to 100 percent.
Manager Rick Renteria is confident Kopech can return stronger telling Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune:
"“(Kopech) is a driven person. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to go through everything very, very well and he’ll be back … This is a hiccup, albeit a pretty strong hiccup.”"
As a player, Kopech arguably has the best fastball among prospects. An argument could be made about him having a better fastball than Max Scherzer or Noah Syndergaard as prospects. With an above-average slider and a developing changeup, before his injury, it was believed that Kopech would be the favorite for the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year award. Maybe he can do it in 2020 instead.