Rain is stupid. OK, not all the time, but it was remarkably stupid last night as it shortened the debut of Chicago White Sox uber-pitching prospect Michael Kopech. The 22-year old flamethrower didn’t return after a rain delay just before the third inning started, but we did get to see 52 pitches as he labored a bit through his two innings. He allowed three hits, but stranded all of them and didn’t walk anybody while tallying four strikeouts.
Kopech is known for his blazing velocity, even being clocked at 105 mph back in 2016 and regularly hitting triple digits. He opened his MLB career with a 96 mph strike and sat 96-98 on 41 fastballs. He had three swinging strikes, six chases out of the zone, seven called strikes, and 14 foul balls on the pitch. He consistently worked up in the zone which I loved. Kopech threw 22 of the 41 fastballs in the upper third of the zone. In fact, all three of his swinging strikes on the fastball came to lefties up in the zone. My favorite was this finisher against Jake Cave:
Command and control aren’t the most polished parts of Kopech, in fact, you could make a case that it’s quite the opposite and his early development will be focused on honing those aspects, but I thought he did a solid job spotting his fastball. He completely missed some spots (as any pitcher will in just about every single start) and was over the middle of the plate regularly, but you have a bigger margin for error when you’re working up with 96+.
Kopech complements his fastball with a hard-breaking low-80s slider that actually takes on a curveball look at times, making me wonder if it’s more of “breaking ball hybrid” similar to what we see from a lot of guys today with Corey Kluber’s as the platinum standard. He only threw eight so it’s hard to make a firm judgment on it, but the pitch ranged from 79 to 85 mph with the lower speed ones definitely looking like curves:
One of his best slider-looking sliders was his first strikeout of the night against Miguel Sano:
Whether it looks like a slider or curveball, it’s a nasty breaker that is going to generate a ton of strikeouts throughout his career.
We only got three changeups in the truncated outing, but one of them might have been his best pitch of the night (NSFW warning… it’s that hot):
This 91 mph fall-off-the-table changeup is definitely the peak of what this pitch can be, but it’s still a work in progress. It’s easily the most raw of his three offerings and was regularly graded in the 40-45 range on scouting reports. If he can push it to a consistent 50-grade offering, he’s going to be insanely good.
The pitch sat 89 mph (again, he threw three… they were 91, 88, and 88) which would make it one of the hardest changeups in the league. There is the 10 mph “ideal” velo split that we hope for with changeups, but it’s not a prerequisite to a successful one. If it moves like the one to Grossman, it can be 5-6 mph slower than the fastball and work like a charm.
Despite being cheated out of another couple innings (maybe three if he mixed in a quick 10-15 pitch inning), there was still a lot to like from Kopech. He challenged the Twins, got out of a jam, showed some excellent high heat, and didn’t walk anybody.
He wasn’t working at the 99-100 mph we’re used to hearing about (or seeing if you have MiLB.tv), but he was still very effective at 96-98 and perhaps he was opting to work in that range with more control to offset the likely nerves of an MLB debut. I mentioned it on Twitter last night after the broadcast brought it up, too:
Wonder if he's got that JV level where he ramps up to it later. The telecast was actually JUST discussing the velo and Stone suggested he might just be a little tight and content to work 96-98, but as he loosens up (and he was meaning in future starts, not tn), he'll get there
— Paul Sporer (@sporer) August 22, 2018
I’m not worried about the velo. It’ll be there and perhaps we’ll see it with regularity on Sunday in Detroit when he makes his second start. He’s far from a finished product, but the stuff is undeniably electric and it’s going to be fun watching him over the final month-plus. I’m excited to watch his development.
I also made a quick mock up of what his MLB The Show card might look like (no, I don’t think he’s a “B Potential” player, but editing that portion is on a different screen than the ratings so I didn’t go fix it. He’s clearly an “A Potential” player):
— Paul Sporer (@sporer) August 22, 2018