Michael Kopech, a 20-year-old Boston Red Sox minor league pitcher, was clocked throwing a fastball at 105 miles per hour during a game on July 13, catching the eye not only of higher-ups in the Boston organization, but of Red Sox fans who immediately began to ask about Kopech — and wonder when the top prospect might be able to help the Major League team at Fenway Park.
The answer to that question is probably not for at least another two or three years. Kopech, who was the second of two first-round Red Sox draft picks in 2014, has considerable development ahead of him not only as a pitcher, but in his off-field character as well, after two incidents that threw self-created obstacles in the way of the right-handed fireballer’s progress toward the big leagues.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) July 15, 2016
Nonetheless, the six-foot-three, 205-pound Kopech’s potential appears high. Not only has he struck out an eye-opening 113 batters in 96.67 professional innings, with three starts this season for the Salem Red Sox of the Advanced Single-A Carolina League, Kopech has surrendered just two runs in 14 innings, an ERA of 0.69, according to statistics posted by Baseball-Reference.com.
His 105 miles per hour fastball was recorded during his second outing of the season on July 13 against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, of the Kansas City Royals organization, according to the Boston Globe.
But in his debut start, coming off the disabled list, Kopech accomplished a feat that was nearly as impressive against the Atlanta Braves’ Carolina Mudcats affiliate. In the fourth inning, Kopech stuck out the side on the minimum nine pitches, with his best fastball hitting 100 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Watch that remarkable inning hurled by Michael Kopech in the video below.
After a trade sent 18-year-old Venezuelan righthander Anderson Espinoza to the San Diego Padres last week in a deal for Major League starter Drew Pomeranz, Michael Kopech immediately jumped to the top slot among pitching prospects in the Boston system — and the fourth-ranked Red Sox prospect overall — the according to the MLB.com rankings.
The Red Sox drafted Kopech as an 18-year-old out of Mount Pleasant High School in Mount Pleasant, Texas, with the 33rd overall selection on 2014, a pick they earned as compensation when star free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the New York Yankees.
But after a short 2014 season in the Rookie Leagues, Michael Kopech was just hitting his stride in 2015 at Single A Greenville when he was slapped with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for Oxilofrine, a stimulant considered dangerous for human consumption and banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
As if that wasn’t tough enough, Kopech started 2016 by breaking his pitching hand in a fight with his minor-league roommate, a pointless injury that kept him sidelined until July.
“I don’t want to be portrayed as a bad person by any means,” Kopech told The Boston Globe in a June interview.
“I mean, the past is the past and I’m ready to just better myself. It’s been a rough year. But to have an organization that supports and backs me 100 percent of the way, it means a lot. Just shows that they never really gave up on me.”
— MiLB.com (@MiLB) July 14, 2016
Kopech has also gained a degree of off-field notoriety by dating reality TV star Brielle Zolciak-Biermann, daughter of Real Housewives of Atlanta reality star Kim Zolciak.
But Red Sox fans are generally less interested in Kopech’s love life than in the possible pitching help he brings to the Boston team.
“Kopech can become a lights-out reliever, but if the change or command can take a grade step up—not an unrealistic expectation for someone this young to make mechanical adjustments—he has a chance to pitch in the middle of the rotation while missing lots of bats,” said an analysis by Baseball Prospectus.
The SoxProspects.com site is slightly less optimistic about the Boston Red Sox top pitching prospect, saying that the Texan exhibits “number three starter potential if things turn out right,” adding that Michael Kopech has a “long way to go developmentally.”
[Photo via Boston Red Sox Publicity]