December 28, 2015 at 7:00 AM
This week, we recap the players ranked 7, 6, and 5 in the SoxProspects.com season-end Top 40. All entries in this year's Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.
#7 Michael Kopech, RHP
2015 Teams: Greenville Drive
Final Stats: 65 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 70 K, 27 BB
2015 Peak Ranking: 5 (Current)
Season in Review: 2014
Season in Review: Kopech was selected with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, but threw just 13 innings in the Gulf Coast League in his professional debut, giving only a small indication of what might be expected from the Texan right-hander. In 2015, the soon-to-be 19-year-old broke camp with the Greenville Drive, three years younger than the average pitcher in the South Atlantic League. He had a short adjustment period, failing to make it through four innings in three of his first five starts, allowing eight runs in 18 2/3 innings, walking seven and allowing 14 hits although he did strike out 17 hitters. But from that point forward Kopech really turned it on. In what would be his final 11 appearances, he allowed only 11 earned runs over 46 1/3 innings for a 2.14 ERA. Consistency was key for him over that stretch, giving up one earned run or less in eight of those 11 appearances while averaging over a strikeout an inning, and his still-high 20 walks in that span ballooned due to the nine free passes he gave up over nine innings in his final two starts, perhaps signaling fatigue.
Unfortunately, Kopech's final start would come on July 12. It was announced less than a week later that he had been suspended 50 games—precisely the number of contests the Drive had remaining in the regular season—for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program after testing positive for the stimulant Oxilofrine. For his part, Kopech denied knowingly taking the substance, claiming that he would have gained nothing from taking a substance used by some athletes to lose weight when he was trying to gain weight. Still, the suspension left a bit of a black mark on an otherwise impressive season that saw him rise from the 10th to fifth in the SoxProspects.com rankings and likely inclusion on Top 100 lists this offseason. Despite missing the rest of the regular season, he was able to participate in the Fall Instructional League, where he pitched longer-than-typical outings in an attempt to make up for some of the innings he lost as a result of the suspension. - Will Woodward
Scouting Report and 2016 Outlook: Kopech is listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, with a strong frame and strong upper half. The right-handed pitcher possesses the ideal pitcher's frame and an explosive fastball from his quick arm that sits in the mid-90s and has touched 100 mph. Since being drafted, Kopech has significantly cleaned up his delivery and is now more compact, fluid, and balanced. His secondary repertoire consists of a curveball and changeup. The breaking ball sits at 78-82 mph, sitting in the higher half of that velocity band during my viewing at Fall Instructs, flashing tight, slurvy rotation with bite at its best, but lacking consistency. The change is a work in progress that he reportedly worked on during his suspension, but was average at best at Instructs, coming in at about 86 mph.
Kopech will turn 20 during the 2016 season and possesses the body, fastball, and raw pitchability with a secondary mix of a curveball and changeup that you can dream upon. He has the ceiling of a potential #2 starter down the road. He still needs to improve his consistency with his delivery and his overall command and control. Still young, raw, and projectable, Kopech’s areas of development should include continued focus on repeating the delivery, fastball command, and pitchability with his secondary offerings. Kopech should begin the year with High A Salem. - Chaz Fiorino
Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor