December 7, 2016 at 5:00 PM
After acquiring right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers earlier in the day (look for a coming Trade Analysis on that deal), the Red Sox went out and made an even bigger move on Tuesday, acquiring left-handed pitcher Chris Sale for a package featuring four prospects, including the top prospect in the SoxProspects rankings in infielder Yoan Moncada, right-hander Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz.
Dave Dombrowski has shown since he first joined the organization that he is unafraid to deal top prospects if he thinks it can help the team win now. In acquiring Sale, the Red Sox added one of the best pitchers in all of baseball—who has had a lot of success against American League East opponents—on a very team friendly contract for the next three years, costing just $6.5 million against the competitive balance tax.
The cost to acquire Sale, however, was not as cheap. The Red Sox had to include three of the top 10 prospects in the system and four prospects who all have significant upside but come with risk. The depth the system had when Dombrowski took over is now gone and the cupboard has been picked thin—10 of the prospects in last October’s SoxProspects Top 20 have been traded in just over a year’s time. A few years down the line, this trade could look very different if a few of the prospects involved reach their potential, especially if one is Moncada. Still, the cost was easier to stomach given that the club was able to hold on to all of its young, established talent at the big league level, including Andrew Benintendi.
This morning we posted Part One of our Trade Analysis that focused on the hitting prospects in the deal. Part Two below will focus on the two pitching prospects in the deal.
In addition to Yoan Moncada, the other top five prospect from the Red Sox system heading to the White Sox is right-hander Michael Kopech. Kopech’s 2016 was a season of extremes: After getting suspended for the second half of 2015 for his use of a diet supplement on the list of MLB's banned substances, the 2014 supplemental first-round pick broke his hand in an altercation with a teammate in spring training. When he finally did take the mound, though, he turned heads with his fastball. While the authenticity of his reported, mythical 105-mile-per-hour pitch may be debated through the ages, what cannot be questioned was his dominance from the rubber. In 52 innings for Salem, he recorded 82 punchouts and allowed only 25 hits. The excellence continued against the stiffer competition of the Arizona Fall League. In 22 1/3 innings, he struck out 26 and posted a 2.10 ERA, leading Baseball America to rate Kopech the number-two prospect in that circuit.
Like Moncada, Kopech is another physical specimen. He is listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds with a muscular, filled out body, he has an ideal pitcher’s frame. He has an electric arm, one of the quickest I have seen, and excellent arm strength. Kopech throws from a three-quarters arm slot with a high leg lift. He starts with a wide base with his hands by his chest, bringing them down to his waist and back up for his windup. His delivery has a lot of moving parts, with long arm action and hook behind, and he does not consistently finish his delivery. Furthermore, because of how quick his arm is, Kopech’s delivery can get out of sync relatively easily.
Kopech’s fastball will usually sit in the 96-99 mph range, topping out at 101 mph, but some starts he will dip down into the 94-98 mph range. The pitch will show life and arm-side run, but he has had trouble locating it at times, leading to questions about his long-term command and control profile. Because of his athleticism, Kopech should be able to develop average command, especially with the strides he has already made in cleaning up his delivery and improving his consistency repeating it.
Kopech features a slider and changeup, with both offerings flashing at least above-average, but not consistently. His slider is the better of the two at present, a true power slider in the high-80s that will show two-plane break and bite. It will flash plus potential with the ability to miss bats at the highest level. His low-90s changeup is more inconsistent, flashing above-average some starts but below-average in others. He doesn’t have consistent feel for the pitch yet, though he does throw it with the same arm speed as his fastball, making it tough to identify. Kopech has also thrown a curveball at 79-82 mph in the past, but late in 2016 seemed to find his slider and thus scrapped the pitch.
The top right-handed pitching prospect in the Red Sox system and a top 50 prospect in all of baseball, Kopech has the ceiling of a number two to three starter, with an elite fastball and two above-average-to-plus secondary pitches. I am not convinced that he is a starter long-term, and think there is a decent chance he ends up in the bullpen if he does not improve his fastball command and control and consistency with his secondary pitches. In a bullpen role, however, he could be a weapon, a potential late-inning power arm, which as the last two postseasons have shown is an extremely valuable player.
The last piece of the trade may not be nearly as familiar to readers now, but if he continued pitching how he was at the end of this year into next year, he would have been. Right-handed pitcher Victor Diaz got a late start to his pro career, signing in December 2014 as a 20-year-old, but he has impressed along the way both in the DSL in 2015, where he put up a 1.38 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings, and in Greenville, where he posted a 3.88 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings in 2016. Diaz’s line this year is deceiving. Bad performances in the first half of the season left him with a 6.59 ERA and 1.78 WHIP after his first 28 2/3 innings with 12 walks and 23 strikeouts. But in the second half, Diaz put up a 1.42 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 31 2/3 innings with 40 strikeouts and 13 walks. Furthermore, to end the year, Diaz did not allow a run in 16 2/3 innings over August and September, striking out 25 hitters and allowing only eight hits and nine walks. Diaz also was excellent during the Fall Instructional League this year, carrying over the strides he made in the second half and generating buzz among scouts.
Though listed at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Diaz looks heavier than that. He has a filled-out pitcher’s frame with minimal remaining projection. His delivery has a lot of moving parts, but he seems to have a handle on how to repeat his delivery, and when he is locked in, his stuff is very impressive. Diaz throws from a three-quarters arm slot with a quick, strong arm. His fastball sits in the high-90s, and he has touched 100 mph in the past. When I saw him at Instructs, he sat at 99 mph for every fastball in his outing. His fastball has late life and has shown the ability to miss bats if he can harness his command.
Diaz’ secondaries have been inconsistent in the past, but improved as the season went on and were impressive at Instructs. His slider flashes above-average-to-plus, thrown 91-93 mph and showing short, hard, 10-to-4 break and late bite. Diaz also throws a changeup at 90-92 mph that is behind his slider. He has the tendency to telegraph the pitch by slightly slowing his arm down.
A reliever all the way, with improved command and refinement of his secondaries, Diaz has the upside to project in a late-inning bullpen role, although he comes with risk attached, and given that he has not pitched above Low A, he is more of a lottery ticket at this point.
Photo credits: Michael Kopech by Kelly O'Connor and Victor Diaz by milb.com
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.