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April 27, 2020 at 6:00 AM

Cup of Coffee: Where are they now? (Pitchers Vol. 2)


4/27 Cup of Coffee: We continue our look around at players who have moved on from the Red Sox system in recent years with a quartet of pitchers, including two of the more coveted prospects the team dealt in their run of success.

It takes a pretty special talent to undergo Tommy John surgery and not lose any prospect sheen. So it is with Kopech, in the conversation for being the human being who hurls a five ounce orb harder than any other on the planet. The co-headliner (along with Yoan Moncada) of the deal that brought Chris Sale from the White Sox, Kopech had been whittling down his walk rate while climbing the minor league ladder while continuing to strike out batters at an exceptional rate. In 2018 with Triple-A Charlotte, he struck out 170 batters in 126 1/3 innings against 60 walks. The 11.1% walk rate was the lowest for Kopech in any season about 70 innings, while his strikeout total was the highest in Triple-A despite throwing the 28th-most innings. 

Kopech made his major league debut on August 21 of that year, getting a two-inning start, allowing three hits (all singles) and striking out four of the 10 batters he faced. He had his first quality start four days later, giving up just one run in six innings. He didn't issue a walk until start number three, when Andrew Benintendi worked a free pass. After three more scoreless innings that day, Kopech carried a miniscule 0.82 ERA and nine strikeouts with only one walk in 11 innings, flashing that future ace upside. Disaster struck in his next outing with seven runs on nine hits, including four home runs, in 3 1/3 innings, and then a major injury. Kopech was diagnosed with a significant tear of the UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery, and he has not thrown a pitch in a competitive game since. Onlookers are undeterred; Kopech was ranked 18th on the MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects headed in to 2019, despite the knowledge he wouldn't throw a pitch that year, and slotted 20th in the 2020 edition. 

Kopech returned to the mound for a spring training start on March 9, retiring the side and throwing each of his first four pitches over 100 miles per hour. Despite those eye-catching velocities, he was expected to continue his rehab until late May. 

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For a brief moment following the 2016 draft, the Red Sox had Kopech, Espinoza, and Jay Groome all in the system at the same time. Between the three there have now been four Tommy John procedures, with Espinoza having a second one last summer. A consensus top-25 prospect in baseball at the time of his initial injury, he has not thrown a pitch since August 31, 2016. MLB Pipeline still ranks him the #28 prospect in the Padres system, arguably the deepest in the game. 

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The decision to carry Taylor out of Spring Training in 2017 two years before he was Rule 5 eligible remains just to carry him for a week was one of the more unnecessarily careless of the Dombrowski era. The team lost him a year later when there was a roster crunch after cutting into his development to ride the back-and-forth from Pawtucket to Boston. He has bounced around since with mixed success. Taylor was claimed by Cleveland when the Red Sox tried to pass him through waivers. he was excellent in 2018 at Triple-A Columbus as he fashioned a 2.51 ERA, 70 strikeouts, and just nine walks in 56 1/3 innings, but ineffective in a May recall and was not added in September when rosters expanded. Released at the end of spring training the next year, Taylor ended up with the Diamondbacks, struggling with the juiced ball and homer-friendly parks of the Pacific Coast League. The 5.63 ERA he posted with Reno looks much better when noting the staff posted a nightmarish 6.48 mark for the season. Taylor signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent. 

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The former top prospect is now a member of the Chicago Cubs organization, where he appears to have solidified his spot in that team's major league rotation. Lester made 31 starts for third-place Chicago in 2019, going 13-10 with a 4.46 ERA despite allowing the most hits in the National League. 

Photo Credit: Michael Kopech by Kelly O'Connor


 
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