Durham, NC – Michael Kopech’s 2018 hasn’t quite gone as expected. Last season, despite walking 5 hitters per 9, Kopech was one the highest risers in prospect rankings. In 2018, walking 6 per 9, Kopech has become the most volatile SP prospect in baseball.
I got a first look at Kopech Saturday night against the Durham Bulls. The big right hander turned in his best start of the season. Kopech fired 6 IP allowing 1 ER and striking out 11. What’s better is that he only walked 1 and threw 90 pitches, 76 for strikes. Now, I did not take video simply because Kopech has been analyzed and scrutinized to death. So I’ll bring you something new.
If this is your first time reading my work, then you should know that unlike others in the industry, I do not lose my mind over fastball velocity. I see 98 all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice but it does not make someone a SP5 much less the “ace” that people have unfairly stuck on Kopech. You need a minimal two plus rated secondary pitches and command in order to even have a shot as an ace. Verlander, Kluber, Sale, deGrom, and Kershaw all feature plus-plus offspeed with command. It allows their fastballs to play up and keep hitters off balance. Blake Snell throws 4 plus pitches but command held him back until this year.
So with Kopech, my goal was to figure out if he was doing anything mechanically that caused his command to struggle and then see his sequencing and secondaries. Since Kopech threw the most strikes in any start and only walked one, I can’t tell you why he has walked 6 per 9. Below is a slo-motion open faced look at his mechanics.
Notice how when he loads on the back leg, there is no linear drive. Kopech is more rotational which isn’t that big of a deal but it isn’t ideal. He doesn’t throw down hill and did not command the bottom of the zone. It’s hard to ascertain if the command struggles even within the zone are due to the lower half. I would need to see another look when he struggles. Overall, the mechanics look clean. The elbow is where it needs to be when the front foot strikes the ground which protects the UCL. The only nitpick is the stiff front leg. It works for Verlander though.
Concerning the secondary pitches, Kopech’s slider at 88 had some tilt and spin to it but was higher in the zone than I would have liked. There were times he threw it with two strikes and all it did was speed up the bat, resulting in hard contact. Kopech will need to bury that slider down in the dirt to really get the most out of the pitch. His CH was firm at 79, striking out a red-hot Brandon Lowe swinging. He did keep the CH low when he did throw it. The problem: he doesn’t throw it enough. Additionally, I can’t speak to how the CH looked before so I don’t know why he doesn’t throw it more. The speed differential though is so substantial that his arm action has to be perfect in order to generate swing and miss which could contribute to the command struggles. I haven’t seen his CH rated as a plus pitch and if he is inconsistent with the arm action, advanced hitters will pick up the speed differential and lay off.
Overall, I like what I saw. I was expecting to see a pitcher that was erratic and I saw a pretty good arm. I don’t think Kopech is an ace though. The SL and CH got outs but most of his success was due to elevating the FB. He did not command the black of the plate but he did change eye level. I think Kopech is victim of the hype. Industry guys salivated over the FB and K rate and really put unfair expectations on him. Fans get their information from the industry and fan the flames. It is what it is. Kopech though has a chance to be a back of the rotation guy that flashes brilliance but I think he ends up in the bullpen long-term.