Michael Kopech on Heat, Momentum, and Health

Michael Kopech’s fastball sits in the upper 90s and has reportedly been clocked at 105 mph. With that kind of electricity, he has one of the highest upsides of any pitching prospect in the game. Part of the package Chicago received from Boston in the Chris Sale deal, he’s a big part of the White Sox’ future.

He obviously needs to stay healthy, and continue to grow his game, for that to come to fruition. There’s risk in both areas. Kopech is just 20 years old, and thanks in part to a pair of off-the-field snafus, he’s thrown only 134.2 innings since being drafted 33rd overall out of Mount Pleasant (Texas) High School in 2014. He’s been a dynamo in that smallish sample, fanning 11.5 batters and allowing 6.2 hits per nine innings of work.

Kopech talked about his ongoing development, including his burgeoning velocity, late last week.


Kopech on his delivery and glove-side fastballs: “[Pitching coach Don Cooper] said he likes what I do mechanically, and a lot of that is from what I worked on with the Red Sox, but a few things have been tweaked. I’m trying to stay back over my back leg longer, and stay tall. Something that’s been really important for me is… not necessarily trying to stay in line toward the plate, but to have my momentum carried in the right direction. I’ve been a guy who throws across his body my whole career, but as long as I can keep my momentum going the right way, I feel like that’s more important than making a line.

“It’s kind of been a work in progress over the past two years. It was something we’ve talked about, and I feel like I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it in the past six to eight months, since right before the Fall League started. Obviously, it’s easier to talk about it than do it, but once you get out there and work on it for a while, it starts to come a little easier.

“I think I was more considered a drop-and-drive guy my first year. I was a guy with a lot of twists and turns, and I would load up on the back leg a lot. Now I think it’s gone more to keeping my momentum back, staying tall, and kind of driving down the right plane toward the plate.

“Me and Coop talk a lot about fastball location to the outside part of the plate [to right-handed hitters]. That’s something I struggle with. Not often, but sometimes. I locate well to the inside half of the plate, I locate well down, and if I want to go up, I can go up. But getting to that glove side, and getting that extension, is more difficult to a right-handed pitcher. Same for a left-handed pitcher going to his glove side. It’s the more difficult side of the plate for a pitcher to reach, and I feel it’s very valuable in the game of baseball today.”

On velocity and weight training: “I’m already a guy who throws hard, so I don’t need to worry about throwing hard. That’s one thing they’ve tried to instill in me since I’ve been here. Everybody wants to throw a little harder, but it’s not something you need to fixate on, especially if you already [have good velocity]. You just have to trust your stuff. I’m worrying more about throwing strikes than anything else.

“I think my [added velocity] is more about how I’ve conditioned my body, since I’ve been young. A lot of it plays into genetics, but the way I train has more to do with it than mechanics. Mechanics help, for sure, but I don’t know if you can give everyone the same mechanics and then all of a sudden they start throwing 100.

“I’ve put on probably 30 pounds since I was drafted. Weight training is good if you do it in the appropriate way. You don’t want to go in there and start lifting like a bodybuilder, doing the beach-show muscles, and all that. But proper training is very valuable to a pitcher.”

On staying healthy: “We kind of had some give and take on a shoulder program. I ran through mine with them on day one, then they showed me the way they do things here, and I’ve kind of morphed both into one. Keeping your shoulder in shape, your whole arm in shape, is really a key here.

“I feel like if you can keep your shoulder healthy, and your whole arm loose, that’s the safest way to keep your elbow healthy. I don’t think there’s any elbow-safety training you can do. [Injuries] are part of the game. You just have to hope you don’t become a statistic.”

On secondary pitches, spin rate, and sequencing: “My slider is my better secondary, but my changeup is coming along. I’ve been working on it pretty steadily for the last year and a half. It’s a four-seam circle. I used to throw a two-seam changeup, but once I stopped throwing a two-seam fastball there was really no point in throwing a two-seam changeup. By definition it’s a feel pitch, so you have to throw it to get better at throwing it.

Brian Bannister of the Red Sox always talks about high spin rates, and he said that I have one. Beyond that, I don’t know much about it, to be honest. I will work up in the zone. Staying low in the zone obviously plays to the pitcher’s advantage, though, so I try to go high to low a lot.

“I think sequencing plays more to the situation, hitter to hitter. You’re not going to want to sequence your pitches the same to each hitter, and fall into a pattern. A lot of it comes down to film, and study, and whatever you have on these guys. A lot of pitching is situational.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

Comments are closed.