Carolina notes: Kopech not looking back

No. 5 Red Sox prospect focused on development, consistency in Salem

Michael Kopech has a 60-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 1/3 innings with Salem. (Chris Robertson/Salem Red Sox)

By Damien Sordelett / Special to MiLB.com | August 17, 2016 10:00 AM

A fresh start was what Michael Kopech desperately needed, and that's what the 20-year-old got when he was promoted to Class A Advanced Salem in late June.

The first-round pick from the 2014 Draft met with Salem pitching coach Paul Abbott to begin furthering his development in the Carolina League, and it was during this meeting when the former big league pitcher gave Kopech a blueprint to follow as he continues to climb through the system and overcome past mistakes that could have cost him his dream.

"He's been really helpful this year kind of just telling me to put everything behind me," Kopech said. "That's the main thing I've been trying to do is one foot in front of the other and not looking back."

Kopech, MLB.com's No. 77 overall prospect, has taken Abbott's advice and excelled. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.41 ERA in eight starts, striking out 60 in just 38 1/3 innings thanks to an electric fastball and two improving pitches -- a changeup and what he calls a power slider.

"It's just trying to make everything come out the same way; trying to make everything look like a fastball out of the hand because that's what everybody expects when you throw hard -- they're sitting on a fastball," Kopech said. "It's really hard to sit on anything else against a guy throwing hard. That's actually been kind of a struggle for me because I know I can get away with three fastballs if I need it and have the confidence that not too many are going to hit that.

"But it's development at this level, so I'm mainly just trying to get the changeup to come out of my hand like a fastball -- and that's been working well for me -- and developing more of a power slider rather than the slurve I had last year. Mainly, it's just getting everything to look the same out of the hand so it's more deceiving."

Kopech, the No. 5 Red Sox prospect, is one of only two pitchers in the Carolina League this season to record more than 50 strikeouts in fewer than 10 appearances (the other is John Means, who fanned 54 in nine starts with Frederick before being promoted to Double-A Bowie on May 26).

The Red Sox front office was well aware of Kopech's talent when he was drafted in 2014, and the organization has shown plenty of patience during his first two seasons.

Last season was cut short when Kopech was hit with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for Oxilofrine, and then he broke his hand in an altercation at Spring Training that prevented him from making his first appearance of this season until June 17.

The second setback could have cost Kopech his opportunity with the Red Sox. Fortunately, he has shown in his brief stint with Salem that the past is behind him and he's focusing on improving each day.

"There's been some bumps in the road and it's kind of put a setback on my career, if you want to call it that, but they've been really supportive, they've been really helpful and they've believed in me the whole way," Kopech said. "Having an organization that backs you 100 percent of the way is really helpful in confidence and the developmental side of the game. The main thing is trying to prove them right -- the guys who believed in me, trying to prove those guys right."

Kopech has spent plenty of time in Fort Myers, the Red Sox Spring Training home, over the past year while either rehabbing or staying in a rhythm during the suspension. He said he kept a starter's routine so he wouldn't be too far behind when he returned, and he also spent time with Major Leaguers who are also working back from injury.

Brandon Workman, who underwent Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and is currently on a rehab assignment with Class A Lowell, was also at the Red Sox facility and approached Kopech with an important message.

"Listen, you're going to make mistakes. You've got to get out there and show people that's not what you're about," Kopech said, recalling Workman's message. "You're a pitcher and that's what you want to do."

In brief

Thoroughly dominating: It didn't take long for Jake Cosart to showcase his top-notch command in the Carolina League. The No. 19 Red Sox prospect has struck out 15 batters and allowed only one hit since being promoted to Salem on Aug. 4, a stretch that has spanned three appearances and 7 2/3 innings. Cosart has only allowed one run in his last eight outings dating back to his time with Lowell.

One streak ends, another begins: Sunday marked the end of Francisco Mejia's historic 50-game hitting streak but was the continuation of a fellow Lynchburg hitter's hot streak. First baseman Bobby Bradley homered for the third straight game and extended his overall hitting streak to six games. The Indians' No. 3 prospect leads the league in home runs (25), RBIs (91) and walks (67) and is third in slugging percentage (.490).

What a relief it is: It seemed like a constant struggle for Mitch Brown whenever he made a start for the Hillcats. In six starts between June 14 through July 11, the right-hander failed to pitch into the fifth inning as batters got away from him and the walks piled up. Brown was transitioned to the bullpen and has been relatively effective there, save for a handful of appearances. He has not allowed a run in seven of his 10 relief appearances and has struck out five in his past two outings.

Damien Sordelett is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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