June 16, 2016
Righthander Michael Kopech was drafted 33rd in the first round of the 2014 MLB amateur draft, signing with the Red Sox for $1.68 million. The twenty-year old pitcher from Mount Pleasant, Texas has been assigned to the Lowell Spinners in the hope he can quickly work his way back to peak form after two recent setbacks to his fledgling career.
The troubled pitcher finished serving a 50 game suspension for using a banned stimulant, and hasn’t pitched in an official game since July 12, 2015. So it was a major disappointment when a fighting incident in early March resulted in an additional delay to the young pitcher’s promising career.
According to retired Sun reporter Chaz Scoggins the Red Sox have high hopes for their young prospect, “Kopech broke his hand in March during a fight with a teammate in spring training, and he’s just coming back. He obviously won’t be here (with the Spinners) for very long. As soon as they feel he’s built up his innings, he’ll probably be going back to a higher A league.”
On May 30, the righty threw for two innings in extended spring training to test his pitching regimen in a game-like setting. His pitches were clocked at up to 99 mph and he struck out 3. “I’m feeling really good. I don’t really feel like I’ve had that much of a setback,” Kopech said.
Spinners Manager Iggy Suarez has announced that Kopech will be the starter on Friday in the home opener against Vermont. “We have Michael Kopech going in game one.” When asked about the injured hand, Suarez said, “He’s fine. He’s been throwing progression and he’s ready to go 100%. He’s throwing mid to high nineties and the ball’s coming out of his hand pretty well.”
Obviously enthused about being given an opportunity to start, Kopech said, “It’s been awhile, but it means a lot to me to be able to help this team. I’m going to have to build back up, so that’s what I need to be doing right now.”
Suarez added, “He’s been out for awhile and I know he’s excited to get on the mound again. Because when you’re down on the disabled list you start to go stir crazy, especially when you start to get close to coming back. But he looked good on the mound at extended spring training. He’s excited. The adrenaline’s rushing a little bit.”
When queried about the incident that led to his stint on the disabled list and his general progress since, Kopech said, “Stuff happens. It’s in the past, but I feel like I’m back where I need to be. I have better off speed stuff and better command of my pitches right now. I’m able to stay in control of my body instead of flailing around on the mound.”
When asked about his brief outing at extended spring training, he said, “It felt like it was long overdue. It was exciting. I really want to go out there and face hitters again.”
Reflecting about his difficulties off the field, Kopech said, “I’ve had a lot of growing up to do and I feel that I’m making progress. I don’t want to be portrayed as a bad person, so it’s time to put the past behind me so I can focus on being a better person and pitcher. I think I’ve matured a lot in the past few months. I worked hard in Florida and I’ve had a lot of time to think. In the long run, I think it’s helped me.”
Kopech feels he’s close to being back to 100% and throwing full speed now. Asked what pitches he’ll be relying on during the game opener, he said, “The fast ball has always been a big one for me. The slider is still there, and I was able to work on the change up a bit more at extended spring training so I think that’s something I can use on Friday.”
Kopech looks forward to getting back on track under the lights in the close intimate setting of LeLacheur Park. “My goal is to be better than I ever have been. That’s always the goal.” As for pitching in front of a crowd on Friday, he mused, “I haven’t given much thought to people wanting to come and see me pitch. But, it’ll be good to interact with the fans, and I look forward to them interacting with me.”