CHICAGO—The showcase circuit and events such as Saturday’s Under Armour All-America Game, powered by Baseball Factory, allow high school hurlers to pitch like big league relievers, rearing back for their peak velocity and relying on their breaking ball during an inning of work. Michael Kopech dominated in this role by striking out the side against the top of the talented National lineup.
The righthander from Mount Pleasant (Texas) High sat 91-93 mph with gloveside run and late life on his fastball.
“The funny thing is that none of my stuff was working in the pen,” Kopech said. “I came out here and I started getting a feel for my stuff and it started working pretty good.”
Kopech pitched in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego’s Petco Park nearly two weeks ago in a similar situation. Although he struck out two in his inning of work, Kopech struggled with his command and allowed a double, issued a walk and had a wild pitch. Intelligent and attentive, Kopech learned from his first appearance in a showcase event on the MLB Network.
“Once I came home from Perfect Game I did a video breakdown on my delivery,” Kopech said. “I watched a lot of analysis videos and I saw that I was closing myself off, to where I would have to throw across my body and everything would fall off and I wasn't direct at all. I went home and worked on it and did dry mechanics without throwing a pitch. I did a lot of work in the last week to correct that and I guess it showed.”
At Petco, Kopech threw strikes on roughly 40 percent of his pitches, but Kopech threw strikes on 80 percent of his pitches at Wrigley Field, throwing only three balls.
Kopech has a unique delivery with considerable flexibility throughout. Working from the far first-base side of the rubber, he has a high leg kick up to his shoulders, similar to Kevin Gausman, and a pronounced hip turn. He throws across his body but was much more streamlined and had more momentum going toward the plate, as opposed to towards third base like he did previously, on Saturday. His delivery is very rotational and has considerable east-west action, which creates deception, but was more north-south during his inning. This allowed his long, loose arm action to work more out front and the ball jumped out of his hand. From an arm slot around three-quarters, Kopech showed better plane to the plate.
These mechanical adjustments allowed his arm to get on top of his breaking balls as Kopech stayed closed longer and he threw six of his seven breaking balls for strikes. At Perfect Game, Kopech only threw two of his 10 breaking balls for strikes. On Saturday, his 77-79 mph slider showed sharper tilt and abrupt two-plane break, fooling some of the premier hitters in the class.
“My breaking ball was the best it has been this summer,” Kopech said. “My go-to offspeed has always been my slider but I started losing my feel for that this summer and I usually have better feel for it. It scares somebody when you start losing feel for a pitch. The fact that I got it back today was pretty exciting.”
Kopech tripled up on breaking balls against one of the best hitters in the country, catcher Alex Jackson, striking him out on three pitches. He also mixed in a curveball that was a tick slower than his slider with more vertical tilt, and a changeup at 84 mph.
“This summer I started to get more feel for my changeup and less for my breaking pitches but today I had feel for all of it,” Kopech said.
While his breaking balls stagnated earlier this summer, Kopech’s changeup with fade has progressed this summer and has potential.
Currently uncommitted, Kopech has narrowed his list of potential schools down to a few and will decide in the fall.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound Kopech has a very projectable body with his long, lean and wiry build. He has broad shoulders, a tapered chest and a long torso leading to long, slender legs. After a strong finish to the summer, Kopech will focus on his workout regime to add more strength to his frame.
Kopech has a chance to be the highest draft pick ever from his high school and the first selected in the last 20 years.
Video analysis has become a critical learning tool and competitive advantage for the 17-year-old Kopech, who is young for the class.
“Video is vital to me and my dad,” Kopech said. “We watch video of every game I pitch and for me it can make or break me. My dad probably knows more about pitching than anyone I know. I see what I did right and wrong and I throw away the bad.”