Young Power Pitchers Make The Grade

Righthander Michael Kopech has been considered the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in the minors for the last two years, but the White Sox prospect has received a challenger from an unlikely source.

When he was at Vanderbilt, righthander Walker Buehler was known as a four-pitch pitcher with a good, but not great, fastball. Since returning from Tommy John surgery late in 2016, the Dodgers prospect has maintained his varied repertoire and feel for pitching, but his once straight, low- to mid-90s fastball now sits 97-98 mph.

As a result, the 22-year-old Buehler, a first-round pick in 2015, quickly has joined the conversation for best pitching prospect in the minors.

Kept on short pitch counts this season, Buehler recorded a 2.60 ERA through 13 starts with 71 strikeouts and 14 walks in 52 innings. He began the year at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and advanced to Double-A Tulsa in May.

Kopech also reached Double-A this year. The 21-year-old came to the White Sox last December (along with Yoan Moncada and two others) in the trade that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox. Kopech, drafted in the first round out of a Texas high school in 2014, had gone 4-5, 3.72 through his first 15 starts at Birmingham. He struck out 97 and walked 49 in 75 innings in his first year in his new organization.

A scout who has seen both Kopech and Buehler said he loved both of their arms, but it was Buehler’s stuff that left him shaking his head.

“It’s in the top group of all the arms I’ve seen,” the scout said. “He’s got No. 1-type starter stuff. He’s got four pitches that all have a chance to be average or better. Everything was electric. Everything was a swing-and-miss pitch.”

Buehler sits in the high 90s in most of his starts, but what is equally notable is how well he controls his pitches. He has present average control, according to the scout, with the chance to be a little better than that eventually.

“His arm is fast, easy and loose,” the scout said. “He’s a future No. 1.”

Not only does Kopech throw harder than Buehler, but his fastball has a little more bore and run. Kopech touches 100 mph regularly and sits 97-99 as a starter.

“His fastball is a tick better, but his other stuff isn’t ready,” the scout said.

While Kopech’s fastball gets top-of-the-scale grades, his secondary offerings have a lot farther to go.

Kopech’s biggest concern is his control. It’s below-average and has been throughout his pro career. The scout said he didn’t see any significant delivery concerns that should prevent further control refinement as Kopech matures, but he loses the strike zone at times right now.

“I’d take either one of them right now,” the scout said, “but Buehler is more refined. Even though they are at the same level Buehler is more advanced.”

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