White Sox’ Michael Kopech throws heat but doesn’t know its spark
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nothing in his family history points to this, nothing that would make anyone stop and say, ‘‘Yes, there, that explains it.’’ Maybe an ancestor from generations ago could throw a rock through a barn wall, but if there is such a person, White Sox prospect Michael Kopech doesn’t know about him or her.
His father played baseball growing up in Texas, but just with friends, not organized ball, and his mother had a similar history with softball. If you’re seeking genetic answers for why a 20-year-old can throw a baseball 105 mph, you’re on your own.
So where does it come from?
‘‘My dad always says the milkman,’’ a laughing Kopech said Thursday. ‘‘My mom likes to take credit.’’
He can throw hard. And he always could.
‘‘When I was a kid, I remember the opposing team’s dugout just saying, ‘That’s so fast,’ ’’ Kopech said. ‘‘Little things like that made me realize that throwing hard made the game easier. When I figured out I had a good arm and I threw harder than most people my age, I just wanted to pursue that and keep throwing hard. Once I realized I had a gift, I kind of worked on that gift.’’
He was 8.
Kopech was 14 the first time he reached 90 mph on a speed gun. He had bet his mom he would hit 90 before his sophomore year of high school. He won. He doesn’t think his mom ever paid up.
When Kopech was 16, he broke a batter’s elbow with a pitch during a summer-league game.
‘‘I felt bad about that,’’ he said. ‘‘He passed out in the dugout.’’
Kopech, one of the Red Sox’ first-round picks in the 2014 draft, came to the White Sox with infielder Yoan Moncada, one of the top prospects in baseball, in a trade that sent ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox in December. He is one of the reasons for hope as the White Sox rebuild.
He threw 105 mph during a game for the advanced Class A Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League last summer.
‘‘I put my glasses on because when they start putting three digits in those little boxes, they get hard to read,’’ Salem pitching coach Paul Abbott told the Boston Globe. ‘‘He hit 103 a couple of times the last start. . . . Matt Kent, a pitcher, and I did the chart. I looked at it and went, ‘Man, is that really a 5?’ I went and asked somebody, ‘105?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, and it wasn’t just my gun. Others had it, too.’ ’’
Kopech actually threw a baseball 110 mph in January, but that was during a drill in which he took four or five steps before releasing it. And it was a 3-ounce ball, not a regulation 5-ounce model. Still, 110. Jeez. Video of the feat went viral.
During games, he consistently throws in the upper 90s to 100.
‘‘I try not to look at the gun,’’ Kopech said. ‘‘I know I throw hard. It’s not something I try to pay too much attention to. But when there’s a big crowd and they see the pitch speed, you occasionally hear an ‘ooh’ or an ‘aah’ early in the game. But once they get used to it, it kind of calms down.’’
He has not stung any White Sox catchers. Yet.
‘‘If you catch it wrong, it’ll hurt,’’ said White Sox catcher Geovany Soto, who caught flame-throwing Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter with the Cubs in 2008. ‘‘If you catch it wrong in the middle of your hand, you’re going to feel every bit of it.’’
There have been some bumps in the road for Kopech since he signed with the Red Sox out of Mount Pleasant (Texas) High School. He broke his hand during a fight with a teammate last year and was suspended 50 games in 2015 after testing positive for a banned stimulant. On the field, he has had some issues with control.
‘‘Every single pitch, he’s trying to throw the s— out of it, to tell you the truth,’’ White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. ‘‘What we do need is, how good can we be throwing the ball where we need to throw it? The roadsides in the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States are strewn with dead bodies of guys [who] had a really good arm. But nobody ever told them, ‘Oh, it’s about throwing to the glove, about throwing strikes.’ ’’
Kopech said he got to where he is now — at a big-league camp two months before his 21st birthday — because of more than a big arm.
‘‘I think it’s just from the will to do something that I’ve always dreamed about,’’ he said. ‘‘My dad dreamed about being a lawyer for years and years, and he put in the time and the work and paid his way through law school and made his dreams come true. I think the drive and want-to came from that. It’s just how my family is. We say we’re going to do something, we do it.
‘‘The athletic part, I can’t really explain.’’
It’s a good bet Kopech will start this season in Class AA, but he said his goal is to be with the big-league club sometime in 2017. Wherever he’ll be, he still will be the first college or pro athlete in his family. However that happened.
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