MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Kopech next in long line of Texas fireballers

Kopech next in long line of Texas fireballers

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Michael Kopech threw a 105-mph fastball in June, as you may have heard.

But here's what the accounts from that Carolina League outing did not include: He was throwing an easy 105, if such a thing is possible.

"It wasn't so much different than some guys throwing 95,'' Kopech said on Wednesday from his home in Texas. "I wouldn't say [throwing 105] feels any different than throwing 95, 90 or whatever the case may be.''

It sure looks different. It even sounds different.

For the White Sox, Kopech's fastball could make a huge difference in an intriguing overhaul.

The Sox formally launched their rebuilding campaign with the Tuesday trade that sent ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Red Sox for MLBPipeline.com's No. 1 overall prospect Yoan Moncada, Kopech and two others. They followed that up with another eye-popping deal on Wednesday.

General manager Rick Hahn and the Sox's busy front office acquired Lucas Giolito, ranked as the No. 1 pitching prospect in MLB, and two other potential top-of-the-rotation right-handers -- Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round Draft pick Dane Dunning -- from the Nationals for outfielder Adam Eaton. Hahn still has several other valuable pieces to deal, including Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson and, for the right package, Jose Abreu.

When the Nationals and Red Sox trained in Florida for Spring Training, they talked about Giolito and Moncada like guys headed for Cooperstown. It's hard to believe that Hahn could even ask about them in trades, let alone actually get them.

It helps if you have dozens of conversations. And Hahn and his guys have had hundreds of them as they studied their options.

"I think it was a couple weeks ago when [Nationals general manager] Mike [Rizzo] said, 'I know the caliber of players we're talking about; you can't offend me with anybody you ask about,''' Hahn said. "When you're talking about trading Chris Sale or a player like Eaton, you wouldn't be doing your job if you didn't ask about everybody.''

After the Sale trade, the immediate buzz was more about Moncada, the powerfully built Cuban infielder who has been a known commodity in prospect circles since the Red Sox spent $63 million to win a bidding war for his services in February 2015. But when you take a step back to weigh the full impact of that deal, it's clear that Kopech deserves his own headlines.

Ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the sixth-best pitching prospect, and No. 30 overall, Kopech has the chance to become a top young power arm. At age 20, he's the complete Noah Syndergaard starter kit. He's a few inches shorter than his fellow Texan at 6-foot-3, but attacks hitters in similar fashion, with his long, blond hair flying in the wake of his delivery.

Kopech does not run from the comparison.

"I've heard that before,'' he said. "I'm a fan of him. I like his style. I like that he gets after it in the weight room, that he's a hard worker. It's hard not to compare 6-foot-plus [pitchers], long, blond hair to another one. There aren't many of us. At the same time, I don't want that to be my ceiling, no disrespect to him. He's a great pitcher. But I want to set my own limits. I'd like to see what those are for myself.''

Syndergaard, the 38th pick in the 2010 Draft, pitched for Double-A Binghamton when he was 20. Two years later, he won a start in the World Series for the Mets, and this season was a 23-year-old ace and first-time All-Star.

Kopech, the 33rd pick in the 2014 Draft after pitching for Mount Pleasant High School in northeast Texas, will probably start next season at Double-A Birmingham. Based on the progress he showed in the Arizona Fall League, he has a chance to develop as quickly as Syndergaard.

Kopech K's three in two innings

Like Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Jake Arrieta, both Syndergaard and Kopech somehow made it out of Texas without having been steered by coaches into college football careers. It's not easy when you're built like those guys.

"It wasn't easy to escape football,'' Kopech said. "I was asked every year to come play football. That's just how Texas is. Football's No. 1 and baseball's tied for second with every other sport.''

Kopech follows the likes of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood in the line of intimidating right-handers from Texas. He tried the Red Sox's patience with a 50-game suspension for using amphetamines and a hand injury he suffered in a fight with a teammate last spring, but now seems determined to prove he will be worth the earlier trouble.

He struck out 86 in 56 1/3 innings in two Class A leagues in 2016, after his hand healed. In the Fall League, he put together a 2.01 ERA over six starts, striking out 26 in 22 1/3 innings. He's coming into his own at the right time for his new organization, like Syndergaard did after the Mets acquired him from the Blue Jays in a trade for R.A. Dickey.

Kopech on talent in Fall League

"I've always kind of thrown hard,'' Kopech said. "A lot of it's genetics and a lot of it's hard work. I've looked at those guys [like Ryan], hard-throwing Texans or whatever, those guys were my idols growing up. I always wanted to throw hard and it worked out to where I did. Hopefully I become another name like [those]. I want to be mentioned with those guys one day.''

Being the next Syndergaard would be a nice start.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.