Relief work suiting Kopp just fine in Fall League

October 20th, 2023

won Gatorade's Arizona High School Player of the Year Award as a junior in 2019, seemingly setting the stage to go early in the 2020 Draft. But his velocity fluctuated and his control regressed as a senior at Scottsdale Christian Academy, leaving him unselected and at a crossroads.

The 2021 college season didn't provide much more clarity. He opted out of a commitment to Arizona State and attended South Mountain (Ariz.) CC, where he continued to be erratic. With the possibility of going undrafted for a second straight year, he opted to attend the inaugural season of the MLB Draft League.

While Kopp continued to battle the strike zone, he also posted a 1.46 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings and displayed some of the best raw stuff in the Draft League. That performance re-established him on scouting radars and led the Dodgers to sign him for $125,000 as a 12th-rounder.

Currently with the Arizona Fall League's Glendale Desert Dogs, Kopp says the Draft League not only helped launch his career but also prepared him for Minor League life.

"The first big thing was getting like a good understanding of how Minor League ball works because it was an old Minor League stadium, the travel and everything, the six-game series, all that stuff really helped," the No. 16 Dodgers prospect said. "The coaches there, they didn't really know you, but they all help and stuff. It really kind of progressed me in a way where I was able to do the things I needed to do.

"It really helped give an understanding of, 'All right, my stuff performs against these players, I have a chance to like really do this.'"

Few left-handers can match Kopp's size or arsenal. He's 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds and possesses a 95-97 mph fastball that reaches 99 with riding action. His mid-80s slider can be a wipeout pitch with mid-80s velocity and sweep at its best, and he also has toyed with a traditional changeup and a splitter.

His fastball/slider combination makes Kopp fairly unhittable. He posted a 2.99 ERA in High-A this season, limiting opponents to a .184 average while striking out 107 in 72 1/3 innings. Among Minor Leaguers with at least 70 innings, only fellow Dodgers farmhand Kyle Hurt (39 percent) topped the 21-year-old's 36 percent strikeout rate.

The catch is that Kopp is more physical than athletic, which makes it difficult for him to keep his delivery in sync. He walked 50 batters (17 percent of the hitters he faced) and landed in the bullpen in mid-August. He has the stuff to become a high-leverage reliever for the Dodgers, but he'll have to provide a lot more strikes.

It has been more of the same for Kopp with the Desert Dogs. He struck out the side in two of his four outings while compiling a 1.80 ERA in five innings. He's fanned 10 of the 22 batters he's faced while walking five.

The southpaw understands he needs to improve his control. Moving to the bullpen has helped him concentrate on going after batters in short stints rather than trying to pace himself over longer outings.

"Attacking the hitters from the start, a lot of mental prep and attack focus is big for me," Kopp said. "I worked on that throughout the year and just sort of trusting myself and understanding I don't need to be thinking about every little thing on the mound. I can just trust my body to do what I've been training it to do."

Dodgers hitters in the Fall League

Yeiner Fernandez, C/2B (No. 26): Versatile enough to handle both catcher and second base, Fernandez fits the hit-over-power profile. Signed for $717,500 out of Venezuela in 2019, he batted .273/.369/.375 with six homers in 99 games at High-A this year.

Damon Keith, OF: Keith won Western Athletic Conference player of the year honors in 2021 at California Baptist before the Dodgers drafted him in the 18th round. He combines plus raw power with solid speed and hit .229/.312/.373 with 11 homers in 106 games at High-A.

Jake Vogel, OF: One of the fastest and most athletic high schoolers in the 2020 Draft, Vogel went in the third round out of a southern California high school. He has struggled at the plate in pro ball and batted .236/.312/.325 with 28 steals in 113 games at High-A.

Dodgers pitchers in the Fall League

Ben Casparius, RHP: Casparius trusts his plus 82-85 mph slider more than his low-90s fastball, and he may be better off moving from the rotation to the bullpen in the long run. A 2021 fifth-round pick from Connecticut, he compiled a 5.27 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

Jake Pilarski, RHP: After five seasons in college at NCAA Division III Virginia Wesleyan and The Citadel, Pilarski spent two years in the independent Frontier League before signing with the Dodgers last December. Armed with a fastball that reaches 101 mph and a slider that touches 90, he posted a 4.60 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 43 innings between High-A and Double-A.

Ryan Sublette, RHP: A 2021 seventh-rounder from Texas Tech, Sublette works with a 93-96 mph fastball and a solid mid-80s slider. He logged a 6.27 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings at Double-A.

Kendall Williams, RHP: Acquired from the Blue Jays in a 2019 trade for Ross Stripling, Williams employs a low-90s sinker to set up his best offering, a mid-80s splitter. He rose from High-A to Triple-A this year while recording a 3.40 ERA, .201 average-against and 62 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings.