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This is what was so impressive about Kopech's debut

August 23, 2018

Nothing beats watching top prospects make their big league debuts. And we've been lucky enough to see a few come up lately, especially pitching.The biggest one, of course, is Michael Kopech, the White Sox flame-thrower. But I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the Braves' Bryse Wilson's excellent debut

Nothing beats watching top prospects make their big league debuts. And we've been lucky enough to see a few come up lately, especially pitching.
The biggest one, of course, is Michael Kopech, the White Sox flame-thrower. But I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the Braves' Bryse Wilson's excellent debut and the Twins' Stephen Gonsalves, who didn't fare as well. Kopech was an obvious choice for the first question of this week's Inbox.

While it was brief because of the rain delay, there was plenty to like about how Kopech handled himself during his Major League debut on Tuesday. Some of it is obvious, like putting up two zeroes and striking out four in his two innings of work. The fact that he didn't walk anyone, given that command has been his kryptonite for much of his career (but certainly not lately, even in his last several Triple-A starts), also stands out. And we could go on and on about the spin rate on his fastball. But I'll hone in one thing: His velocity.
Everyone knows Kopech throws hard, but what really stood out to me is that he wasn't pumping 100-mph gas at everyone. It's something he'd been working on and was a big reason why he was commanding the ball so much better in the Minors, and he's gaining an understanding that he doesn't have to max out to miss bats. Considering that he has had a tendency to get too amped up in the past, the fact he didn't during his big league debut is very impressive. Kopech's fastball, according to Gameday, topped out at 97.8 mph, and he didn't throw one under 94.8 mph. He stayed within that range, even after he gave up two hits to start the first inning. He also mixed in his slider effectively and threw three changeups in the second inning. I can't wait to see how this carries over to his next start which, hopefully, won't get interrupted by the weather.

We haven't talked much about the Tigers' farm system over the last few years because, let's be honest, it's been a little thin. But it's definitely on the way up, thanks to some good/early Draft picks and the Justin Verlander trade.
Just to make this interesting, I'm not going to pick one of the top guys as the "most exciting." No. 1 pick, and top prospect, Casey Mize, would be too easy of a choice. I could pick one guy for the most exciting underrated prospect, but I'll divide it up. I'm still excited by Daz Cameron's set of tools. Now, he's not double-plus, but he's above-average almost across the board and he's starting to figure it out, reaching Triple-A at age 21.

In terms of underrated, I'll go with No. 17 Jose Azocar. He also could end up being the most exciting if he continues to put it together. He's been on the radar for a while, and always seems to be the type to be a breakout candidate at the start of every season. He's shaken off a dreadful 2017 to look more like that guy this year, getting back to the Florida State League. It's taken a little longer, but he's still only 22, so there's time yet.

I always love when I can answer a question with someone else's question. And I did get two Montero questions in the last two weeks, to go along with the improved stock question. And he's clearly the guy who has shot up the rankings the most, going from being unrated during the preseason to all the way up to No. 8 on the Cardinals' Top 30 Prospects list (and he might be under-ranked).
Montero just turned 20 (happy belated Elehuris!) and did earn, as you mentioned, Midwest League MVP honors while also earning a bump up to the FSL. And he's continued to rake there. There's a lot to like -- he hits for average and the power is already showing up, but his strikeout rate is relatively low. He's not afraid to draw walks and people rave about that approach. Whether Montero stays at third long term is still to be determined, but it's looking like his bat will be good enough to profile anywhere. So while he's not on the Top 100 right now, rest assured he will start coming up in that conversation.

This was such a random comparison question that I decided to answer it even though you spelled my name wrong (tough to do since it's right there in my handle, but I digress). I'm not sure why you picked 2016, which wasn't a particularly strong shortstop class, and we haven't put together our 2019 top 50 yet, but I'll do my best.
Based on our Top 200 Draft rankings at the time of the 2016 Draft, the top three shortstops were Delvin Perez (No. 9), Gavin Lux (No. 33) and Sheldon Neuse (No. 50). Perez's stock took a hit when he tested positive for a performance-enhancer, but still went in the first round to the Cardinals. Lux actually went ahead of Perez, No. 20 overall to the Dodgers, while Neuse, the one college guy from this trio, was a second-rounder taken by the Nationals. Not that we can take pro performance into consideration here, since the 2019 guys haven't played yet, but Lux is in Double-A and No. 6 on the Dodgers' list as he finishes off a big year. Neuse is in Triple-A, now with the A's, and is a third baseman. Perez has really struggled to find traction in the pro game to date.
By comparison, the 2019 shortstop crop looks like it should blow 2016 out of the water. The No. 1 prospect on most boards is high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Another prep shortstop, C.J. Abrams, isn't far behind Witt Jr., and has a ton of tools. Again, while we haven't officially ranked anyone, we could put Clemson's Logan Davidson third (he was just No. 3 overall on my Top 10 college players list), giving a trio of shortstops with top-half-of-the-first-round potential, easily better than 2016.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.