GLENDALE, Ariz. – The 20-year-old with the blue eyes and the long, blonde hair and the six-pack and the reality-star girlfriend said “I’m a big believer in the law of attraction,” and in that moment, absent of proper context, Michael Kopech sounded like just another vapid, vanity-obsessed baseball player. Then he started explaining it, how it had nothing to do with physical magnetism and everything to do with making himself a better person, and it started to make more sense, why this is the kid who believes he can throw a baseball harder than any human being ever has.
“It’s basically you telling yourself you can do something, and not only that you want it, but you’re telling yourself you already have it,” Kopech said, and he was on a roll. It was his first week of spring training with the Chicago White Sox after an offseason in which he chucked a baseball 110 mph from a running start, which was his first notable moment for Chicago after it acquired him as one of the centerpieces of the blockbuster that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox, with whom Kopech broke out in 2016 by allegedly throwing a ball off the mound 105 mph, which showed, among other things, why the Red Sox still believed in him after a PED suspension and fight with a roommate that broke his pitching hand.
“Instead of going out to achieve something, you put it in your mind that you have it, and the law of the universe works with you to get it out of your way,” Kopech continued before he paused and laughed. “I’m not very good at explaining things, I guess, but I’m pretty good at comprehending them.”
It wasn’t that bad, but here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of “The Secret,” the Rhonda Byrne movie-turned-book based on the law of attraction: Positivity begets positivity, while negativity does the same, so what’s the point in being negative? It’s a simple concept. The New York Times calls Byrne’s work pseudoscience. And yet none of that matters to Kopech, because he found exactly what he needed in the book’s pages.
Less than a year ago, after a tumultuous nine months in which he was suspended 50 games for stimulant use and missed the start of the 2016 season with a busted right hand, Kopech’s girlfriend, Brielle Biermann, a Real Housewives of Atlanta scion, suggested he soak in The Secret’s self-help wisdom.
“I had made a couple mistakes with the Red Sox, and a big thing for me was realizing that I had to straighten out,” Kopech said. “I didn’t want to get too down on myself because I didn’t want it to affect how I played the game. I made a lot of mistakes. They were big. And that’s what everyone’s attention seemed to be on instead of my pitching.”
That bothered him. Michael Kopech pitches in a fantastic blur. He makes slow-motion cameras look normal speed. His natural gifts are only accentuated by the time he spends building his body into a 6-foot-3, 205-pound pitching machine, with functional training an imperative.
“I’ve always been a guy that threw hard,” Kopech said. “I got into the weight room, things started to click and I threw a little harder. And eventually I threw as hard as anyone in the game. It makes the game easier. It really does. But it doesn’t make the game easy. A big part of it is mindset. There are guys with subpar talents with great mindsets who are successful. But the guys who are talented with a great mindset – they’re the best. That’s what I want to be.”
The physical gifts are undeniable. Kopech needed to break himself mentally before putting himself back together. He spent untold hours with Justin Su’a, the well-regarded mental-skills coach who works with Red Sox players, and unpacked his weaknesses. He didn’t just stop at “The Secret.” Kopech tore into every book he could find on mindset and approach, the mental skills vital to his craft. He brought former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink’s book, “Extreme Ownership,” to spring training this season, as he sought to build on 2016.
Which, after the broken hand, turned out better than he’d have imagined. In his 12 starts, Kopech struck out 86 in 56 1/3 innings, including one July 13 during which he cemented his present and future in the game.
Not that either was in doubt, of course, but something about throwing a pitch 105 mph juices the notion of greatness. Only one major league pitcher in history, Aroldis Chapman, has reached that threshold. And while Kopech regularly works around 100 mph, those extra 5 mph aren’t like someone driving a car five over the speed limit. That’s the difference between a really-tough-to-hit ball and an impossible one.
The veracity of the 105 centers on a pair of radar guns behind home plate that day. Maybe both were miscalibrated. Or maybe Kopech really did hit 105.
“The new 90 is 95,” Kopech said. “Everyone throws hard now. All the old-school guys want to talk about it not being about throwing hard but throwing strikes. And that can be true. If you throw strikes, you’re going to get outs. But. People don’t realize that over 98 mph is almost faster than the blink of an eye. It helps.”
Kopech isn’t obsessed with velocity like so many in the game. It’s more a business relationship, wherein he understands velocity’s villainy is its finest attribute. That he might serve as the kit to test its limits does excite him, daunting though the correlation between velocity and arm injuries may be.
“I will say, I’m not going to go out there and try to throw harder,” Kopech said. “I’m going to do what works best, which happens to be throwing hard.”
He came out in the Arizona Fall League, not quite the prospect haven it once was but still more-than-ample minor league competition, and was the best pitcher by far, heightening the White Sox’s craving for him. They did background on his makeup. They came away impressed in spite of the suspension and fight. Nothing this spring has quelled their enthusiasm.
Eleven strikeouts over six spring-training innings was a nice amuse bouche for Kopech’s eventual jump to the major leagues this season. In the meantime, over the next few days, the White Sox will send Kopech to the minor leagues, probably Double-A, often the final stepping stone for the most preternatural prospects.
Kopech qualifies, and not just because of the arm. He believes great things are in his future, whether it’s 106 mph or a great life, and that belief, to him, is causative. The White Sox have plenty of reason for optimism, too, after a bonanza of a rebuilding haul this offseason, and tops on the list may well be that blue-eyed, blonde-haired, six-packed kid who can’t help but attract all the attention that will come to him soon enough.