Kopach Struggles on the Mound, Above the Belt

Being that right-hander Kitt Kopach was a 12th-round pick as opposed to someone drafted in a higher round, there may not be as much talk of the young pitcher's struggles with control as might otherwise be the case.

Not to criticize 12th-round draft picks, you understand. Look at Sean Gallagher, after all.

But Kopach, himself a 21-year-old from Illinois State University taken in this past June's draft, has 21 walks to only two strikeouts in his first 20-plus innings with the short-season, Low-A Boise Hawks of the Northwest League.

While it may be too early to sound the alarms, the numbers don't lie. Adding even more insult to injury is that Kopach has thrown six wild pitches to triple-up his strikeout totals. Perhaps the saving grace is the pitcher's average against, which remains a respectable .212 in spite of the influx in walks. His ERA sits bloating at 5.31 through his first six games with the team.

Hawks manager Steve McFarland has been witness to Kopach's struggles early on in his first pro season and feels it's only a matter of command.

"He's going to have to make a few adjustments with his delivery in order to be able to command his stuff," said McFarland. "He has good stuff, but we still haven't seen much of him. I think he's been getting a little better lately. His stuff is there, it's just a matter of commanding it."

While Kopach himself cites an often inconsistent approach with his mechanics, he also admits to having struggled as much between the eyes.

"Sometimes I have a tendency to lose focus and have to think about the big picture," Kopach said. "I'll get too pumped up when I'm pitching and start rushing to the plate a little. I need to be more relaxed. I have a tendency to be hyper, which carries into my pitching."

Kopach might still be considered fairly new to pitching. Despite having pitched in high school for Downers Grover (Ill.) South HS, he had appeared in just six games on the mound with the Redbirds prior to 2005.

A former infielder and second baseman who was struggling with the bat at the time, he admitted that being approached about a career more centered around pitching was something he never took offense to.

"It was fine by me," Kopach said, recalling a conversation he had with Redbirds head coach Jim Brownlee prior to '05. "I had been playing summer ball and when I returned the following spring, my coach said they felt they could see me filling more of a role on our pitching staff. I was happy to do it."

Kopach's repertoire consists primarily of a fastball/slider combination. He has been focusing on the development of a third pitch – a changeup – but admits to having relied mostly on a fastball that normally sits between 89-93 mph.

Growing up in Darien, Ill., in nearby Chicago, Kopach came into his final college season with the expectation of closing games. But a shortage in pitching depth forced him into the starting rotation, where he was 3-9 despite a team-best 4.17 ERA in 69 innings for the team.

After signing with the Cubs, Kopach started off well in the Arizona Rookie League with the Mesa Cubs. He allowed three runs in 11-plus innings for a 2.31 ERA, and held opposing hitters to a .135 average against.

Eventually moved up to Boise, Kopach made his first four appearances with the Hawks from the starting rotation, but has since appeared in back-to-back contests from the bullpen. And it is the bullpen where he sees himself more permanently from here on out.

"I'm used to the role," said Kopach, who appeared in four games from relief with the Redbirds this past season, and 11 games the previous year. "This past year in college, I did both [starting and relieving]. I was all over the place, because I have a rubber arm. I'd say the ‘pen is probably better suited for me. Everyone seems to tell me that."

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