Texas preps Kopech, Fulenchek dare to dream
Pitching duo ready to hear names called -- perhaps by hometown Rangers
ARLINGTON -- So many people told Michael Kopech it was crazy, perhaps nearly impossible. They said that the odds were against him and that he should focus on other things.
But before he ever sat down in his first class as a senior at Mt. Pleasant High School in Northeast Texas, Michael Kopech decided that this was the year. All or nothing, he would be taken up high in the 2014 First Year Player Draft and begin his future as a professional baseball player. He wouldn't listen to the masses telling him otherwise.
Garrett Fulenchek, a senior at Howe High School less than 150 miles southwest, found himself in the same situation.
And now they are two of Texas' top high school pitchers headed into the First-Year Player Draft, which begins Thursday. If they are taken Thursday or Friday, it's possible the two could become professional baseball players before they even wrap their hands around their high school diplomas this weekend. It's also possible, with Texas' philosophy that they won't be beat in their own backyard on Draft day, that one of them could become a Ranger. Both have worked out for the team.
"The Rangers were actually one of the first two teams that contacted me [last August]," Fulenchek said. "I've worked out with them probably the most out of any other team."
The Rangers have shown an affinity for high school pitchers since Jon Daniels took over as general manager after the 2005 season. Over the past eight drafts, eight out of 20 first-round or compensation picks have been high school pitchers. Among eight second-round picks, six have been high school players, and three have been pitchers.
Kopech, a right-hander with a fastball anywhere between 92 and 96 mph and a reliable slider, is projected to be a late first-rounder, which puts him within range for the Rangers at No. 30. High school standout Tyler Kolek, also from Texas, will almost certainly be off the board by the time Texas picks.
"Obviously, Tyler ... he's a special guy," Kopech said. "He's got a gift. I know him pretty well, and he's going to do big things."
But picking Kopech could be feasible. The high school senior had a breakout game in the Under Armour All-American Game last summer in Chicago, when he struck out three of the top high school batters in the country at that time.
"That was my last event of last summer, and my velocity was way down that game, but my breaking stuff was working," Kopech said. "I took advantage of what I had working for me, and it worked out. You definitely get a little more confidence from that. It was a game to remember, for sure."
As for Fulenchek, the right-hander is predicted to possibly be a late first-rounder or an early second-rounder, which also puts him on the Rangers' radar. He relies on his fastball and slider, which has a late break when it crosses the plate. He's still working to perfect the changeup.
"My changeup has come a long way already from where it used to be, but I know I can still locate my changeup better," Fulenchek said. "When I miss, I miss bad."
In October, he competed in the WWBA World Championship and was coached by Texas scout Jay Eddings.
"I think it really gave me a boost with the Rangers," Fulenchek said. "It gave them a good opportunity to see me in a game situation."
While Kopech has committed to 2012 NCAA champion Arizona and former Collegiate Baseball National Pitching Coach of the Year winner Shaun Cole, Fulenchek has elected to sign with Dallas Baptist.
"When you're getting talked to at 15 years old about where you want to play college baseball, you get nervous," Kopech said. "I definitely let it filter out on its own."
That's what both did all throughout high school as they sifted through college offers, and it's what they'll each have to do one more time as they wait for the moment they hear their names called.
"For me, it's just showing the scouts that I have good pitchability, and that I'm able to repeat the same motion no matter what pitch I'm throwing," Fulenchek said. "I grew up a huge Rangers fan, and it would really be a dream come true for me [to be drafted by them.]"
Kopech has been waiting to prove the doubters wrong for some time. He's thought about being drafted for years, and now the time is finally coming.
"That's the feeling that I've been anticipating for about three years now," Kopech said. "I'll let you know when I get that feeling."
Grace Raynor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.