photo: Matt Koperniak (Palm Beach Cardinals)
At number 35 in The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 prospect countdown for 2022 is a non-drafted outfielder who was the top hitter at Low-A Palm Beach and advanced to Double-A in his first season. FREE report!
Age: 23 years old
Height/Weight – 6’0/200
Acquired: Non-drafted free agent from Trinity College (CT) signed in June 2020
Primary team in 2021: Low-A Palm Beach Cardinals (Rookie)
Finished 2021: Springfield Cardinals (Double-A)
Prior Top 50 rankings – not ranked
Click on the above photo to be taken to Koperniak’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Jake Tweedie’s scouting report
(current grade/future grade)
|.120 (AA)||94 (AA)||2.11 (AA)||53.2% (AA)||21.6% (AA)||25.2% (AA)||51.3% (AA)||21.2% (AA)||27.4% (AA)|
Koperniak had a progressive 2021 to say the least. In his first professional action, he competed at three different levels of the system, including a positive stint at Double-A to end the year.
Koperniak has a nice low approach to his game. His stance isn’t too upright, but also not too bent to be struggling to lift pitches in the air. He has a rhythmic smooth swing and makes full use of the strike zone. Although this leads to him pulling the ball a lot (51.3%), he has an assurance about his swing that you know he won’t strike out regularly. Koperniak’s discipline and batting average show this, and he chips in with the occasional home run.
He is disciplined and works right handers really well, however he can struggle against left-handed pitchers. His batting average is .344 against RHP while his average is just .207 against LHP. This pull dominant approach seems to lead to his struggles against LHP but can be refined in order for him to have more success.
Defensively, Koperniak is sound. He can make plays in corner outfield and made a few diving catches but doesn’t really stand out in the field. He has an average arm, and is an average fielder, though consistent and versatile. He played in left with a fielding percentage of .976 and in right with a fielding percentage of .989.
Playing at age 24 in 2022, Koperniak will need to move up the system quickly if he is to become a Major League prospect, however his 2021 shows that there is plenty to like about him. He is an interesting prospect with a big year coming up.
Future Value: 40
Brian Walton’s environmental impact report
Koperniak played his college ball in the small northern state of Connecticut, also the home of Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque. The Division III star at Trinity College had recently transferred to use his final semester of eligibility at Kansas State in 2021, but instead decided to sign with St. Louis in June 2020, this despite there were no minor league games to play.
He was a two-time all-conference first-teamer at Trinity. In 2019, Koperniak hit .394 with six home runs and 31 runs batted in. As a junior, he had batted .388 with five home runs and 20 RBI. In three games in the spring of 2020 before play was halted, he went 7-for-13 including a double and a home run with four RBI and three runs scored.
Koperniak demonstrated ability to make consistent contact. In nearly 500 collegiate plate appearances, he struck out just 34 times. He was not only fast on the bases, but was also intelligent and good at getting jumps. Koperniak stole 48 bases and was only thrown out six times. There is some power potential. Though he hit just 13 home runs in his college career, he also added 30 doubles and nine triples.
Koperniak also stood out in summer ball. In 2019 as a designated hitter, He was third in the summer New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) with a .376 batting average and seventh with 37 RBI. He hit five home runs and collected 15 doubles. In the same league in 2018, the left-handed batter hit .318 with a home run and 24 RBI.
— The New England League (@TheNECBL) July 28, 2019
Though Koperniak is accurately portrayed as a non-drafted free agent, one must also remember that his draft class consisted of only five rounds. Had 2020 been a normal draft of 20 rounds, he almost certainly would have been selected.
2021 recap – professional
Opening his professional career at High-A Palm Beach, Koperniak was overshadowed by top prospects Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn but was highly successful in his own right. The left-handed hitter’s slash line was .322/.443/.470/.913. Impressively, his walk rate was 13.2% versus a strikeout rate of 14%. In his 58 games, he posted a very high BABIP of .367, however, suggesting some good fortune in his outcomes.
Defensively, Koperniak was versatile, playing each position in the outfield while with Palm Beach. He primarily roamed left field (26 games) with a fielding percentage of .962. The right-handed thrower also appeared 12 games in center and 18 games in right field.
At the start of August, Koperniak was deemed ready for High-A, and was promoted to Peoria. Just a few days later, his immediate fortunes improved further. The roster of Double-A Springfield was decimated due to a COVID outbreak and Koperniak was among those dispatched to Missouri to help out. As a result, his stint with the Chiefs was just four games.
To conclude the season, his slash line with Springfield was much more down to earth as he slashed .271/.326/.391/.717 in 33 games. Koperniak held his strikeout rate constant (13.9%) but his Double-A walk percentage of 6.3 was just half his Low-A rate. Still, his play was good enough that he was not returned to Peoria and remained in Double-A.
Following the season, Koperniak received The Cardinal Nation’s recognition as our 2021 Palm Beach Player of the Year. Though other contenders like Walker and Winn had moved ahead in the system more quickly, Koperniak’s results made him a worthy selection.
Stepping back further, compared to all first-year players in the system, Koperniak had a tremendous year.
In fact, only former first rounder Walker was better. Koperniak’s wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) of 135 was second to Walker’s 151. It was the fourth-best of all hitters in the organization, with Juan Yepez and Nick Plummer the only others ahead. Recent 40-man roster addition Brendan Donovan at 134 was just behind.
Overall, Koperniak tied for fifth in the system with seven outfield assists. His .306 batting average only trailed Walker among Cardinals farm players and his .405 on-base mark was second in the system to Plummer. He was one of eight Cards minor leaguers to collect more than 100 hits. Of his 101 hits, 25 went for two bases, tying him with Walker for third in the farm system.
It would be difficult for anyone to cast aspersions on Koperniak’s 2021. Starting from off the radar, he advanced quickly after hitting very well at Palm Beach. And it is not surprising his play leveled off with Springfield in a season that was his first exposure as a professional.
Having said that, Koperniak will most likely return to the S-Cards to open 2022. Improvement over his .717 OPS and 94 wRC+ in his second stint against the advanced pitching at Double-A will be expected. To avoid the platoon label ahead, the left-handed hitter will need to improve in his performance against left-handed pitching.
The jury remains out. Koperniak has the raw materials to continue to improve and advance. If he can demonstrate additional progress, he can position himself to potentially move up to Memphis in late 2022. That would put him in the queue to be ready and compete for a possible call to St. Louis in 2023. If so, Koperniak would be added to the 40-man roster before his first Rule 5 eligibility date of December 2023. His most likely future role at this time would be as a reserve Major League outfielder.
MLB debut: 2023
Rule 5 Eligible: 2023
Our 2022 Top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles planned daily into early 2022.
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