As a result of breaking the bank on Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the Blue Jays were limited in the bonus money they could offer during the 2016 signing period. While they could not offer a bonus of more than $300K, they actually found some value in the international free agent pool in the form of Pitchers Elixon Caballero, Eliezer Medrano, Naswell Paulino, and Jeison Contreras. The jury is still out on top signings Joseph Reyes and Hugo Cardona, but they may have found a position player gem in the form of Dominican SS Otto Lopez.
A late sign at 18 in 2016, Lopez did not make his pro debut until 2017, but he broke out in a big way this season in short season play.
Sent to Bluefield to start the season this year, Lopez fell a Homer short of the cycle in a five-hit night ten days into the season. Two days later, Lopez was on a plane to Vancouver. The Blue Jays continued to transition to Lopez to a utility player, giving him time at all three Outfield spots, 2nd Base, Short Stop, and 3rd Base. Lopez faded over the last ten games of the season, falling just below .300, and posting a line of .297/.390/.434 for Vancouver.
Lopez is a prototypical scrappy, put the ball in play (5.5% whiff rate) type of hitter. He mostly hit 2nd for Vancouver, leading off when OF Tanner Kirwer needed a rest day. The right-handed hitting Lopez works the count well, walking (12.6%) more than he struck out (10.2%). On the base paths, Lopez is not a burner (14 out of 20 in stolen base attempts for Vancouver), but he has plus speed and is a smart runner, often taking the extra base, and taking advantage of opposition defensive mistakes. In the field, while he may not necessarily be a plus defender, he has the quick-twitch athleticism and baseball IQ to play a multiple of positions.
Despite this breakout, Lopez was nowhere to be found on Baseball America‘s Top 20 Northwest League prospects list. Why?
Good question. While not as prospect-laden as other short season leagues, this year the NWL had a fairly deep pool. And as a league that is stocked with numerous college players from the June draft, the talent level tends to be advanced. At 19, Lopez was a full two years younger than the league’s average age. His versatility, in a way, may have also limited Lopez’ prospect stock. The players on the Top 20 were almost exclusively one-position guys; the Managers who were polled may not have seen enough of Lopez at one spot to rank him ahead of someone else. At 5’10″/160, there’s not a lot of projection left on Lopez’ frame, and he will definitely have to get stronger in order to deal with the higher velos in full season ball. Given the depth of middle infield talent in the Blue Jays system, he may have been a bit lost in the shuffle, too. He was superior offensively to the players who received the bulk of the time at SS/2B, but not necessarily defensively. Finally, while Lopez gets on base, he has more of a line drive/ground ball swing, and the game is headed more towards players who put the ball in the air – the Blue Jays are no exception. Lopez has a bit of pop in his bat with 3 round trippers at Vancouver, but his power is his lowest-graded tool.
Lopez will begin his 2019 season with Lansing. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays continue to move him around the diamond, how his game plays at a higher level, and if he can adjust his swing to add some loft.