Amateur Scouting: Thoughts On Reynaldo Lopez
I've been hearing good things about Reynaldo Lopez all spring, but up until this afternoon, I hadn't had a chance to sit down and really watch him. He'd had at least one start earlier this spring in a game that was being streamed on WhiteSox.com, but anybody who has watched a spring training live stream on the team's website knows just how lackluster that viewing experience can be.
Today's game was televised in wonderful HD on my 55-inch television, however, and that gave me a much better chance to sit down and watch Lopez' start against the Giants. Now, I am not a scout, but I'm not a total novice, either.
These are my thoughts on what I saw from Lopez on Monday.
- The fastball seems rather lively. I don't know exactly how hard Lopez was throwing against San Francisco because there wasn't a radar gun reading available, but scouting reports suggest Lopez throws in the mid to upper 90s on a regular basis. That seemed to be the case on Monday because there were a lot of Giants hitters behind on his fastball. This is a good thing because as I'll get to later, Reynaldo's location was a bit off early. Still, I got the sense while watching the Giants react to the fastball that it was getting on them a lot quicker than they anticipated. There were a lot of balls being fouled off over the first-base dugout by right-handed hitters. So I don't know if it's a result of Lopez's delivery, but as Hawk might describe it, it sure looked like Lopez's fastball had an extra six inches on it in the eyes of the hitter.
- A very limited sample size based on one start, but Lopez appears to have a pretty decent pick-off move. After allowing a double to Justin Ruggiano in the second, Lopez picked him off with a quick pivot and fire to second base. He got him easily too.
- He didn't throw a ton of them, but the breaking ball looked sharp. He got a strikeout looking with the slider in the second, and oddly enough, it looked like the most hittable breaking ball he threw all day. He just completely fooled the hitter. After Brandon Belt pulled a ground ball on a fastball in the first, Lopez started Belt off with two breaking balls in his next at bat, getting a strike on the first pitch, and just missing another strike on the next pitch. The key was that none of the breaking balls ended up over the heart of the plate. They were either starting there and diving into the dirt, or off the outside corner looking to get the hitter to chase. It has the makings of a pitch that could lead to plenty of strikeouts when combined with the lively fastball.
- The second time through the order Lopez began to mix in the changeup, and while most of them looked rather ordinary there were two to Justin Ruggiano in the fifth inning that were works of art. One to get ahead in the count early, and then a second to put Ruggiano away. They were the kind of changeups that drew involuntary "oohs" from me as I sat in my chair at home watching.
- It's rather common from a young pitcher with an electric arm, but Lopez's location was off. The overwhelming majority of fastballs he threw were up in the zone early in the game. Sometimes this isn't a problem because a high fastball can be an excellent out-pitch. The problem was that these fastballs were generally belt-high, or at least rib high. Luckily the velocity made sure Giants hitters couldn't really square any of them up. Also, this was something that Lopez improved as the game wore on. He still left some fastballs higher than he probably wanted to, but they weren't as hittable as the earlier ones.
- Justin Ruggiano's double in the second inning was a direct result of the location problems. The fastball was off the outside corner of the plate, but it was belt high. That allowed Ruggiano to reach out and smack a line drive down the first base line for a double. Had the pitch been lower it's likely just a foul ball, or a grounder to first for an out. The same thing happened on a pitch to Eduardo Nunez in the third inning. Another fastball, off the outside corner, but about waist high allowed Nunez to smoke a line drive to right center. Peter Bourjos pulled it in rather routinely, but these are just instances where leaving the ball up can get you in trouble.
- Part of the reason I believe Lopez struggled with the location is his delivery. Now, there's nothing weird or kinky about Lopez's delivery. It's fairly simple, and repeatable, which is a good thing for the most part. My concern is that he seems a bit too upright when releasing the ball. His left plant leg is nearly straight as he releases the ball, and that causes concern in two areas. First of all, repeated over and over, that could lead to a knee injury. Second, I think that's a reason the ball remains up in the zone. Don Cooper obviously knows a lot more about this than I ever will, but I wonder if a few minor tweaks to that plant leg could lead to even better results. I wouldn't be surprised if that's something the Sox want Lopez to work on in the minors to start the season.
- In the sixth inning, Jose Abreu booted a simple ground ball for an error to let a runner on. Lopez then had to work out of the stretch, which he didn't have to do a lot of on Monday. That's a good thing in itself, but as sharp and smooth as he'd looked over the five previous innings, he regressed a bit with the runner on. Part of it may have been how focused he was on the runner at first, as he tried a few different pick-off attempts. His location then seemed to wane again, as both his fastballs and breaking balls were up in the zone again after Lopez had improved the location in the previous innings. He wound up getting the ground ball to short for the inning-ending double play anyway.
It's foolish to jump to any real conclusions based on one start in spring training, but I have to say I was left feeling pretty good about Reynaldo Lopez after watching him. I wasn't concerned about the results as much as the process itself, but the results matched what I saw. Lopez went six innings, allowed only two hits, didn't walk anybody, and had four strikeouts. He also threw only 76 pitches in what was a very efficient outing.
I know that there are conflicting reports from scouts on what Lopez will be in the long run. The Sox obviously see him as a starter, while others think he'll be better-served as a high-leverage reliever in the Majors. I can't say what he's going to be by the time his career is over, but the pitcher I saw on Monday was a mid-rotation starter with upside. I didn't see enough strikeouts or swings and misses to truly think Lopez has ace potential, but I did see was the potential for a No. 3 starter that a lot of teams would be happy to have.
There was a lot to like on Monday.