- 2018 RATING: 5.35
- 2017 RATING: N/A
- 2018 PERFORMANCE: 0-0, 10 G, 9 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 2.70 xFIP, 11:1 K:BB
- 2018 SALARY: LEAGUE MINIMUM
- 2019 STATUS: PRE-ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE
From being the largest international signing under the “new” rules to quitting baseball in 2016 to giving up a homer, then a triple, then another homer in his Major League debut, it’s been an ugly roller coaster to start young Yoan Lopez’s career and that might be an understatement. Yet despite this horrific start, Lopez rebounded with 9 straight scoreless appearances to end the season, striking out 9 while only allowing 5 base runners (4 hits, 1 walk) in those 9 games. Was this the Yoan Lopez that the Diamondbacks paid $16 million for in 2015?
Let’s start from the beginning.
The Diamondbacks signed Yoan Lopez out of Cuba for just over $8 million in January 2015. However, due to the team allegedly not understanding the new international signing rules, the team had to pay another $8 million in overage penalties and were forbidden from spending more than $300k on a single player for the next two international free agent signing periods. This was a double blow to the Diamondbacks, as it made Lopez more costly than intended and really hurt their ability to sign international free agents for two years. Indirectly, this put a lot of burden onto Lopez to perform like a star to justify the signing. Keep this in mind.
The scouting reports on Lopez were mixed, though there was a general consensus that he had a “big” fastball and had good upside, though he was deemed to be very risky due to erratic command at times. Nonetheless, the Diamondbacks were very high on Lopez, viewing him as a true ace that would join their rotation sooner than later. Many of the “internet scouts” assumed the Lopez would start at A-ball but the Diamondbacks sent him straight to AA.
And that’s where the trouble really began. Lopez couldn’t get people out in AA, had low strikeout rates, and poor command. Now picture being a 22-year kid from Cuba now in the spotlight of America with the burden of justifying a widely-dismayed signing (see: the burden mentioned above) and struggling mightily in the minor leagues. Cameras had been following him everywhere. Well, it appears that all of this got to Yoan Lopez.
He had attitude issues. For instance, he once posted a Snapchat video while wearing a Marlins hat and saying “No mas D-Backs; ahora Miami Marlins.“ But that wasn’t the worst of it. Twice, he left the minor league team during road trips. The first time happened in 2015 and the team tracked him to Florida. It happened again in 2016 and when the Diamondbacks found him, he said he intended to quit.
It seemed like this was the end of the road for Yoan Lopez’s baseball career and a massive disappointment at that.
Fortunately, the team convinced Lopez to come back and assigned him a counselor. The team admitted that they pushed Lopez too hard and he appeared to do some growing up as well:
“The most important thing is that I learned from my mistakes,” Lopez said. “I’m a better person because of it. I learned, I moved forward and I’m focused on the good things in life. As far as the reasons for (why he left), nobody is ever going to know the nature of that. It’s in the past. I want to just be able to move forward.”
The team shifted Lopez to a bullpen role and assigned him to High-A Visalia in 2017, where he really shined. In 30.2 innings, Lopez had a 0.88 ERA with a 16.43 K/9 against a 2.64 BB/9. He was absolutely dominant. In 2018 in AA, he had a 2.92 ERA in 61.2 IP with a 12.70 K/9 against 3.79 BB/9.
Yoan Lopez, MLB prospect, was back.
The Diamondbacks rewarded this turnaround with an MLB callup in September. Of course, in almost natural fashion, Yoan Lopez had quite possibly the worst pitching debut in team history, as noted by Jim. Diamondbacks fans once again groaned, quickly recalling the 3+ years of disappointment from Lopez. Yet, he rebounded. He was absolutely stellar in his remaining nine appearances. His fastball was sitting at 97.52 MPH, on average, per Brooks Baseball in his brief stint last year. His slider was filthy.
It appears that Yoan Lopez won’t ever reach that #1 starter potential that the team had envisioned, but his story is not yet over. In fact, it appears to be just beginning. Lopez has electric stuff and if he can keep this going, he can be a dynamic portion of the team’s bullpen for the next several years.