Felipe Lopez was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round in 1998. The eighth-overall pick in the draft, he came out of Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. He signed for a $2 million bonus, then reported to St. Catherine's in the New York-Penn League, where he hit .373/.395/.518 in 19 games. It was a small sample, but impressive for an 18-year-old against college competition. He was also rated as a fine defensive shortstop, though in need of more polish. Lopez came from an abusive family background. . .his father was jailed for physically assaulting him...and there were questions about his makeup. But given his strong pro debut, it looked like the Jays had made a great pick. I did not give draftees grades back then, but a similar player nowadays would get at least a Grade B and probably a B+.
Lopez was assigned to Hagerstown in the Sally League in 1999. He hit .277/.351/.421 with 14 homers, 21 steals, and 61 walks in 537 at-bats, but he also struck out 157 times and was caught stealing 14 times. Scouts were very intrigued by his tools on both offense and defense, but were concerned about his propensity to make sloppy errors. I gave him a Grade B in the '00 book, noting his impressive ceiling but warning of some adjustment issues as he moved up.
The Jays jumped him to Double-A in 2000 and he struggled, hitting .257/.303/.371. He stole 12 bases but was caught 11 times, and he continued to have issues with the strike zone. He also made 44 errors, and drew the ire of his manager for not hustling on routine plays. I reduced him to Grade B- in the 2001 book, but noted that he was still very young.
Lopez began 2001 back in Double-A and hit .222/.309/.361 in 19 games. Moved up to Triple-A, he went on a tear and hit .279/.337/.506 in 89 games, with 16 homers, 13 steals, and improved plate discipline. He then hit .260/.304/.418 in 49 games, 177 at-bats, for the Blue Jays. This broke his rookie eligibility and kept him out of the 2002 book, but I would have rated him a Grade B+ given his rapid improvement that year and his youth.
2002, 2003, and 2004 saw him play well in Triple-A but struggle in the majors for the Jays and, following a trade, the Reds. He had a very good season for the Reds in 2005, hitting 23 homers with an overall .291/.352/.486 mark. But his performance fell back in 2006 and he got traded to Washington.
He hasn't slugged over .370 since 2005 and his power seems to have vanished.. He's better at stealing bases than he used to be, but both his hitting and his defense have leveled off as mediocre. Lopez will hang around for a long time due to his speed and versatility, but unless he shows some unusual performance spikes soon, his chance to be a star is gone.
Drafted as a high school tools player, Lopez isn't a bust, but he didn't turn out as good as everyone expected. I'm not sure the Blue Jays handled him all that well. Skipping him past High-A looks like a mistake in retrospect. He would likely have benefited from a full year of Triple-A before being pushed into major league action. Even so, he still strikes me as a guy who gets by on athleticism rather than baseball skill, and I'm not sure that more coaching or experience would have changed that at all.
Players Drafted Ahead of Felipe Lopez in 1998: Pat Burrell; Mark Mulder; Corey Patterson; Jeff Austin; J.D. Drew; Ryan Mills; Austin Kearns.