The Milwaukee Brewers have a new general manager: David Stearns. The new leadership inherits a farm system that has improved considerably over the last year thanks to trades, more aggressive drafting, and the development of some hold-over prospects like Taylor Jungmann. Another case in point is Jorge Lopez, regarded as something of a disappointment a couple of years ago but now one of the more promising right-handed pitching prospects in the minors.
Lopez was drafted in the second round in 2011 from high school in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Trouble with command and nagging injuries slowed his progress at first. His numbers in 2014 were nothing special on the surface (4.58 ERA in 138 innings in High-A, 119/46 K/BB but 144 hits allowed). However, in person he showed some subtle signs of improvement, leading to this comment in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book:
I keep waiting for this guy to break through. It hasn’t happened yet, but it still may do so. A supplemental first round pick from high school in Puerto Rico back in 2011, Lopez has a low-90s fastball and looks like he should throw harder in time, though so far his heat has stayed in the adequate range and not plus. He’s made progress with his curveball and change-up and his command took a step forward last year, though he was still less than dominant in HighA. He has had to deal with serious off-field issues: his young son suffers from a severe autoimmune disorder necessitating hospitalization, though by all accounts Lopez hasn’t let it bother him on the field. That kind of thing will make you grow up quickly and put life in perspective. I still think this guy can improve a great deal, though more as an inning-eater type than an ace. Grade C+.
Lopez took that step forward in 2015, going 12-5, 2.26 ERA with a 137/52 K/BB in 143 innings for Double-A Biloxi, allowing just 105 hits. Southern League observers credit this improvement to continued progress with his curve and change plus (most importantly) higher velocity, his fastball increasing from 89-92 last year to 92-95 this year. His mound presence and general sense of composure on the mound are also greatly improved compared to two or three years ago.
Like all young pitchers Lopez has to prove he can stay healthy, but as things stand now he looks like a strong strike-throwing mid-rotation arm and at least a Grade B prospect going forward.