Reynaldo Lopez has been one of the more exciting prospects on the Washington Nationals pipeline for a few years now. The problems that plagued him were in showing consistency in his electric stuff, leaving many to wonder in Lopez had a future in the rotation or as a back-end of the bullpen weapon.
He may finally be figuring it out, and answering that question in 2016.
Lopez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, when he was just 18-years old. His 2013 full-season debut was cut short after just 5.1 innings pitched with arm soreness. Unfortunately, those 5.1 innings weren’t pretty to hang hope on, as he was shellacked for 10 runs on 15 hits, seeing his fastball velocity drop to the 80s.
2014 would see Lopez break out between two levels. Starting in Auburn and finishing in Hagerstown, he posted a 7-3 record behind a 1.08 ERA over 16 combined starts, striking out 70 while just walking 26 over 83.1 innings. He limited batters to a .149 batting average against, and an impressive 0.82 WHIP. Lopez set the bar high for 2015.
It was an interesting season to say the least. At first glance, taking in his overall statistics, it looked like a horrific decline. Lopez was 6-7 at High-A Potomac, with a 4.09 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP, much higher numbers than the season prior, but breaking down his season shows that it may not have been as bad as it looks.
Lopez may have been a bit unlucky, becoming the victim of lower level minor league fielding as he posted a very respectable 2.95 FIP. The second half of 2015 saw a Lopez that was much more in line with the 2014 breakout, as he posted a 3.79 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP while positing a 53-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 second half innings. Opponents still hit him at a .237 lick, but all in all, Lopez seemed to grow stronger as the season progressed.
The 6-foot, 185 pound righty made a mechanical adjustment mid-season after working with his pitching coaches, and since he has been a different pitcher. He was able to add more angle to his pitches — primarily his fastball and curve — without losing any velocity, and possibly adding to it. His fastball — one that works in the mid-90s, has been rumored to hit 101, but tops out at 99 in game action — is simply overpowering. His curve — usually in the mid-80s — improved when he adjusted, and the once slurvy pitch now induces more swings and misses with the added drop. He sprinkles in a changeup that is behind a bit, but the development has been big this season.
It has been more of the same for Lopez in 2016 in Double-A Harrisburg. The more the season progresses the hotter Lopez becomes. His last five starts have been spectacular — albeit his June 3rd start was only two innings. Here are the numbers over the past five:
25.2 IP (5 starts), five earned runs, and 46 strikeouts to just three walks
Those are wow numbers. Three of the performances were double-digit strikeout performances. He had one outing in which he struck out 13 and walked none, landing 70-percent of his pitches for strikes on a 105-pitch night. Another saw him strike out 13 and walk one, hitting the strike zone 71-percent of the time on a 101-pitch night. Add to it that his fastball has been averaging 96-mph per start, and Lopez has definitely taken the next step at his highest level of ball.
Is he perfect yet? By no means. He still shows inconsistencies. In a June 14th start, he was only able to last 4.2 innings, because he was a bit out of the zone, landing 60-percent of his pitches for strikes. Still, in his ‘poorest’ outing of June, he struck out seven, walked two and limited the damage to one run.
Lopez may be shifting the belief that he is a future reliever to the vision that he may be Lucas Giolito’s top of the rotation wingman not too far down the road. The Nationals will be faced with a tough decision, being stacked with starters and in much need of reliable bullpen arms.
Don’t expect to see Lopez in 2016 unless a ton of injuries strike, but pay close attention to him on his next jump to Triple-A, which may be coming sooner than later. It will be very interesting to see what road they take with Lopez, as he is doing everything he can to pitch himself into the future rotation in the nation’s capital.