In January 2015 the Arizona Diamondbacks gave a large pile of money to Cuban pitcher Yoan Lopez. He’s arrived in the majors now, promoted to the major league roster yesterday. His journey to the Show was not an easy one but he’s here now; what can be expected?
One of the more promising arms on the international market at the time, Lopez was signed for a bonus of $8,270,000 back in the winter of 2014/2015. This exceeded international bonus limits, forcing the club to pay another $8,270,000 in fees to MLB and putting Arizona in the “penalty box” with reduced international spending for two seasons.
The general consensus at the time was that Arizona substantially overpayed. This became especially true after Lopez struggled on and off the field in 2015 and 2016, getting so down emotionally that he left his teams without permission twice and almost quit the game completely. The debacle with the signing bonus and the apparent failure of Lopez to develop helped cost then-GM Dave Stewart his job.
The turnaround began in 2017, the Diamondbacks switching Lopez from the starting rotation to relief work. He thrived, posting an 0.88 ERA in 31 innings in High-A with a terrific set of component ratios.
Entering 2018, Lopez ranked 17th on the pre-season Diamondbacks Top 20 prospects for 2018 list, rated as a Grade C+ with this comment:
17) Yoan Lopez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, signed out of Cuba in 2015 for over $8 million, blowing international budget; huge disappointment at first and retired for a while in 2016 but came back and pitched brilliantly in 2017, with 56/9 K/BB and 0.88 ERA in 31 innings in High-A, only 16 hits; reports were excellent, fastball back into upper-90s with nasty slider and much improved control; really hard to rank given his history but this is the pitcher the Dbacks thought they were getting; health and makeup remain concerns but he’s pulled himself off the scrapheap. ETA 2019.
His 2018 season has been quite solid: 2.92 ERA in 62 innings for Double-A Jackson, 87/26 K/BB, just 38 hits allowed, 12 saves, and a spot representing Cuba on the Futures Game roster.
Lopez is 25 now, listed at 6-3, 185. When he signed the Dbacks projected him as a three-pitch fastball/curveball/change-up starter but the profile has changed a bit since then. His fastball velocity has picked up in the bullpen, up to 95-99 MPH now after working several MPH lower than that as a starter. His curveball has been replaced with a harder slider, and in the bullpen he doesn’t have to worry as much about using a so-so change-up.
The two main concerns remain command, which can still disappear at times, and health: he has a history of shoulder soreness, although that was less of an issue this year. He seems to have finally adapted to the United States emotionally and has taken well to the bullpen role, hopefully easing concerns about his makeup.
Two years ago it looked like Lopez might be a sunk cost for Arizona. While he hasn’t turned into the ace starter that Dave Stewart spent $16,000,000 to find, it looks like there’s a good chance they can still get something out of Lopez.