This season, the Low-A Hagerstown Suns have had more hard-throwing young pitchers than what minor league teams feature in the span of a few years. Headlined by Lucas Giolito, their Opening Day rotation included 2013 top pick Jake Johansen and Austin Voth, that draft class’s fifth rounder, along with Nick Pivetta and Hector Silvestre.
With Pivetta and Giolito the lone original hurlers remaining in the rotation (Johansen has since moved to the bullpen), it would seem reasonable to expect a drop in high-upside arms. However, their rotation now includes one of the best breakout stories in the Washington Nationals’ farm system, righthander Reynaldo Lopez.
In a start on Tuesday, Lopez defeated Greensboro (Marlins) with 6-shutout innings on 2 hits, a walk, and 4 strikeouts. That outing extended his current scoreless-innings streak to 37 and 1/3, a stretch that dates back to mid-July, when he was in the Short Season-Auburn Doubledays’ rotation. When counting just earned runs, that span extends to 48 and 1/3 innings, with his last coming in the second inning of a start against Mahoning Valley (Indians) on July 3.
More noteworthy than his current streak, however, is that Lopez has been fairly anonymous despite featuring a fastball that consistently hits 94-98 mph and can touch 100. There are a few factors that explain why he was so unknown until now: He received very little coverage during the International Free Agent signing period of 2012, when the Nationals added him for a reported price tag of $17, 000. After pitching part of that season in the Dominican Summer League, he made a spot start with Hagerstown in 2013 before joining Auburn, where he made just one start before suffering a season-ending arm injury.
Despite recovering from the injury, his path was supposed to be identical to last year. Lopez was summonsed to Hagerstown in late May to aid the Suns when they were a few arms short, but was destined for Auburn. In 36 innings over 7 starts with the Doubledays, he posted a league-leading 0.75 ERA with a 7.8 K/9. Last week on my other site, Jeremy Houghtaling, who covers the Doubledays for the Auburn Citizen, attributed Lopez’s improvement to better speed variance between his fastball and his off-speed repertoire, which includes a changeup and a curveball. Including that earlier spot start, Lopez is 3-1 in 7 starts with a 1.47 ERA, 2.63 FIP, and a 30:8 K:BB ratio in 36 and 2/3 frames with the Suns.
Unlike a lot of pitchers of his age and experience level, Lopez consistently keeps his fastball down in the zone, allowing him to generate groundouts on the nights when his off-speed pitches fail to produce strikeouts. When his curveball is on, however, he uses it as an effective outpitch to generate swings and misses, leading to strikeouts in relatively short at-bats.
All of these factors make Lopez an exciting prospect. Going forward, he will need to hone his curveball and make major strides with his changeup. It is also imperative to see how he performs over a longer stretch, as he has thrown just 88 and 2/3 innings in his career, 72 and 2/3 of which are from this season.
Lopez has been crucial to the Suns in their current playoff chase, while improving his stock as a prospect. He will be just 21-years-old at the beginning of the 2015 season, which could very well mark his first stint at High-A Potomac.
- Back by an 11-run offensive attack, A.J. Cole improved to 6-0 at the Triple-A level in the Syracuse Chiefs’ victory over Scranton/Wilkes Barre (Yankees) on Wednesday. In 6 innings, the righthander allowed 2 runs on 4 hits with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. Since his promotion from Double-A Harrisburg, Cole has a 3.26 ERA with a 42:14 K:BB ratio in 58 innings.