As we look to the future, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays might want to follow Otto Lopez
In recent weeks, a few of my go-to resources for Blue Jays prospect news alerted me to the exploits of Otto Lopez. Lopez was signed by the Jays during the 2016 international signing period and spent 2017 playing in the Gulf Coast League. He started the 2018 season in Rookie-ball Bluefield, before his hot bat forced a promotion to short season A-ball, playing for the Vancouver Canadians.
His continued strong performances at the level prompted Jays from the Couch’s own Ryan Mueller to include Lopez in his Blue Jays’ MiLB Players of the Month list for July. The excellent Around the Nest podcast highlighted his early contributions for Vancouver and pegged him as having the highest ceiling on the team. Similarly, after taking some time to fully assess Lopez’s skill set, Future Blue Jays gushed over his many skills, including his speed, plate discipline and coverage, as well as his general baseball IQ.
The numbers bear these compliments out. For example, his speed score (Spd; not quite as accurate as BsR, but the best we can do at the MiLB level) ranks him in the 93rd percentile among Short Season-A batters (minimum 100 PA). So there’s definitely objective evidence that he has a solid run tool.
His defence and baseball IQ shine through in the fact that he has played over 25 innings at six different positions (!) for Vancouver. While he’s primarily been used as an infielder—seeing time at second (104 innings), short (49) and third (29)—he’s also played a meaningful amount of innings across the outfield (45 innings in left, 27.1 in centre and 31 in right). Moreover, he’s playing these positions reasonably well—so far, he’s only committed errors at shortstop (3). Plus, Clay Davenport gives his second base fielding +2 defensive runs above average over only 12 games played there.
As importantly as anything else, his ability to hit is quite evident too. At the Short Season-A level, Chris Mitchell has found five numbers to be most predictive of big league success: a batter’s age, walk (BB%) and strikeout (K%) rates, isolated power (ISO) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Otto Lopez is comfortably better-than-average in terms of all five.
He’s younger than most players at his level—the group of 233 batters with 100+ PA at Short Season-A this season includes one age-17 player, eight age-18 players and 36 age-19 players—so he’s not simply an older prospect beating up on younger pitchers. He’s got a solid walk rate and a mesmerizing strikeout rate that makes him one of only ten batters at the level with more walks than strikeouts (minimum 100 PA). This is certainly a prospect who excels at plate discipline and coverage.
Unlike the other nine batters in that small group, Lopez has produced a bit of power, with his ISO ranking in the 79th percentile. Plus, he’s shown a knack for turning balls in play into hits, with a .349 BABIP that is well above-average. Unsurprisingly, these strong individual stats come together to produce an elite 150 wRC+ that ranks in the 94th percentile and is bested by only two players his age (and none younger).
His performance at the plate this season has been impressive from a historical perspective as well. From 2006 to 2017, 321 players have cracked 100 PA at Short Season-A during their age-19 season. Lopez ranks among the top 18% in each of the four specific stats. Only ten of these 19 year old batters produced a better wRC+ than Lopez has at the level, including Dan Vogelbach, Tyler Austin and Derek Norris.
Lopez’s batted ball profile doesn’t really skew towards any one type. He hits liners a little less often than average, and grounders and files a little more often than average. He generates a pretty average rate of pop ups.
The stat that jumps out at you from the table above is his swinging strike (or whiff) rate. It is very, very low—less than half the league average—and speaks to his strong plate approach. He doesn’t give pitchers cheap strikes, a trait that will serve him well as he moves up through the Jays’ system and encounters tougher and tougher pitchers.
Ultimately, like any exciting prospect playing in a short season league, it’s best to temper expectations until Lopez succeeds in a full season league. Most obviously, his success has come over a relatively small number of plate appearances, so he’ll need to continue producing before he can reasonably be considered a top prospect in the Jays system. Also, many prospects skip Short Season-A altogether, particularly the more advanced ones, so it won’t be clear how strong he is for his age until he starts facing his full cohort at Low-A.
Nevertheless, prospects like Otto Lopez, who seem to come from out of nowhere, are some of the funnest to follow. While he remains a number of levels away from the big leagues, he is excelling in the ways that you want to see your lower-level prospects excelling. He walks a lot, strikes out (and whiffs) very rarely, hits for a bit of power and gets on base at a strong clip. Plus, he runs well and has shown both defensive quality and versatility. That he has a strong baseball IQ gives legitimate hope that he’ll be able to learn and adjust as he rises through the system, (hopefully) on his way to Toronto.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem JFtC
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.