This current era of baseball almost demands a pitcher to have “stuff.” Whether it be a 95+ mph fastball or an array of devastating off-speed pitches, it’s almost necessary in order to carry a high level of success. Nowadays, we see pitchers with one of the aforementioned traits pop up from the minors at a higher rate than we’ve ever seen. There are pitchers out there that can touch upper-90s that some people have never heard of before. That would never happen 15 years ago.
Outside of Diamondbacks circles, there may be one of those cases looking to make a slash at the major league level this year. Yoan Lopez, a 26 year old right-handed relief prospect who received a cup of coffee last September at the major league level (ten appearances) is fighting for spot in the Diamondbacks bullpen this spring. A lanky figure that performed well against competition in his native Cuba, Lopez was brought into the Diamondbacks organization, getting a late start as a prospect, not appearing in a minor league game until the age of 22.
López started out stateside as a starter, but durability issues and lackluster performance in 2015 and 2016 (and even a brief retirement) turned him into a reliever. The move to the bullpen brought his profile up though, as described in this scouting report from last year.
“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.”
López has a fastball/slider combo that seems like it came straight out of a lab. Looking at scouring reports from 2018 on THE BOARD, the level of strength in his fastball and slider were only met by a handful of pitchers on the prospect landscape. Even in the age of velocity, his repertoire was rarely matched.
Top prospect FB/SL combos in 2018
The move to the bullpen saw López increase his velocity from 92-93 to 96-97. It allowed him to work with a smaller repertoire, adding his plus-slider in to do the rest of the work. His first season as a full-time reliever produced marvelous results at the High-A level (30 2⁄3 IP, 0.88 ERA, 2.08 FIP, 48.7% K%).
His production saw a slight dip in 2018 back at the Double-A level (61 2⁄3 IP, 2.92 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 34.4% K%), but he was enticing enough to earn a call-up to the major league roster in September.
López’s sample size at the major league level is small, yet there were still plenty of encouraging signs in his nine inning stint. To start, his fastball/slider combo was just as advertised. His fastball averaged out at 96.9 MPH and even hit as high as 99. The slider sat mid-80s, flashing sharp control and an ability to induce whiffs at a high rate. He allowed an accumulative .270 xwOBA on the pair.
Looking at the four-seamer, López was able to use a combination of elite velocity with plus-movement to blow it by hitters. Here’s 98.5 mph right by Alex Verdugo.
The slider worked more with deception. His command of it was superb in his short September stint.
López figures to currently have a clear opportunity at an Opening Day roster spot with the Diamondbacks. His current competition lies with Rule 5 selection Nick Green, Silvino Bracho, and T.J. McFarland. It could be a good spring performance that pushes him over the top. Either way, he’ll almost surely have his opportunity at some point this season. And when that happens, he’ll have a chance to showcase one of the more raw fastball/slider combos in all of baseball at the highest level.