Name: Jesus Lopez
Height/Weight: 5’11’’, 160
How Acquired: Signed as an UDFA on July 2, 2013
The A’s signed Jesus Lopez on July 2nd, 2013. At the time, he was ranked as Scout.com’s top 2013 July 2nd prospect outside of Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. The switch-hitting middle infielder from Nicaragua signed with the A’s for a reported $950,000.
Lopez was advanced enough as a prospect that the A’s brought him to the United States for their fall Instructional League camp last year. Although two years younger than anyone else participating in the camp, Lopez held his own and earned a spot back in the US for spring training.
Lopez would spend the entire 2014 season in Arizona, first in spring training, then extended spring training, followed by the Arizona Rookie League and finishing with Instructional League. Lopez appeared in 42 games during the AZL regular season. His overall slashline was unimpressive (.221/.316/.272), but when put it into context with his age and the improvement he showed over the final month of the season, there was plenty to build off of for next year.
Seventeen throughout the 2014 regular season, Lopez was the 17th youngest player in the Arizona Rookie League and the youngest player in the A’s organization to suit up for a US affiliate in 2014. He got off to a slow start in the AZL, batting under .200 through the end of July. However, in August Lopez started to put it together. In 19 games, he posted a solid .292/.361/.354 line. He connected on four doubles and posted an 11:7 K:BB in 62 official at-bats.
A natural right-handed hitter, Lopez took up switch-hitting in the year leading up to when he signed with the A’s. Despite being relatively new to swinging the bat left-handed, Lopez actually hit better from the left-side than he did from the right. He has a smooth, compact swing from both sides of the plate and should eventually be able to hit for average from both sides.
What is most impressive about Lopez at this early stage in his career is his approach at the plate. Most teenagers would be pressing to try to hit the ball a mile in every at-bat, but Lopez stayed within himself for the most part, swinging at pitches he thought he could handle. During AZL play, he struck-out less and walked more than the league averages and was unlucky on balls batted in play (his BABIP was .280).
Part of the reason Lopez was “unlucky” on batted balls was that he hit many of his balls on the ground (51.4%) and had a lower line-drive rate than the league average. He made a few adjustments as the season went on and, not surprisingly, his line-drive rate went up considerably during the final few weeks of the season. As his line-drive rate rose, so did the rest of his numbers. If Lopez continues to carry those adjustments into next season, he should start hitting for average.
Lopez doesn’t have a big frame, but he should add more muscle as he finishes maturing physically. Although he didn’t homer during the AZL regular season, Lopez hit several balls deep and has shown the ability to leave the park in batting practice and camp settings. He has the potential to mature into a 10-15 homeruns-a-year hitter down-the-road.
Although Lopez split his time between shortstop and second base, it is second base that is his likely home long-term. He has good hands and decent range, but Lopez lacks the first step burst and big arm to be an everyday big league shortstop. Lopez has slightly above-average foot speed. He doesn’t figure to be a big base-stealer, but he should be able to keep teams honest when he is on the bases.
Lopez’s bat is what will carry him as a prospect. He just turned 18 in October and there is a good chance he will repeat the Arizona Rookie League in 2015, unless he forces his way into the New York-Penn League with a huge spring training. Even if he repeats in the AZL, he will still be one of the younger players on the roster.