Q&A With Savannah Manager Pedro Lopez

With the 2010 season now in the books, InsidePitchMagazine.com caught up with Savannah Sand Gnats manager Pedro Lopez to talk about a number of his players. What made this an important year for Wilmer Flores? What traits stand out in Cesar Puello's game? What are his early impressions of Matt Den Dekker? Look inside for the answers to those questions and more.

InsidePitchMagazine.com: Matt Den Dekker was a late sign so you didn't get him until late in the season. What did you like from what you saw of him? Did his maturity as a collegiate player from a major program come through when on the field?

Pedro Lopez: Definitely. I thought when he got to us, he was very mature and that came through from the first day. He played extremely well for us. I thought both in the field and in the lineup, he was always aware of every situation going on in the game and that's an important thing you want to see from a player of any age.

At the plate, he's got excellent plate discipline. He's got this awkward hitting stance because he's wide open with his front foot and you think he's going to be late to the ball, but he gets the bat there on time. I thought his plate discipline is a great tool. He's got some pop from gap to gap and overall he's an exciting ball player.

Defensively, I thought he did a real good job in center field. He takes great routes to the ball and always makes the appropriate throws. When I talked to scouts when he got to us, they said he had an average arm, but I saw a lot of carry on his throws. He looks like he's not getting a lot on the ball, but he gets good carry in center field.

Inside Pitch: Juan Lagares had been stalled out in Savannah over the last few years all while batting injuries, but he started to put it together when you had him in the first half. What positive steps did he take and what are your thoughts about his move to the outfield?

Lopez: I think he's ability to play the game at his high tempo is a very positive thing. He likes to put the pressure on the defense and I think he did a good job of that. He got big hits in big situations and he showed his athleticism on the bases, either stealing bases or taking extra bases. He extends singles into doubles, and I think playing that way is an asset.

I heard in the past about his tools and having seen him play this year for the first time I thought he was a mature player. I thought at the plate, he was a little too disciplined. He probably took too many good pitches at times. He needs to attack more on driveable pitches over the middle of the plate and up in the zone, but he went out there with a plan and executed it well.

In the outfield, I thought he was tremendous. We had a very athletic outfield this year and he was right up there. Without taking anything away from guys like Cesar Puello, Rafael Fernandez, or Pedro Zapata, I thought Lagares was probably the best outfielder out there. He can play all three positions, he's got an above-average arm, probably a 60 arm, and I think we'll see more out of him.

Inside Pitch: Getting to Cesar Puello, here is a guy who looks ready for a big year next year. The power is still coming, but he really put together a very impressive second half. He can hit, run, play defense. What do you see from him while getting to watch him every day?

Lopez: I think early on, I think he didn't get quite adjusted to the league. He saw a lot of fastballs with Kingsport in the Appy League, but getting to the Sally League he saw more mature pitchers with command of all pitches and it took him some time to make adjustments. He had a tough time getting going in the first half, but in the second half once he got put in the middle of the lineup he really took off.

His at-bats got a lot better. He started to turn on the ball a lot more like everyone was expecting him too. In the first half, he was getting beat with fastballs inside, but in the second half, he made the adjustment and really started to turn on pitches which is a great sign. He stopped swinging at breaking pitches out of the strike zone and his walks went up. That's plate discipline you want to see as the season goes on. He goes up there to hit with no fear. And on top of everything, he had a chance to lead the league in stolen bases if he didn't go down with the back injury. Puello's really got a lot of good things about him.

Inside Pitch: Pedro Zapata is a guy who has been around for a while in the organization, but slowly and surely he's starting to put it together. What did you like from his first while you had him?

Lopez: I think the big difference with Zapata this year was the plan we put together for him. When we got there, I told my staff that we had a 22, 23-year-old kid who hadn't played much baseball even back in the Dominican. He was a kid that mentally, he was weak because he was always second-guessing himself. We just needed to let him go out and play. If he failed, he failed. We were in his corner the whole time and eventually he came out of the shell he was in.

I spoke with him and he was really resilient about making changes. I sat down with him about two weeks in when he was really struggling and told him that he just need to trust us. I told him that if just listened to me, or our hitting coach Ryan Ellis, or anyone else reaching out to help him, he'd come around. Sure enough, he broke out of his .130 slump and ended up hitting .290 for us. He deserved to go up to St. Lucie and I'm glad he played the way he did.

Inside Pitch: We know what makes Wilmer Flores a special prospect, but what can you say about his maturity as a ballplayer this season?

Lopez: I think when Wilmer got there, he was already playing with confidence. He was actually a little cocky when he was out there because he knew he was doing things right. He's a guy who doesn't doubt himself. I told him when he got to St. Lucie that it was the same game just with different players. He's got a maturity that's beyond his age both personally and in the game and that's going to take him a long way. He was very important for us in the lineup in the first half and it's a great sign that he went up to St. Lucie and kept hitting and playing. He should start next season in St. Lucie and I think he's going to have a big year for us.

Inside Pitch: Your catcher for the first half, Kai Gronauer, had a season that really elevated his stock in the system. He showed he could adapt to the pitching, but his assignment to the Arizona Fall League is about more than just his bat. As a former catcher yourself, what did you like that you saw from him and what important parts of his game developed?

Lopez: I had never seen him play before except for the Instructional League, but when he arrived I sat him down and told him that he's was the catcher of the ball club, that he's the quarterback of the team, and that the on-field decisions were going to go through him. He was the guy putting the signs down. He was studying all the hitters. There wasn't going to be second-guessing. I told him I'd ask him for his opinion in situations, but I let him run the game his way. There was no right or wrong and Kai did that. He was very open about asking for advice or coming in telling me his approach. I think he just did a great job and the results showed with the pitching staff all year.

Inside Pitch: Jefry Marte is another guy who came back to Savannah this year. What parts of his game moved in a positive direction? What parts have room to grow?

Lopez: Well, I think he's got room to grow everywhere—offensively and defensively. He came out of spring training swinging the bat really well and doing a great job for us before he got hurt and blew a hamstring. He came back and still had to find himself, but he finished strong offensively and started driving the ball really well. Defensively, he improved his setup which allowed him to go side-to-side better. He's still 18, 19 years old and has a lot of time and opportunity to grow and improve.

Inside Pitch: Wilfredo Tovar came up midseason to you. He's another very young guy and you know what you're getting out of him as far as the bat is concerned, but he looks special with the glove as a shortstop. He's young, raw and has a lot of learning to do, but how did you work with him?

Pedro Lopez: He's an exciting player. The biggest thing about Tovar right now is find his identity and what kind of ballplayer he will be. He's not going to be a power hitter, but in order for him to play and be successful on a regular basis, he needs to find out who he is. He's a line drive hitter without much power. We talked about just making the routine plays first before going out and making the big plays which he can do. He's young, so he needs to just make sure the basics are all there first and then he can go do the great things with the glove that he's capable of. For his size, when you see him play shortstop, it's crazy some of the plays he makes. The biggest thing is maturity. Once he gets mature overall, he'll be even more exciting.

Inside Pitch: You had Aderlin Rodriguez for about a week. Here's a very physically mature but young ball player. Obviously you couldn't get more than early impression, but what did you think of what you saw from him?

Lopez: You mentioned it, he's very physically mature. He's a big kid that can really drive the ball. He showed good pop when we had him. He attacks the ball. You could tell he's going to have to adapt to the league next year, but he's strong, can hit for power and plays solid defense at third base right now. I didn't get a chance to see him for more than the last week, but I think this is a guy who could have a big year next year.

Inside Pitch: You had great pitching in the first half of the year, but Armando Rodriguez was pretty much your horse this year. After watching him for a full season, what are thoughts on him?

Lopez: I thought he started the year slow. He's got a lot of emotions out there on the mound, but once we ironed that out and got him to stop letting hitters know what's going on his head, he really settled down and began to pitch more consistently. I told him he was going to be the number one guy and he responded to that. He also learned that there was a big difference between pitching into the fifth inning and passed the fifth inning, which he did later in the year when he was going deeper into games. His slider, changeup and fastball command all got a lot better as the year went on and that's something you want to see out of a young pitcher that you put a lot of faith in at the front of the rotation.


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nInsidePitchMagazine.com: Matt Den Dekker was a late sign so you didn't get him until late in the season. What did you like from what you saw of him? Did his maturity as a collegiate player from a major program come through when on the field?
\r\n
\r\nPedro Lopez: Definitely. I thought when he got to us, he was very mature and that came through from the first day. He played extremely well for us. I thought both in the field and in the lineup, he was always aware of every situation going on in the game and that's an important thing you want to see from a player of any age.
\r\n
\r\nAt the plate, he's got excellent plate discipline. He's got this awkward hitting stance because he's wide open with his front foot and you think he's going to be late to the ball, but he gets the bat there on time. I thought his plate discipline is a great tool. He's got some pop from gap to gap and overall he's an exciting ball player.
\r\n
\r\nDefensively, I thought he did a real good job in center field. He takes great routes to the ball and always makes the appropriate throws. When I talked to scouts when he got to us, they said he had an average arm, but I saw a lot of carry on his throws. He looks like he's not getting a lot on the ball, but he gets good carry in center field.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Juan Lagares had been stalled out in Savannah over the last few years all while batting injuries, but he started to put it together when you had him in the first half. What positive steps did he take and what are your thoughts about his move to the outfield?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: I think he's ability to play the game at his high tempo is a very positive thing. He likes to put the pressure on the defense and I think he did a good job of that. He got big hits in big situations and he showed his athleticism on the bases, either stealing bases or taking extra bases. He extends singles into doubles, and I think playing that way is an asset.
\r\n
\r\nI heard in the past about his tools and having seen him play this year for the first time I thought he was a mature player. I thought at the plate, he was a little too disciplined. He probably took too many good pitches at times. He needs to attack more on driveable pitches over the middle of the plate and up in the zone, but he went out there with a plan and executed it well.
\r\n
\r\nIn the outfield, I thought he was tremendous. We had a very athletic outfield this year and he was right up there. Without taking anything away from guys like Cesar Puello, Rafael Fernandez, or Pedro Zapata, I thought Lagares was probably the best outfielder out there. He can play all three positions, he's got an above-average arm, probably a 60 arm, and I think we'll see more out of him.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Getting to Cesar Puello, here is a guy who looks ready for a big year next year. The power is still coming, but he really put together a very impressive second half. He can hit, run, play defense. What do you see from him while getting to watch him every day?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: I think early on, I think he didn't get quite adjusted to the league. He saw a lot of fastballs with Kingsport in the Appy League, but getting to the Sally League he saw more mature pitchers with command of all pitches and it took him some time to make adjustments. He had a tough time getting going in the first half, but in the second half once he got put in the middle of the lineup he really took off.
\r\n
\r\nHis at-bats got a lot better. He started to turn on the ball a lot more like everyone was expecting him too. In the first half, he was getting beat with fastballs inside, but in the second half, he made the adjustment and really started to turn on pitches which is a great sign. He stopped swinging at breaking pitches out of the strike zone and his walks went up. That's plate discipline you want to see as the season goes on. He goes up there to hit with no fear. And on top of everything, he had a chance to lead the league in stolen bases if he didn't go down with the back injury. Puello's really got a lot of good things about him.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Pedro Zapata is a guy who has been around for a while in the organization, but slowly and surely he's starting to put it together. What did you like from his first while you had him?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: I think the big difference with Zapata this year was the plan we put together for him. When we got there, I told my staff that we had a 22, 23-year-old kid who hadn't played much baseball even back in the Dominican. He was a kid that mentally, he was weak because he was always second-guessing himself. We just needed to let him go out and play. If he failed, he failed. We were in his corner the whole time and eventually he came out of the shell he was in.
\r\n
\r\nI spoke with him and he was really resilient about making changes. I sat down with him about two weeks in when he was really struggling and told him that he just need to trust us. I told him that if just listened to me, or our hitting coach Ryan Ellis, or anyone else reaching out to help him, he'd come around. Sure enough, he broke out of his .130 slump and ended up hitting .290 for us. He deserved to go up to St. Lucie and I'm glad he played the way he did.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: We know what makes Wilmer Flores a special prospect, but what can you say about his maturity as a ballplayer this season?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: I think when Wilmer got there, he was already playing with confidence. He was actually a little cocky when he was out there because he knew he was doing things right. He's a guy who doesn't doubt himself. I told him when he got to St. Lucie that it was the same game just with different players. He's got a maturity that's beyond his age both personally and in the game and that's going to take him a long way. He was very important for us in the lineup in the first half and it's a great sign that he went up to St. Lucie and kept hitting and playing. He should start next season in St. Lucie and I think he's going to have a big year for us.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Your catcher for the first half, Kai Gronauer, had a season that really elevated his stock in the system. He showed he could adapt to the pitching, but his assignment to the Arizona Fall League is about more than just his bat. As a former catcher yourself, what did you like that you saw from him and what important parts of his game developed?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: I had never seen him play before except for the Instructional League, but when he arrived I sat him down and told him that he's was the catcher of the ball club, that he's the quarterback of the team, and that the on-field decisions were going to go through him. He was the guy putting the signs down. He was studying all the hitters. There wasn't going to be second-guessing. I told him I'd ask him for his opinion in situations, but I let him run the game his way. There was no right or wrong and Kai did that. He was very open about asking for advice or coming in telling me his approach. I think he just did a great job and the results showed with the pitching staff all year.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Jefry Marte is another guy who came back to Savannah this year. What parts of his game moved in a positive direction? What parts have room to grow?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: Well, I think he's got room to grow everywhere—offensively and defensively. He came out of spring training swinging the bat really well and doing a great job for us before he got hurt and blew a hamstring. He came back and still had to find himself, but he finished strong offensively and started driving the ball really well. Defensively, he improved his setup which allowed him to go side-to-side better. He's still 18, 19 years old and has a lot of time and opportunity to grow and improve.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: Wilfredo Tovar came up midseason to you. He's another very young guy and you know what you're getting out of him as far as the bat is concerned, but he looks special with the glove as a shortstop. He's young, raw and has a lot of learning to do, but how did you work with him?
\r\n
\r\nPedro Lopez: He's an exciting player. The biggest thing about Tovar right now is find his identity and what kind of ballplayer he will be. He's not going to be a power hitter, but in order for him to play and be successful on a regular basis, he needs to find out who he is. He's a line drive hitter without much power. We talked about just making the routine plays first before going out and making the big plays which he can do. He's young, so he needs to just make sure the basics are all there first and then he can go do the great things with the glove that he's capable of. For his size, when you see him play shortstop, it's crazy some of the plays he makes. The biggest thing is maturity. Once he gets mature overall, he'll be even more exciting.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: You had Aderlin Rodriguez for about a week. Here's a very physically mature but young ball player. Obviously you couldn't get more than early impression, but what did you think of what you saw from him?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: You mentioned it, he's very physically mature. He's a big kid that can really drive the ball. He showed good pop when we had him. He attacks the ball. You could tell he's going to have to adapt to the league next year, but he's strong, can hit for power and plays solid defense at third base right now. I didn't get a chance to see him for more than the last week, but I think this is a guy who could have a big year next year.
\r\n
\r\nInside Pitch: You had great pitching in the first half of the year, but Armando Rodriguez was pretty much your horse this year. After watching him for a full season, what are thoughts on him?
\r\n
\r\nLopez: I thought he started the year slow. He's got a lot of emotions out there on the mound, but once we ironed that out and got him to stop letting hitters know what's going on his head, he really settled down and began to pitch more consistently. I told him he was going to be the number one guy and he responded to that. He also learned that there was a big difference between pitching into the fifth inning and passed the fifth inning, which he did later in the year when he was going deeper into games. His slider, changeup and fastball command all got a lot better as the year went on and that's something you want to see out of a young pitcher that you put a lot of faith in at the front of the rotation.
\r\n
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