Name: Jesus Lopez
DOB: September 12, 1987
Aparicio was a slick fielding shortstop with speed but only hit above .275 four times in an 18-year career. But that was from the late 1950's through the early 1970's.
Smith may have been the standard by which all shortstops are judged defensively, but his offensive game steadily improved throughout his Hall of Fame career, his ability to steal bases, be fundamentally sound, and knack for bunting allowed him to continue his playing career until 1996.
Vizquel had the attributes of the aforementioned players but proved shortstops that field well can also hit for a good average, hitting .270 or better over nine of the last 11 seasons.
In today's game, fielding isn't enough. Lopez, therefore, has yet to reach prominent prospect status. The good news is he played the entire season at the tender age of 18.
"The good field, no hits guys are rare," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith agreed. "I think the one thing about him – Lopez is still awfully young. He has gotten stronger. He has great work ethic. I thought he made fairly significant strides, particularly in extended. This guy made a huge jump – first year in the states. At his age going to Fort Wayne and the Northwest League – if we could have played Lopez and Contreras up the middle in Arizona, which first year is not unusual, people would be talking about, ‘sheesh, you see the Padres middle infielders.'"
"Lopez – his deal is his defense," former Eugene hitting coach Matt Howe said. "And we have been working on his offense. His approach has improved."
While he has some work to do defensively before being placed in the class of Aparicio, Smith or Vizquel, Lopez is as sure as they come at the shortstop position. He has quick feet, great balance and executes the transfer of glove to hand exceptionally well. He also has an above average arm with good accuracy.
It is no surprise that when the Padres are considering promotions within the system at the shortstop position his name comes up. His defense alone is often the separator to aid young pitchers with any contributions from the bat a bonus.
His .968 fielding percentage placed third in the Midwest League among all players who saw action in 45 or more games at short. And he was fourth best in the Northwest League among shortstops with 40 or more games played. As a teenager, those are solid accomplishments that will only getter better with time and experience.
Lopez' career began in the Dominican Summer League in 2005 – a place that showcased his fielding skills and was the starting point for the stick. He hit .236 that year but was deemed worthy to come stateside – to work on his hitting with the Padres' staff, get into a better nutrition program and be close to those who want to see him succeed.
After beginning the year in extended spring training, Lopez was sent to Fort Wayne to replace Ray Chang and his ten errors in 19 games. He provided the glove but did little with the bat, hitting .207 over 55 games, including a .191 mark against right-handed pitching. He was shipped to the Eugene Emeralds in July and his numbers spiked to .246 over 40 games.
"He hits the ball well to the opposite field and he needs to stick with that approach," Howe added. "He gets a little aggravated at times but doesn't chase too much. He has pretty good plate discipline but needs to keep his emotions under control and he will do well."
Lopez' struggles stem from his pitch selection and desire to pull every ball he sees. He simply does not have the strength in his 165-pound frame to get away with that tactic. Instead of going with the pitch, Lopez has a tendency to dive and it results in an easy grounder to shortstop. Now 19-years old, he has shown an ability to make contact consistently but would be better served staying away from pitches that expose his weaknesses. He also has a penchant for pulling off pitches with his head picking up instead of staying with the ball.
"I think he learned a lot from being challenged," said Smith. "The bat – he has to cut his swing down a little bit. I think as he matures and gets stronger he has a chance with the bat to develop. To me, the hands are outstanding, the arm is good. The range and the bat are the two things that need to continue to improve."
In the Instructional League this fall, Lopez made a concerted effort to go the other way with the ball and in one game successfully punched two doubles into right-center. He also looked at more pitches but minus that one game the rewards never came consistently. It is, however, a learned skill. He must stick with the patient approach, hit the weight room to get stronger, and continue to go opposite field to have any chance for success.
The Mexico native has agility but is not quick, nor does he have top end acceleration. His work on the bases, therefore, needs refining. If he could be a more consistent threat on the bases it would give him another tool to work with but speed isn't something that can be taught.
ETA: Working on the bat will be paramount to Lopez' future. Shortstops are no longer just slick fielding eight-hole hitters. Every spot in the lineup is expected to contribute. He has time on his side and can't be swayed by the lack of success as he experiments and refines the new approach he showed in Instructs. If the hitting comes around and levels out in the .260 to .275 range, Lopez becomes a bona fide prospect. His superior defense will also allow him to see a reserve role on the infield (he played 13 games at second base this year) but he remains years away from making an impact in the big leagues.