Name: Jesus Lopez
DOB: September 12, 1987
Lopez began his career in the Dominican Summer League program in 2005 after being signed as an international free agent on July 14, 2004.
The team thought so highly of him that he was assigned to Fort Wayne as his first stateside assignment. While the action in Low-A had to do with injuries, and he was moved back down to short-season Eugene when their season started, it was a testament to how strongly the Padres felt about his defensive skills. They knew the bat would take time and his .207 average across 55 games with the Wizards accentuated that point.
Lopez spent the entire 2007 season in Fort Wayne, hitting .232 while showing solid patience at the plate and a growing understanding of the strike zone. The Padres believed he was ready to start breaking through with the stick.
In a hitter-friendly league, Lopez batted .248 across 99 games. It wasn't the breakout many had hoped to see. Fifteen of his 84 hits went for extra bases and he drew 28 walks to 41 strikeouts.
With injuries forcing their hand, Lopez was promoted to Double-A San Antonio. Over 18 games – a small sample – the right-handed hitting Lopez swatted .356 with a .441 on-base percentage. He drove in 10, hitting .476 with runners in scoring position.
"What guys find out is that the higher you go, if you can hit at all, they guys are around the strike zone," former Double-A hitting coach and current San Antonio manager Terry Kennedy said. "When you're playing A-ball, even in the Cal league, you're going to run into those guys that are wild as hell and it's hard to strike...the umpires aren't as good, ours weren't great.
"I noticed one thing mechanically that I helped him with, otherwise, he was aggressive and he was putting the bat on the ball. He had some big hits for us. I was pleased, and I think he was very happy about it. Hopefully, that will continue for him. I think he's strong enough, I think he could be stronger. It was a good deal for him. I think he's got a lot of confidence because of what he did."
Was this taste – a boost in confidence – the start of something special?
It is too early to tell.
Lopez has an easy swing with a nice flight path through the zone. He does not have a lot of moving parts and follows the path of the ball through to the mitt.
The Mexico native remains a hacker – he just happens to be good at putting bat to ball, even though it will lack authority. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and is one of the better ‘bad ball' hitters in the organization.
"He progressed well," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He hit close to .250 with us. At the beginning of the year, he would wrap the bat behind his head, so he couldn't get the barrel through the zone. So, he made some adjustments and put the ball in play."
Unfortunately, the above moniker isn't a good thing. He swings at pitches outside of the zone and has a tendency to pull a lot of balls rather than going with the pitch. The result is often a weak ground out to the shortstop.
When he starts concentrating on putting the ball the other way, his swing will get loopy and he lifts balls. He has not been able to find a happy medium that allows him to hit line drives.
Part of the problem is he needs to add strength to his frame. Spending more time in the weight room might benefit him and give him a better chance of hitting liners instead of one-hoppers.
Most of his hits come on the ground – singles through a hole in the infield. Given his eye and bat control, he should be able to drive more balls.
Defensively, Lopez is considered a slick fielder. He lacks an abundance of range, but if the ball is within reach, it is a good bet that he will make a play. Plays through the middle of the diamond are tougher for him to reach than on the backhand going into the hole.
Lopez has solid footwork that allows him to set himself for a throw, staying balanced to deliver strikes. Great hands give him a fluid transfer from glove to hand and a strong arm delivers the throw.
"He's one of those kids I think that his defense will carry him," Lezcano said. "He needs to get a little stronger, maybe a step quicker running. He's o.k. with the range and the footwork at shortstop. But, speed wise, it would be nice if he could improve – get a little quicker. Right now ,he could play in the big leagues defensively, that's my opinion."
In his 99-game stint with Lake Elsinore, Lopez committed just 12 errors in 473 total chances to produce a California League leading .975 fielding percentage amongst shortstops – 12 percentage points better than the next closest defender. That he did it on the thin grass of California fields says even more about his ability.
"Sometimes, you see players that struggle at lower levels find more success as they advance because pitchers at higher levels throw more strikes," Padres vice president of scouting and player development said. "He has a great glove, and if he can put it together with the bat, we could have something."
Conclusion: Lopez' ultimate potential will be defined by his bat. The Padres have gone through different batting styles with him – asking him to go the other way consistently one year and moving to pulling the ball the next. Part of it has to come from Lopez and a dedication to adding more muscle to his frame. Because he can hit almost any ball, added strength would allow him to get some of those balls to fall over the infielders.
His ability to play both middle infield spots is a valuable asset but the days of light-hitting, slick-fielding infielders have died. He has to hit and prove the last three weeks in San Antonio were a sample of his true potential.
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