There is still a good buzz around right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who accelerated onto the scene the last two seasons by displaying a 95-plus mph fastball from his 6-foot frame.
Coupled with the 6-foot-6 Lucas Giolito, they provided a lethal one-two punch in the Nationals system.
A slight back injury slowed Lopez down a bit as the 2015 season wore on, but he is still considered a hot commodity and is No. 5 in Baseball America’s ranking of top Nationals prospects.
No. 5 Reynaldo Lopez
Lopez finished 99 innings and had 19 starts for the high Single-A Potomac Nationals last season, going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA. He had 94 strikeouts and 28 walks. The 22-year-old’s second to last start of the season, Aug. 12 against Winston-Salem, was one of his most impressive. Lopez went seven innings and struck out 11 batters, allowing no runs on two hits with no walks for the win. He was on the disabled list with that back injury from Aug. 19 through Sept. 14.
Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel said his scout staff had been very impressed with how Lopez finished up 2014.
“(Managing editor) J.J. Cooper saw Lopez in the South Atlantic League at the end of 2014 and was kind of blown away with how live the arm was,” Manuel said. “I think he really did think he could be (very good).”
Could Lopez be as good or better than Giolito? Manuel said the question for Lopez now is can he endure a long season. The 99 innings he threw in 2015 was about half of what he has thrown in his entire minor league career (198 1/3 innings).
“He did hit some roadblocks in 2015, which is just a matter of consistency,” Manuel said. “Sometimes injuries come up being a smaller guy trying to throw that hard every pitch over a 140-game season. That’s just really hard.
“Reynaldo Lopez’s job is to prepare to pitch as a starter between 150 to 200 innings. That’s what teams are asking for their starting pitchers these days. His first audition to show he could do that didn’t go so hot. Again, it’s electric stuff.”
Manuel said Lopez could pitch out of the bullpen in the majors, but that those types of pitchers are easier to find. Lopez is special because he has some insane stuff you can’t teach.
“The reason that people like to default to the bullpen with guys like him is it’s electric stuff, but let’s see him (try) to do it three and four times through a lineup,” Manuel said. “You just have two dominant pitches. You’ve got to have four pitches or you have to have really premium command of a fastball. That’s the part that I don’t think we talk about enough, that’s a whole other story. I wished that we focused more on the command of the fastball than we did on velocity. Obviously, velocity matters.”
Can Lopez command his fastball in every situation? It is a question asked to all future starters.
“Command of (the) fastball, not throwing strikes, but having true command, being able to go through a lineup over, over and over again (is key),” Manuel said. “Unless you have (Max) Scherzer stuff, which most people don’t. The way you do that is you command the fastball and you make hitters hit your pitch. I don’t know that Lopez will ever have that command.
“His goal this year should be staying healthy and making 24 or 25 turns in a minor league rotation. If he does that, then you really kind of see what kind of stuff can he maintain over the course of a full season like that.”
But Manuel said that Lopez still has an amazing arm. And that is the biggest reason why he is top five in the Nats organization, according to Baseball America. Manuel said they aren’t going to limit Lopez to being a future reliever. They want him as a starter.
“The arm is as good as any arm in the system outside of Giolito,” Manuel said. “It’s just a live, quick, electric arm. I could see why people want to ask for a guy like that in a bullpen. Relief pitchers are a lot easier to find than rotation pieces. My impression is the Nationals are going to exhaust every avenue first in keeping Lopez a starter.”