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Update: Could Jacob Lopez be the next pitcher up?

Apparently, yes! He’s been called up today

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Jacob Lopez is joining the Rays in San Francisco tonight.

Rays have battled injuries the whole year; half of the starting rotation went down in the first 2 months of the season including Jeffery Springs, Drew Rasmussen, and Josh Fleming. A couple of relievers have also landed on the injured list, however, the front office has been able to cover those spots along the way. Moreover, it seems that there is still a hole in the starting rotation. One of the answers might be the trade deadline, however, it’s always tough to find a quality starter in the market. The cheapest option might be looking to the farm system, and one of the names that deserve a chance is Jacob Lopez.

Jacob Lopez was drafted in the 26th round by the Giants in 2018. He was acquired at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for LF Joe McCarthy. Since then Lopez has climbed through the system with excellent numbers. He has never had a season with an earned run average north of 3.

In 2021 Lopez had his big break-out season, between single A and double A he managed a 2.41 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP and 96 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. However, not everything was bright for him. During late August he suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for at least a year. In 2023 he pitched for the first time since August 2021, and he has been able to replicate what he was doing pre-injury. The 25 year-old left-handed pitcher was never a part of the top 30 MLB prospects, neither in the top 62 prospects according to FanGraphs.

In 2023 the LHP has gathered amazing numbers as a starter between double and triple A. He has an outstanding 1.78 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and opponents are just hitting .159 in 65.2 innings. The strikeouts are not as they used to be, however, he is still putting in respectable numbers (86 strikeouts).

His FIP (4.20) in triple-A suggests that his 1.19 ERA may not be sustainable. The walks and strikeouts are not as great as they were in double-A, either. In triple A Lopez has a 12.9 K-BB%, while in double A he had a 33.3 K-BB%.

The attribute that has made Lopez consistent across levels is the quality of contact. In double-A opponents hit .144 AVG against him, while with the Bulls opponents only gathered a .165 batting average. Thanks to his quality sinker he also gets a ton of ground balls; putting some respectable numbers in both leagues. With Montgomery, he posted a 50% ground ball%, while with Durham he has gathered a 42 ground ball%.

Let’s talk about how Jacob Lopez gets to these quality results. Lopez has a 3-pitch mix featuring a sinker that he usually locates it in the outer part of the plate, which he pairs up with a change-up that looks really similar to his sinker, and a slider that usually tries to get down and in to righties. The sinker and the change-up are so similar that even Baseball Savant does not always recognize which is which. Both have similar movements the change-up gets just a little bit more vertical movement. The big difference comes velo-wise; the sinker sits 93-90 MPH while the change-up is 85-81 MPH. In the next graph, you will be able to appreciate how similar are both pitches.

Jacob Lopez last appearance
Baseball Savant

The key for Lopez will be tunneling; if he is able to have similar release points he will cause some problems to opposing batters. However, if the opposition is able to pick up the release it will turn out negative. Batters can catch the change-up in front and stay back and wait for the sinker. None of this will happen if Lopez is able to execute this 2 pitch mix.

Jacob Lopez can be competing for a spot. He might not get it in the rotation, but he will be welcomed in the pen. His side arm and funky delivery make him a super intriguing arm. The only stopper is that the Rays must clear a 40-man spot. However, sooner or later they will need to do it because he is a rule 5 draft eligible in December, and is likely to get picked if the Rays don’t protect him.