If you are a Marlins fan and you have not fully familiarized yourself with Pablo Lopez, now is your time to do it. His outstanding start to the 2018 campaign is turning heads league-wide.
Through 31.2 IP at Double-A Jacksonville, Pablo Lopez currently has a 0.28 ERA with 5.29 K/BB rate. Originally signed out of Venezuela in 2012 for $280,000 by the Seattle Mariners, Lopez has not had the smoothest ascent through the minor leagues. In 2014, Lopez went under the knife to receive Tommy John surgery. Three years later, he found himself as apart of a trade package headed out of Seattle to the Miami Marlins.
Lopez made his way to Miami in a 2017 trade that sent David Phelps to the Seattle Mariners. At the time of the deal, Lopez was struggling to establish himself at High-A with the Mariners in the pitching nightmare that is the California League.
Since arriving in Miami, Lopez has been one of the better pitchers in the entire system. In 45.1 innings with High-A Jupiter last year post-trade, Lopez pitched to a 2.18 ERA. He didn’t pitch enough innings in the Florida State League to qualify as a league leader. If he had, his 1.2 BB/9 would have been tops in the league.
After the season, the Marlins added Lopez to the 40-Man Roster in order to protect him from other teams taking him in the Rule 5 Draft. This roster move also potentially fast-tracked Lopez’s route to a big league mound.
So far, Lopez has made the Marlins decision to add him to the 40-Man a great one. He followed up the solid end to his 2017 with a great Spring Training where he caught the attention of the major league staff.
He then built on a strong Spring and has come out unhittable so far at the beginning of this season.
Lopez currently has a 0.28 ERA with a 10.52 K/9. As of now, both are career highs for the young right-hander. While it will be impossible for Lopez to sustain his 0.28 ERA throughout the course of a season. His xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) is also at a career-best at 2.70.
Lopez is getting his good results by running a solid 12.2% swinging strike rate to go along with a lot of soft contact as evidenced by his .231 BABIP against. Lopez seeing his BABIP raise in his next few starts could be a sign of a slight regression towards the mean.
What That Means for the Miami Marlins
Either way that you cut it, Lopez is pitching like a top talent in the Southern League. Out of pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, Lopez ranks 1st in ERA, 2nd in xFIP and 3rd in K-BB%.
The latter two metrics are indicators that while his ERA is positively skewed with a really hot start, Lopez will still continue to be a good pitcher down the line.
For example, in 2014 Jose Ureña was the second best pitcher in the Southern League according to both xFIP and K-BB%. Since then, Ureña has turned himself into one of the more valuable pitchers in the Marlins’ rotation.
This is not to say that Double-A statistics are the end all be all. Many times players have had success at this level and completely faltered at the major league level. With that being said, what Lopez is doing in the early part of 2018 still cannot be overlooked.
In The Future
Lopez is ranked somewhere between the 18th and 30th ranked prospect in the Marlins Farm System. He features a solid three-pitch mix with the typical fastball, breaking ball, change up arsenal.
His fastball sits between 88-91 with heavy arm side run and sink. The run on the ball enables him to produce the soft contact the ultimately keeps his BABIP down.
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His breaking ball is labeled as both a curveball and a slider depending on the site, but he receives average grades on the pitch nonetheless. His change up is also rated as an average pitch, although it is noted that his plus control makes all three pitches play up.
Lopez has an Overall Future Grade (OFV) anywhere from 40-45, which means he is seen as a back-end starter at the big league level. However, if Lopez continues to make strides at the rate he is going he has a chance to make a true impact in the major leagues.
Look for Lopez to be in Miami sooner rather than later. While his ETA currently sits at 2019, don’t be surprised if we see him by late 2018.
Look out for Pablo Lopez’s next start against the Mississippi Braves on Thursday at 8:00 PM EST. The game can be streamed live on MiLB.TV or the radio broadcast can be found on the MiLB First Pitch app.
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