Brewers sign second-rounder Lopez
Athletic right-hander displaying 'pitchability' in Puerto Rico
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers haven't struck a deal with either of their first-round selections from June's First-Year Player Draft just yet, but second-round pick Jorge Lopez signed with the club on Monday.
The prep school right-hander, who was Puerto Rico's top pitching prospect, was selected 70th overall and was assigned to the Rookie League in Arizona. Lopez was the third consecutive pitcher selected by the Brewers in the 2011 Draft, and while first-round selections Taylor Jungmann (12th overall) and Jed Bradley (15th) still aren't signed, Lopez's skills have been on Milwaukee's radar for quite some time.
The deadline for teams to sign their 2011 Draft picks is 10:59 p.m. CT on Aug. 15, and talks between the Brewers and their first-rounders could go right to that date. Lopez -- along with fifth-round outfielder Michael Reed, who was also drafted out of high school -- brings the Brewers' total of signed draftees to 30. Six more undrafted players have signed with the club as well.
Lopez began pitching three years ago after previously playing shortstop and picked up the mechanics quickly, according to his coach, Edwin Rodriguez. Lopez's athleticism aided the transition, and despite never lifting a single weight, the 6-foot-4, 170-pound hurler is also the top volleyball prospect in Puerto Rico. Lopez stopped playing competitive volleyball in January so he could focus on his baseball career.
"I need to work on my mechanics," Lopez said in a telephone interview, with his coach translating. "I still open up a little bit sometimes and that makes me fall off the mound, and I need to work on my control and learn how to control my changeup. I don't feel like I have the command of the changeup that I want."
Lopez plays for Team Mizuno of Puerto Rico, and while there was some initial thought that he may be a first-round pick, he still needs a lot of polish, his coach said. Lopez said the process of the Draft was frustrating at times as he sat around on Day 1 and didn't hear his name called. However, the Brewers were perfectly fine with Lopez still being on the Draft board.
Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid said he was surprised Lopez was still available in the second round. He added that Milwaukee anticipated Lopez being selected somewhere in between the 55 selections that separated the club's last first-round pick (15th overall) and its second-round selection (70th overall).
Seid said that selecting pitchers who can execute their pitches right away was part of the Brewers' focus with this specific Draft class, and they liked the teenager's confidence in his pitches.
"The one thing we really made a concerted effort [with] this year was to identify not only the tools of the player, the athleticism, but also the ability to throw strikes, have feel with their stuff," Seid said. "I think it's important. I think in the past, guys get caught up in radar gun readings, and that's the first thing that comes to mind instead of the actual pitchability."
The Brewers are well aware they are getting an elite athlete, and the volleyball star put his skills to the test when he switched from shortstop to pitcher at the age of 15. The decision to have Lopez change positions was an easy one, since "he couldn't hit the baseball," Rodriguez said. Though Lopez didn't struggle defensively at shortstop and second base -- and spent time in the outfield -- taking the bat out of his hands just made sense, Rodriguez said.
Lopez spent the past six months learning new pitches to accompany his fastball and curveball, which he said are his two best pitches. His fastball maxed out at 91 mph, and every day the young pitcher is trying to add to his repertoire.
"About two months ago, he came in to practice and started throwing a slider, and I said, 'Who taught you how to throw a slider? You know we don't use them on our team,'" Rodriguez recalled. "He said, 'Oh, I picked it up at school.' He just knows how to learn how to pitch. We were in a game and he came up to me and was showing me how to throw a forkball, and I'm like, 'Can you just stop?' I don't know how he does it, but he just knows how to pitch."
Lopez is also familiar with the Brewers since shortstop Yadiel Rivera -- who is from nearby Caguas, P.R. -- was selected by Milwaukee in the ninth round in 2010. Rivera is the Helena Brewers' shortstop, and he also didn't have experience with a weight-training program when he was drafted. Rodriguez said he's confident Milwaukee's program will help Lopez, like it did Rivera.
"It was just a matter of time until somebody would take him," Rodriguez said of Lopez. "He loves baseball and he does play other sports, but it's clear baseball is his No. 1."
Audrey Snyder is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.