The Royals have called up pitcher Jorge Lopez to start tonight against the Blue Jays in place of Burch Smith. He will be making his Royals debut after being acquired back in July in a trade with outfielder Brett Phillips for third baseman Mike Moustakas. To make room for Lopez, the Royals released reliever Blaine Boyer.
The 25-year old Lopez hails from Puerto Rico and was the second-round pick by the Brewers in 2011. In 2015, the right-hander was named Southern League Pitcher of the Year with a 2.26 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 143 1⁄3 innings pitched. Before the 2016 season, he was ranked as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline. He made his Major League with the Brewers that year, and has pitched a handful of innings in each of the last three seasons. In his career, he has a 3.69 ERA in 31 2⁄3 big league innings with 25 strikeouts and 19 walks.
Lopez regressed quite a bit this year in AAA with the Brewers, and while the high altitude of Colorado Springs might be a culprit, his road numbers are much worse than his home numbers. He reportedly lost confidence pitching there though, and had trouble with his curveball, which can be an issue in higher altitude environments, where many Pacific Coast League teams play.
He did have a 2.75 ERA in 19 2⁄3 innings of relief for the Brewers this year, although with poor peripherals. He made two starts with Omaha since the Royals acquired him, giving up four runs in 3 1⁄3 innings in his first outing, but tossing 5 2⁄3 innings shutout innings with seven strikeouts his last time out.
Jorge Lopez has only thrown 40 or more pitches in seven games this seasons, but his two highest SwStr% in game with 40 or more pitches this season have both come with the Storm Chasers. pic.twitter.com/cOAAf7lpJ2— Patrick Brennan (@paintingcorner) August 15, 2018
Before this season, John Sickels rated Lopez as a “C+” prospect, noting his inconsistency. He added that a change of scenery might due Lopez good, as well as a move to the bullpen, writing, “he’s always had a fine arm and hit 97 in relief, both curveball and change-up can be quite good although usually not in the same game.”
In 2016, MLB Pipeline noted Lopez had trouble with command but featured a “plus curveball in the high 70s that has good shape and downer action” and that his “changeup has steadily improved but still lags behind his two main offerings, although it does tend to play up because he repeats the same arm slot as his fastball.” Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs seemed to agree, commenting that Lopez “sits 93-97 out of the bullpen with an above-average, low-80s curveball and plus-flashing, upper-80s changeup,” adding “his command is comfortably below average.”
Patrick Brennan at Royals Farm Report breaks down his delivery, noting his interesting windup and writing that his “stretch is way more simple and low-effort. I must add the quick arm speed here is beautiful.”
In his short Major League career, Lopez has done a good job keeping the ball down with a 55% ground ball rate with just one home run allowed.
Lopez has a young son, Mikael, who has spent much of his life in hospitals with bowel inflammation issues. He was also at home in Puerto Rico last fall when Hurricane Maria hit. The Royals want to get a long look at the right-hander as they try to evaluate starting pitchers for next year.
Boyer was released after a 12.05 ERA in 21 2⁄3 innings with 9 strikeouts and 13 walks. He gave up two runs in one inning of work on Tuesday against the Blue Jays, blowing a late lead. Boyer was signed as a minor league free agent and was paid $1 million this year. He did show some heroics off the field, taking the wheel of the team bus after the driver was hit with shards of glass. But on the field, Boyer was a disaster, allowing opponents to hit .344/.413/.688 against him this year.
Worst ERA in Royals history, career (min. 20 IP)— Royals Review (@royalsreview) August 15, 2018
1. Albie Lopez 12.71
2. Blaine Boyer 12.05
3. Joe Mays 10.27
4. Lenny DiNardo 10.12
5. Brad Rigby 9.71
Burch Smith moves to the bullpen as the Royals transition to a younger rotation that currently has five pitchers in their age-26 season or younger - Lopez, Jakob Junis, Heath Fillmyer, Glenn Sparkman, and Brad Keller. The quintet has just 59 career Major League starts. Lopez faces the Marco Estrada and the Toronto Blue Jays tonight on Fox Sports Kansas City.