Reynaldo Lopez makes his White Sox debut Friday against the Royals, and while he’s just the latest heralded top prospect to join the major league club, he’s also one of the more contentious.
Like Yoan Moncada and the player with whom he was traded, Lucas Giolito, Lopez saw time in the majors a year ago with the Nationals, making six starts and 11 appearances overall for Washington down the stretch.
The reason he remains a contentious prospect is that there’s no industry consensus on what his role will be long term. Our own prospect team at BP left him out of the Midseason Top 50 prospects after he ranked No. 30 in the Preseason Top 101, with BP minor league editor Craig Goldstein noting on an episode of The Catbird Speaks last month that he hadn’t done enough this season to dispel concerns about him being able to remain a starting pitcher.
This is still a very real possibility, but the White Sox are doing as they should and giving him every opportunity to prove he can hang in the rotation long term. That opportunity begins Friday, and while a definitive answer won’t likely be known until well into the 2018 campaign, there’s at least a few things to keep an eye on during his abbreviated tenure for the duration of this season.
The line to be drawn between Lopez as a solid mid-rotation piece for years to come and his instead taking a place in the back end of the bullpen has to do with his ability to effectively command all of his pitches. His fastball has always been plus, and there’s potential for plus offerings with both his curveball and change, but despite mostly positive outings in Triple-A — particularly over the last month — the command consistency with all three pitches hasn’t been there all the time, which is the reason for concern in terms of long term viability.
It’s not incredibly dissimilar from Carlos Rodon, who arrived in Chicago with a wipeout slider, potentially plus fastball and work-in-progress change. The stuff is different, but the key for Rodon has always been his ability to command all three of his pitches in order to work ahead in the count. Lopez clearly has the potential to miss a lot of bats at the big league level — he struck out 11 Dodgers in a game last September — but the difference between his success being fleeting and consistent lies in the command.
It sounds simple, but it’s true. And that’s what’s worth watching with Lopez Friday, throughout the duration of 2017, and into next season. He’s the newest and shiniest toy to make his way to Chicago as the rebuild trudges onward, but aside from the results, him showing that potential will go a long way toward establishing himself as an important piece of the White Sox future.
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