On Sunday afternoon, Nationals reporter Jesse Sanchez reported that Reynaldo Lopez “got the call,” and would be making his MLB debut this week. A bit later on, it was confirmed that he would be starting against the Dodgers on Tuesday, July 19th. With Washington’s rotation in need of a starter, several folk thought that Lucas Giolito would be brought back up - but, as per Dusty Baker, he “needs some work, especially with his breaking ball and location.” And so we will get to see yet another top pitching prospect get his chance to shine - and make no mistake, Lopez is just that.
Here is what Jason Hunt had to say about Lopez in our Nationals top-ten prospects list:
Lopez emerged after his strong 2014 campaign as an extremely interesting fantasy prospect, and was moved up to High-A for the 2015 season. The performance there was a bit up-and-down, but finished up strong with 21 strikeouts, 1 walk and 8 hits allowed in his final 16 innings pitched. Lopez features a three-pitch mix which includes both a fastball and curveball that can be strikeout pitches, as well as a changeup that could develop into a third above-average offering. The tools are all there for a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher who can provide a high strikeout total, but which comes with a bit of risk to your ratios if he can't improve his control.
Lopez opened up the 2016 season at Double-A, where he made 14 starts, pitching to the following line - 76.1 IP, 69 H, 25 BB, 100 K, 3.18 ERA, 1.23 WHIP. He was promoted to Triple-A at the end of June, and made his first start there on June 30. Over two starts at that level, he has a 3.27 ERA in 11.0 IP. As a result of this strong performance (as well as his stellar stuff), Lopez’s stock rose on ever mid-season prospect list. He was recently ranked 39th by our staff, 39th by Baseball Prospectus, and 48th by Baseball America.
The greatest issue with Lopez is whether he will be able to stick in the starting rotation at the MLB level. There is a strong consensus that his command and control leave something to be desired, and that his delivery is max-effort (Keith Law described it as “all arm” after the Futures Game). He is also right around 6’ tall, and 180 to 190 pounds, which is on the small side for a pitcher with Lopez’s arsenal. That may not be a concern in the short-term (Luis Severino has similar concerns, though, and you can see the risk there between his excellent 2015 and awful 2016), but it adds a wrinkle to his long-term role in any context.
As for his role for the remainder of the season ... I am not quite sure. Joe Ross will be eligible to be activated from the disabled list this week, and it doesn’t seem as though Gio Gonzalez is going anywhere. The Nationals’ rotation may well be full by the end of this week, and that is ignoring the presence of Giolito in the minors. I suspect the Nationals will make Giolito force their hand, given his uninspiring big league showing and his innings limit. At the same time, though, Lopez’s career-high in IP is 99.0, and he has already tossed 87.1 IP this year.
All that being said, the Nationals have a need in the bullpen, particularly with Sammy Solis hitting the DL. If Lopez impresses, they could find a role for him in the bullpen, which would allow the team to better dictate his innings, pitch counts, and schedule. Unfortunately, that does not portend a great deal of certainty for fantasy owners.