After a series of honourable mentions, we kick of the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Top 30 Prospects with a player that was ranked 12th on our list the last time around. Christian Lopes had a strong start and poor finish to his first year of full season ball with the Lansing Lugnuts and checks in as the as the only (current) second baseman to make this year’s list.
Name: Christian Lopes
Date of Birth: 10/01/1992 (21)
Acquired: Drafted in the 7th round of the 2011 draft ($800,000 USD)
High School: Edison High School (Huntington Beach, CA)
College: Had commitment to USC
Height/Weight: 6’0”/185 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
Stats and Analysis
Lopes was a late signing in 2011 but made up for lost time by making quick work of the Appalachian League with the Bluefield Blue Jays in 2012. At 19, he showed impressive power and a decent approach to make for a .371 wOBA, 127 wRC+ and .204 ISO while striking out only 16.6% of the time.
He finished 2012 in Vancouver and received his first crack at full season ball this year with the Low-A Lansing Lugnuts. His numbers weren’t nearly as impressive (.301 wOBA, 83 wRC+) over the much larger sample size (552 PAs) but there are still some good signs for the young second baseman.
The better defense and pitching likely influenced his BABIP, which was .324 in Bluefield but dropped to .280 in Lansing. However he didn’t appear to be over-matched and actually had his strikeout rate drop 2.5% while his walk rate held at just over 7%. He has good bat speed and despite the drop in batting average and power he still makes plenty of contact, which is a good sign for a young hitter.
Lopes had a considerable drop-off in his rate of extra base hits in 2013 and only had 32 in 552 plate appearances despite playing approximately half his games at the hitter-friendly confines of Cooley Law School Stadium.
Lopes sets up with a slightly open, squatted stance and keeps his lower body quiet while loading. He appears to still have a quick double-tap of his left foot in the limited video that I’ve found. He keeps his hands low and stands fairly close to the plate. He has a nice turn and good hip rotation, which combined with a short, compact swing allows him to move the barrel of the bat quickly through the strike zone.
As a second baseman if Lopes hopes to make it to the Show it will need to be on the strength of his bat. He started off strong in the Midwest League and had an OPS of .708 in April and .798 in May before the more advanced pitching appeared to figure him out. He fell apart at the plate to close out the year and had an OPS of only .492 the last 90 days of the season. Considering he was only 20 it wasn’t entirely surprising to see him struggle during his first sting in the MWL but it also would have been nice to see more out of his bat, which is what many scouts consider his best tool. He won a home run derby in high school but has been fairly developed physically for some time now so isn’t a player that is expected to grow into much power.
Lopes doesn’t have great arm strength or quickness but I’ve received good reviews from his defense this year in Lansing. Quick hands and good instincts help him play a very solid second base and the former shortstop looked even more comfortable this year on the opposite side of the infield. He has more than enough range/arm strength to play second and his smooth transitions help lead to lots of double plays.
On the base paths he’s not much of a threat and only had two stolen bases in three chances this year. I actually thought he was a bit better runner based on the number of doubles and triples he had with Bluefield in 2012. He did have three triples this year (all at Cooley) but his speed and baserunning ability is considered below average.
2014 Outlook, Risk, and ETA
Lopes took a step back in the Midwest League in 2013 and saw his prospect stock drop significantly. He’ll likely move up to the Florida State League as a 21-year-old and some are concerned that his struggles may continue in the pitcher-friendly FSL. His strong season in Bluefield seems like a distant memory after he was exposed in the MWL and although he was just 20 he needs to make refinements at the plate if he wants to regain his status as a regarded prospect.
As a second baseman his hit tool will need to be the one that gets him to the majors. With a plethora of shortstop talent brewing within the Blue Jays system Lopes could also be facing increased competition as he attempts to break through.
The low strikeout rate is promising but unless Lopes makes significant and probably unexpected development he’s likely set for a full year at High-A. If he continues to make strides he’s likely looking at a late 2016 or 2017 arrival but after his MWL struggles the risk that he may stagnate in the minors has increased.
He’s still a young kid with a strong makeup, good instincts and there’s even maybe some promise in his peripherals so I couldn’t give up on him just yet. But in the fast-moving world of baseball prospects Lopes will be hoping for a big comeback year in 2014 but it could be tough if he’s playing in a pitcher-friendly league against more advanced opponents.