Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’17 — #28 Jorge Lopez

Four weeks. Less than a month. It’s SO close.

“Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” rolls on with a look at a former 2nd round pick (2011 draft, from Puerto Rico) who made his MLB debut in 2015 but struggled through regression last season…

Jorge Lopez.

Following a 2015 season which saw him lead the newly relocated Class-AA Biloxi Shuckers rotation to the Southern League postseason, Lopez was among a large group of players to be rewarded with an early add to the 40-man roster and subsequent promotion to the Major Leagues to participate in September baseball after rosters expanded.

Lopez was brilliant that season, finally beginning to realize the potential the Brewers saw in a lanky volleyball standout when they drafted him. Lopez had long been considered to have a lot of raw talent. There was a bit of projectability necessary to draft him in the 2nd round, but the Brewers identified that Lopez was teachable. In that 2015 season, Lopez would go 12–5 in 24 starts by way of a 2.26 ERA over 143.1 innings pitched. He would face 572 batters in Double-A that year, and would strike out 137 of them. His WHIP was sub-1.100 and he allowed just nine home runs all season.

Lopez required 40-man protection anyway, but the results spoke for themselves and he got a big league cup of coffee to close the year. He started two games and threw 10 innings, allowing six runs. He struck out 10, and allowed zero home runs.

The beginning of 2016 saw Lopez take the next logical step as he began the season at Class-AAA Colorado Springs. The big league rotation was overstuffed at the beginning of the year, and a guy in Lopez’s situation needs Triple-A time to put what are hopefully the finishing touches on his MLB-ready stuff.

It was a wonderful, traditional plan. The problem is that the pitching environment in Colorado Springs, Colorado is anything but traditional, at least for certain kinds of pitchers. Unfortunately, Lopez falls into that category.

Lopez made his first start for the Sky Sox in April and his final of 16 starts (and 17 appearances) in mid-July. What happened between those events wasn’t pretty.

79.1 IP, 6.81 ERA, 101 H, 66 R (60 ER), 12 HR, 55 BB, 66 K, 1.966 WHIP

The ratios weren’t good, the peripherals matched or even exceeded (in the wrong direction) the results. Certainly some of the problems can be chalked up to the increased level of competition. It was, after all, Lopez’s first Triple-A action. But the well-documented, discussed, and bemoaned atmosphere (or lack thereof) in Colorado Springs was absolutely a contributor to Lopez’s struggles.

No more proof of that is needed than to look at his mid-season demotion back to the sea level haven of Biloxi which allowed for both a statistical rebound as well as a mental one. Lopez is on record as saying that Colorado Springs is a challenge he’s willing and anxious to face in 2017 if the Brewers decided to place him back there, so perhaps the psychological side of things wasn’t as bad as it appeared, but Lopez still must have experienced a large sense of relief back at Biloxi that his stuff still got hitters out.

To that point, however, Milwaukee’s General Manager David Stearns stated this winter that placement of top pitching prospects is something that the front office has discussed at length. They will analyze each pitcher individually and make decisions on a very targeted case-by-case basis.

Hiram Burgos? He seems to be just fine in Colorado Springs. Taylor Jungmann? About CS he said “Yeah, we’re not going to talk about that place.” (Who could blame him?) Wily Peralta fought the elements and was much better for it when he came back to the big leagues in August last year. Josh Hader struggled early but was making adjustments by season’s end.

Whether and how those decisions will be made is a topic for another day, but it’s directly relevant to Lopez’s 2017 situation because he is 100% not starting the season in the Brewers rotation. In fact, he could be the fourth option (or so) to come up from the minors. And where he’ll be doing his pitching could sway that alignment in the minds of his big league GM.

Lopez is going to be one we definitely need to keep tabs on throughout the 2017 season, both to see how he’s performing but also how he’s continuing to mature as a pitcher. Those aren’t always the same thing.

Follow Jorge on Twitter: @yabiee18

Looking to catch up on this season’s BBtJN? Just click on a name below:

#59 Carlos Torres
#57 Chase Anderson
#56 Ryan Webb
#54 Michael Blazek
#53 Jhan Mariñez
#52 Jimmy Nelson
#51 Damien Magnifico
#50 Jacob Barnes
#47 Jett Bandy
#46 Corey Knebel
#45 Tyler Cravy
#41 Junior Guerra
#38 Wily Peralta
#37 Neftalí Feliz
#35 Brent Suter
#33 Tommy Milone
#29 Yadiel Rivera