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Jose Lopez, Prospect

Yesterday, we took a look at part of Jason Vargas' Baseball America write-up from back when he was a prospect with the Marlins. People seemed to like the idea, so I'm going to run with a few more. What follows is a chunk of the BA review of Jose Lopez following the 2003 season, during which Lopez was a 19-year-old in the AA Texas League.

Lopez, by the way, was listed as the #4 prospect in the system, behind Felix Hernandez, Clint Nageotte, and Travis Blackley. He was just ahead of Shin-soo Choo. He was considered the #70 prospect in the league.

Strengths: While Lopez has impressive tools, Mariners officials say his greatest asset is his instincts. They rate him as the best defensive infielder in the system, while TL managers said he had the strongest infield arm in their league. He makes excellent contact and has well-above-average pop for a middle infielder. He has slightly above-average speed and savvy on the bases.

Weaknesses: Lopez rarely swings and misses, but he draws few walks because he puts the ball in play so easily. He needs to work deeper counts and add a little consistency to all phases of his game.

The Future: Lopez spent time at second and third base in 2003 so he’d be ready for whatever big league opening might come his way. His opportunity should come at shortstop after he spends a season in Triple-A and Rich Aurilia’s one-year contract expires.

(Rich Aurilia!)

Running down the list:

(1) Great instincts. This is tough, mainly because instincts are hard to define and hard to see in action. They're a little different, I think, from awareness or focus. What I'll say on the matter is that, were I asked to characterize Lopez's instincts now, "great" is not the first word that would come to mind.

(2) Strong defensive infielder. It's weird to read about old Lopez and remember that he used to be considered a gifted shortstop. I don't think he was bad as a Mariner, but he was a passable second baseman and, later, third baseman. He was, of course, blocked at 6 by Yuniesky Betancourt, and I know defense often declines with age as a player fills out, but little about the way Lopez played suggested that he could've cut it at short, or that he had Gold Glove ability. Good arm be damned, defense hasn't been a strength of his.

(3) Excellent contact. Jose Lopez is by no means a line drive machine, but among guys who've batted at least 1000 times since Lopez arrived in 2004, his contact rate ranks in the uppermost fifth. For better or worse, he knows how to put the bat on the ball.

(4) Above-average pop for a middle infielder. Lopez has slugged .400 for his career in a miserable ballpark and is a perennial threat to reach double-digit home runs, so I'd say this is still true. What's disappointing is that Lopez posted an isolated slugging percentage of .145 as a 19-year-old in the pitcher-friendly Texas League just prior to this write-up. 2009 should be the norm, and not the anomaly. A guy like Lopez either needs to keep playing good defense, or start mashing a little more as he adds weight.

(5) Reasonable speed and savvy on the bases. Since breaking in, Jose Lopez has stolen 23 bases and been caught 16 times. He has all of 11 triples - eight of them in one season - and other than Casey Kotchman, I can't think of another Mariner who so often made outs as the result of rundowns, aggressive turns, and brainless attempts to advance. Baseball Prospectus puts his career baserunning value at -17.3 runs. These days, Jose Lopez is relatively slow, and "savvy" is literally among the last adjectives I'd use to describe any part of his game, right up there with "energetic" and "cerulean".

(6) Rarely walks. As a 19-year-old in the Texas League, Jose Lopez drew 27 walks. His career high in the Major Leagues is 27 walks, which he managed by coming to the plate an additional 99 times.

(7) Not enough consistency. Nobody in sports is ever considered consistent enough and it's not even clear whether you'd rather a guy be consistent or streaky in the first place, but Jose Lopez is not the most consistent player I've ever seen. I would be open to calling him consistently inconsistent, which god I hate this word

It's frustrating to reflect on what Lopez was as a prospect coming up through the system, and I think his development is best captured by the fact that, while BA listed him at 6'2, 170 in 2004, lists him at 6'0, 205. Not only has he gotten bigger; he's apparently gotten shorter, too.

Lopez's approach to hitting hasn't changed much from where it was as a teenager. He can still put the bat on the ball, but he hasn't shown anything in the way of selectivity, and his power hasn't progressed much despite adding the bulk that many scouts predicted. On top of that, nearly all other aspects of his game seem to have declined, and while I don't think he's a bad player, this guy went from being an athletic teenage top prospect to practically being non-tendered at 27.

Lopez ought to be so much more. And who knows; maybe it'll all come together in Colorado, or somewhere else. By no means is he finished. His seven-year Mariners career, though, was disappointing overall. You read the old report and you come away with the impression that Lopez was a driven, heads-up, highly successful athlete who knew what it took to get better. If that was true then, I don't know that any of that's been true for a while.