Out of the twenty (twenty!) players to make their big league debuts for the 2019 Mariners, Tim Lopes’s first few games were among the most memorable. After posting a strong .302/.362/.476 slash line in Tacoma, he first appeared in the Majors on July 24th, standing at second base for one inning on against the Tigers. His first three plate appearances came the next day, and from the nine-hole, he worked a walk, grounded out to short, and...
Although he initially stayed in - even stealing a base and scoring immediately after taking a ball to the helmet - Lopes was removed from the game and placed on the 7-day IL, and many feared that he had suffered a more serious injury. Thankfully, he was brought back to the big club on August 6th, and crossed several firsts off his list with one swing:
He spent the rest of August as an everyday player, starting twenty out of Seattle’s next twenty-two games, including a handful in the leadoff spot, before moving to a bench role in the final month of the year thanks to the arrival of Kyle Lewis. In all, he put up a very serviceable .270/.359/.360 slash line over 148 plate appearances, good for a 101 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR. Not bad for someone who spent the past eight seasons in the minors!
Lopes did a lot of things well in his first taste of big league action. His 11.7% walk rate was third-best on the team (minimum 100 PAs), he sprayed the ball around the field pretty evenly...
...and despite logging just five innings in the outfield during his Minors career, spent nearly all of his time in Seattle in left field, where both the eye test and defensive metrics rated him favorably. He showed an ability to steal and run bases smartly, and only turned 25 in June. In short, he did everything that could be reasonably asked of him, and made a strong case for his inclusion on the 2020 Opening Day roster.
Yeah, about that.
The Mariners have been flush with utility types as of late - Lopes, Dylan Moore, and Austin Nola all saw significant time in Seattle, and all had varying degrees of success. Nola will almost certainly moving into a backup catching role behind Tom Murphy next season - he’s exclusively caught in his time in the Dominican Winter League this year - and with Patrick Wisdom now in the fold as Kyle Seager insurance, it’ll likely come down between Moore and Lopes for that last bench spot.
Moore showed some very real pop despite his Hank Hill booty and 88 wRC+, posting a .182 ISO and an average exit velocity of 87.5 MPH - right in line with the league - and a solid 36.4% hard-hit rate. He very much bought into the fly ball revolution with an average launch angle of 18.2 degrees, and flashed plus defense at shortstop and the outfield corners. The 33% K-rate is cause for concern, but a strong O-Swing% of 26.4% suggests that he may have been on the wrong end of a third strike call more often than not.
Lopes, on the other hand, put up a skimpy .090 ISO in the bigs, and his mark of .174 at AAA this year was the highest of his career since his stint at rookie ball in 2012 - undoubtedly helped by the PCL and the rabbit ball. All throughout his pro career, his strong plate discipline has been undermined by a lack of power and too many ground balls, and that bore out in the Majors, too, with an average launch angle of just 8.7 degrees and an exit velocity of 85 MPH. His hard-hit rate of 24.1% was just over ten points below Major League average, and despite looking competent in the outfield and carrying a reputation as a good second baseman, isn’t considered a great option at shortstop or third base, as he’s spent just 305 and 904.2 respective minor league innings at each spot. Not quite the defensive capabilities you’d ideally want from a bench bat.
While it’s anyone’s guess as to what the final 26-man will look like come the end of March, it’s tough looking at the current picture and finding an easy fit for Tim Lopes. He was undoubtedly a fun part of the last couple months of the year and exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations, but his punchless swing and relative lack of defensive versatility may not be enough to overcome his plus plate discipline and solid contact marks. With Dylan Moore being the more proven defender and power threat and Patrick Wisdom’s third base capabilities, it feels likely that Lopes will be ticketed to Tacoma to start 2020. His age and successful first big league stint have made him an attractive depth option, though, and it wouldn’t be at all a surprise to see him up at some point next year in the event of injuries or ineffectiveness.