The Situation: Sammy Solis is headed to the disabled list, and despite the Nationals having A.J. Cole and Austin Voth waiting in the wings in Syracuse, the Nationals will call on Lopez to make his big-league debut against the Dodgers on Tuesday.
Background: Lopez was given a (relatively) paltry $17,000 to sign out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, and after entering the Washington organization, he was far from a household name, starting his pro career off with two pedestrian minor-league seasons. Than 2014 happened. He came out popping near-triple digits on the radar gun, posted a 1.08 ERA in stops at Auburn and Hagerstown, and quickly established himself as one of the most intriguing right-handed arms in the lower level. He was solid—if not spectacular in 2015—but the big step forward was this season. He struck out 100 hitters in just over 76 innings with a 3.18 ERA, and after two solid starts in the International League, the Nationals felt confident enough to give him a shot against big-league hitters. —Christopher Crawford
Scouting Report: Built with a shorter frame—though one that's otherwise plenty durable and athletic—Lopez gets to his velocity by way of some effort in his delivery. His arm-speed is about as good as it gets, but there's recoil and noise through his high three-quarters slot. This caused his control and command waver earlier in his career, though he's made real improvements with throwing strikes—even within the last two months. Many Eastern League evaluators saw a reliever as recently as April and May, but his surge in pitchability led to a dominant stretch that has scouts as primed as ever to believe in Lopez's ability to start.
When he's able to get ahead in counts and stay around the zone with his pitches, there's no doubt he has the raw stuff to be a quality rotation piece. He holds a late-bursting fastball sitting at 94-96 mph throughout starts, and Nats fans shouldn't be surprised to see him grab a few 98s early in the game. His power curveball is in the 80-84 range. He'll lose control of the curve, specifically when he pulls off his release point, though his improvements in throwing his breaker for strikes were a big part of his dominant June performance (1.56 ERA; 12.5 K/9). Lopez's third pitch is a split-like change in the upper-80s, showing the power arm-side action of an above-average pitch when he's able to sell it at arm-speed.
Immediate Big League Future: Lopez will likely start Tuesday's game against the Dodgers, though with the Nationals reportedly looking to add power relievers to their stretch-run bullpen, it's possible he fits in as a later-innings option once Joe Ross returns to the rotation. —Adam McInturff
Fantasy Impact: This should be fun. Reynaldo Lopez has electric stuff and he’ll be making his major league debut for the Nationals in a starting role. His minor league rate stats from this year don’t exactly jump off the page (a 3.20 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 87.3 innings across 14 starts in Double-A and two starts in Triple-A), but those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Lopez also struck out 109 batters in those 87.3 innings, good for an 11.2 K/9. That’s where his value lies in roto, regardless of his role. As for his role, that’s a little unclear at the moment. As I mentioned before, he’s starting on Tuesday. Joe Ross is due to return to the rotation any time, though, and the spot Ross takes in the rotation will probably be the one that Lopez is filling on Tuesday. If Ross’s return from the DL does indeed push Lopez out of the rotation, Lopez could either be moved to the bullpen or sent back to Triple-A. The Nationals have given no inclination which way they’re leaning, although it’s worth noting that a lot of experts have been predicting a bullpen destination for Lopez for a while due to his short stature, his occasional struggles with command, and his repertoire.
In keeper leagues, Lopez is a must-add in all leagues due to his strikeout stuff. He’s also worth a pickup for his start on Tuesday in just about any league. Beyond that, if moved to the bullpen, he’ll still have a ton of value in deeper and NL-only leagues thanks to his strikeout rate, especially if the steps forward he’s shown over the last month or two with regards to his command and control prove to be real. In shallower leagues, Lopez won’t have much value as a middle reliever and he won’t have any value if he’s sent back to Triple-A.
Since it doesn’t look like many big names will be imported to the NL this year, go big with your FAAB dollars on the 22-year-old in NL-only leagues. In keeper leagues and deep mixed leagues, you should feel comfortable using a sizable chunk of your FAAB budget on the flamethrower, too. In shallower leagues, he’s worth a few FAAB bucks as a spot starter for this week, but beyond that, he probably won’t provide much value unless he stays in the rotation for an extended period. Keep an eye on his usage and react accordingly. —Scooter Hotz
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