I’ve mentioned Jose Lopez peripherally in a couple of posts over the last week or two and realized that I don’t know much about him except that he’s been tearing up the Indians Spring Training camp as a non-roster invitee. Right now he’s batting .417/ .481 OBP/ .750 SLG/1.231 OPS. And while his fielding percentage is only .940 with 3 errors in 56 innings, he has a range factor of 4.27. He’s been impressing a lot of people and seems to have a good shot to make the 25-man roster.
Lopez was born in Barcelona, Venezuela, in 1983 and got his start in the Mariners organization, signing when he was just a tiny baby. Okay, he was 16 when he signed with them as an amateur free agent. He worked his way up through the Mariners’ minor league system and made his major league debut on July 31, 2004. His best season with the Mariners was 2006, when he made the All-Star Team as a second baseman. He bounced around positions–third and short (2004), second and third (2005 and 2006), first, second and DH (2008). Not to imply causation, but his All-Star year was also the year he played only at second. The following season, he played 149 games, all but three at second base.
Lopez’s fielding percentage at second base was .978 in 2006, .989 in 2007, .984 in 2008, and .975 in 2009. You can see the small but steady decline in defensive effectiveness. At the plate, his batting average peaked at .297 in 2008 (when his WAR value peaked at 3.9) and slowly declined as well. In 2009, he did win the Mariners Heart & Hustle Award and played for Venezuela in the World Baseball Cup, but he was on his way out. The Mariners traded Lopez to the Colorado Rockies in December 2010. He batted only .210 for Colorado and was designated for assignment on May 26, 2011, and officially released by the Rockies on June 6. Three days later, Lopez was picked up the Florida Marlins, who then designated him for assignment on July 2. Suffice to say the guy has had a tough couple of years.
And yet I like him. Maybe it’s the whole “heart and hustle” thing. He is at the Indians Spring Training camp as a non-roster invitee and playing for his life. It shows. He’s batting .417. .417. The guy has never batted over .299 in the majors (Spring Training 2010) in his life. Baseball is full of stories of success and failure like this. Sometimes the player has a second (or a third) act. As of last Friday, rumor had it that Jason Donald had the edge as the Indians utility infielder but that Lopez wasn’t out of the running for a job. If he keeps playing like this, it’ll be difficult not to give him a job.