Yoan Lopez Cleared by U.S. Government to Sign

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Hard throwing Cuban right-hander, Yoan Lopez, has been cleared by the U.S. Government to sign with any major league team and is expected to reach a deal according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Sanchez also reports that the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres and Yankees are interested in Lopez.

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Lopez would be another guy who could be thrown into the mix for the final two spots in the rotation. While Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy are firmly entrenched as the team’s top 3 starters, but after that there’s a myriad of guys who all come with a myriad of questions. Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Odrisamer Despaigne, Brandon Maurer, Cory Luebke, Casey Kelly and Matt Wisler all could be fighting for those final two spots, but health and lack of experience could prevent all of them from making the rotation or be effective. Lopez would be no different than the rest of those guys. A huge question mark. He’s 21 and hasn’t played against major league talent before. Giving him a major league job would be a huge risk, especially for a team whose goal is to win this year.

It’s not like Lopez doesn’t have big league-level talent though. Sanchez’s brief scouting report on him is an impressive one.

"“Lopez throws a cut fastball, a changeup, a curveball and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that has reached 100 mph and usually hovers in the 93-95 mph range. In Cuba, he played three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Serie Nacional, the island’s top league. Lopez sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting.”"

If you can throw in the upper 90’s and command it, you can make it in the big leagues. Couple that with a good pitch mix and he becomes a very interesting prospect. It’ll be interesting to see how he adapts to facing big league hitters. In Cuba I’d guess he could rely on that fastball to blow away the lesser quality Cuban players. In the majors he’ll have to find ways to incorporate his secondary pitches more.

In all likelihood, Lopez won’t be ready to face big league hitters in April of 2015. Look at Odrisamer Despaigne last season. While he was a little different case, as he signed on May 5th and didn’t have a chance to pitch in Spring Training. Despaigne made 7 starts between AA and AAA before injuries forced him into service with the big league club. Despaigne is 6 years older than Lopez, and did play at a higher level of competition with the Cuban national team, so he certainly came in with more experience and he still needed some time to acclimate himself to playing in America.

One way for Lopez to make the team out of Spring Training is to transition to a bullpen role. With a fastball like his, he could be a very effective relief arm and any bullpen could always use more quality arms. The Padres could allow Lopez to adjust to the majors through the bullpen and let him transition back into a starter or even later down the line or maybe never at all. At 21-years old and no experience outside of Cuba, it provides the Padres with the flexibility to mold him as they please if they do indeed sign him.

One huge downside to signing Lopez is that he would count against the Padres International Bonus Pool. Since he’s under 21 and hadn’t played 5 years in the Cuban professional league, he is not a true free agent like Despainge was. The market for Lopez will likely be very competitive and the Padres may have to blow through all their spending restrictions to land him. This would cause them to incur many spending penalties and could keep them out of the international market next year. General Manager A.J. Preller made his name in international scouting, so limiting his ability to operate in the international market might not be a great idea. That being said this is Preller’s call and he could forecast a weak international market next year making Lopez worth whatever penalties the Padres would be given.

This is what was is supposed to be Preller’s bread and butter. While we’ve seen him making a massive amount of trades as one of his tricks as well, this is his true selling point. Investing in a young, hard-throwing arm is never a bad thing, and don’t discount the factor of having someone from his home country in Despaigne as a mentor. Lopez  has a lot of talent, especially for a 21-year old, but I don’t see the Padres blowing through all their money on just one guy in an area where they already have depth.