Cuban pitcher Lopez draws crowd for first BP session
D-backs' righty 'anxious' to see game action
By Jesse Sanchez
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- D-backs right-hander Yoan Lopez stepped on the mound at Quail Field, better known as Field No. 3, at the Salt River Fields complex on Saturday morning and a crowd of the most important decision-makers in the organization immediately gathered around the batting cage.
There stood general manager Dave Stewart, senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson, D-backs pitching coach Mike Harkey, Dave Duncan, a special assistant to the general manager, and Lopez's right-hand man, Hatuey Mendoza, the club's coordinator of Latin American operations, with their eyes focused on the 22-year-old pitcher.
Lopez's father, Rodolfo Lopez, watched from the bleachers.
In the batter's box stood All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, one of several hitters Lopez would face during his first live batting practice session of Spring Training. The morning session marked Lopez's most intense workout since he last pitched in Cuba almost 15 months ago.
He walked off the mound after his 30-pitch session feeling confident.
"I feel like I'm pitching better each time and I'm getting more comfortable each time I pitch," Lopez said. "Today, I was working on the strike zone and being more consistent. But my pitches were good. I just can't wait to pitch in a game. It's been too long for me and I'm really anxious."
If all goes according to plan, Lopez expects to pitch in a game next weekend, possibly next Saturday against the Mariners in Peoria.
"I watched more of [Lopez] than anybody," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "He was a little erratic with the zone early, but when he did [pitch in the zone] he was pretty electric. I talked to some of the guys who faced him. They said his stuff was really good, looked good coming out of his hand. Just talking to him after, he said he felt great physically but mechanically he wasn't on the money like he usually is."
Lopez went 15-13 with a 3.76 ERA in 232 innings pitched over three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Cuba's Serie Nacional. The D-backs signed Lopez to an $8.6 million bonus in January.
"I want to pitch in the Major Leagues, that's my goal," Lopez said. "If the team decides I need to pitch in the Minor Leagues, that is fine, too. All I am going to do is work as hard as I can here and if I go to the Minor Leagues, I'll work as hard as I can to make it to the Major Leagues as soon as I can. I know I can do it."
There are several reasons why the D-backs are counting on Lopez's success. The club needs young pitching. Also, his signing put the D-backs into the maximum penalty under the current international signing guidelines, which means the club cannot sign an international player for more than $300,000 during the next two international signing periods. The D-backs will also have to pay a 100-percent tax on the amount they exceeded their bonus pool.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.