The Reds announced Monday that they’ve designated minor league right-hander Jose Lopez for assignment. His roster spot will go to lefty Zach Duke, whose previously reported one-year contract to return to Cincinnati is now official.
Lopez, 25, isn’t that far removed from ranking as one of the Cincinnati organization’s more promising young arms. However, after pitching to a combined 2.57 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 44 percent ground-ball rate between Class-A Advanced and Double-A in 2017, the Dominican-born righty took a step back in 2018. This past season, Lopez turned in a 4.47 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.21 HR/9 and a significantly diminished 29.1 percent ground-ball rate in 141 innings.
The Reds have spent much of the offseason bolstering their pitching depth. The additions of Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood not only create a difficult path for Lopez to make the big league roster, they also push several would-be MLB arms back down the ladder to the minors, which apparently further squeezed Lopez out of the 40-man picture. Cincinnati does have a pair of out-of-options arms in Robert Stephenson and Matt Wisler, though apparently the organization is more optimistic about that duo than Lopez.
That said, Lopez performed reasonably well up until reaching the minors’ top level and still has a pair of minor league options remaining, which could certainly make him appealing to other clubs that are thin on starting pitching and/or looking to build flexibility on the pitching staff with optionable upper-minors depth. He’s the type of arm that it’s tough to sneak through waivers, although clubs have a bit less 40-man flexibility this time of year, which could play to the Reds’ advantage should they attempt to outright Lopez.