The Royals have moved right-hander Jorge Lopez from the rotation to the bullpen, manager Ned Yost told reporters Wednesday (Twitter links via Alec Lewis of The Athletic and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com). In some cases, “demotions” of young pitchers from the rotation to the ’pen are permanent in nature, but Yost indicated that this is quite likely a long-term move for the 26-year-old Lopez.
Lopez, acquired last July in the trade that sent Mike Moustakas to the Brewers, was viewed as a potential long-term option in the rotation at the time of that swap, but he’s yet to find any success in that role in his new organization. He’s made 17 starts since being traded (plus one relief appearance) and logged a disappointing 6.62 earned run average with a similarly discouraging 5.30 FIP. He’s averaged 7.6 strikeouts and 3.2 walks per nine innings pitched in his 85 2/3 innings as a Royal, with the main problem being his penchant for surrendering home runs. Lopez has given up 17 big flies in his short time with the Royals.
Only two of the 12 home runs surrendered by Lopez have come on his first trip through the order in 2019, though. And it’s safe to assume that following a move to short relief stints, Lopez’s 93.4 mph average fastball will tick upward. Scouting reports in Lopez’s prospect days actually touted him as a potential late-inning weapon, with Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen writing back in 2017 that Lopez sits 93-97 mph as a reliever with an above-average curve and an inconsistent changeup that flashed plus at times.
The move to the ’pen was essentially the Royals’ lone possible course of action if they hoped to both keep him in the organization and give someone else a look in his rotation spot. He’s out of minor league options and would’ve had to be passed through waivers in order to be sent down to the minors. Given the number of clubs on the hunt for controllable rotation and bullpen help, there’s little chance that Lopez would go unclaimed.
In his spot in the rotation, Kansas City turned to Glenn Sparkman tonight. The 27-year-old doesn’t exactly bring much prospect fanfare to the Royals’ rotation — although the Blue Jays did nab him in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, only to return him at a later date — but he’s given the team plenty to think about so far in 2019. In addition to 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Triple-A Omaha, Sparkman entered play today with a 2.92 ERA and 17-to-7 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 innings. If Sparkman is ultimately unable to secure a spot in the starting five, the Royals have alternatives on the 40-man roster in Triple-A in the form of Heath Fillmyer, Ben Lively, Scott Blewett and Arnaldo Hernandez.