It’s a disappointing development for the 26-year-old Lopez but one the Sox clearly no longer felt they could avoid. Lopez was once regarded as one of baseball’s best overall prospects and was a key piece in the trade that sent Adam Eaton from Chicago to Washington, D.C. He’s been in the big leagues since his original promotion with the Sox back in Aug. 2017.
Lopez posted a solid 3.91 ERA through 188 2/3 frames with the Sox in 2018 — his first full Major League season. However, he did so with ugly peripheral metrics that painted him as a candidate for major regression, and that’s precisely what panned out. Dating back to Opening Day 2019, Lopez has a 5.53 ERA and 5.18 FIP in 193 2/3 innings for the South Siders. In 2020, he’s started four games but lasted only 9 2/3 innings overall. Along the way, he’s yielded 11 runs (nine earned) on 14 hits, eight walks and a hit batter with 10 strikeouts.
Were the Sox still in rebuild mode, perhaps they’d chalk this up to continued growing pains and keep trotting Lopez out against big league lineups. But the team’s drawn-out rebuilding process has reached its conclusion, and the White Sox are now squarely in win-now mode, making it harder to accept substandard outings like the one put together by Lopez yesterday. In a key match against the division-rival Twins, Lopez was unable to escape the second inning, allowing three runs on four hits and a pair of walks. He used 53 pitches to record his five outs.
Even when Lopez was considered a premier prospect, there were some scouts who felt his ultimate home would be in the bullpen. He’s worked closer to a true three-pitch mix in 2020 and, in his two most recent outings, thrown primarily fastballs and sliders. Given his ongoing struggles in the rotation, perhaps there will be some intrigue within the organization to see how Lopez would handle short-relief stints that allow him to ramp up his fastball velocity and focus on a two-pitch mix.
With Lopez out of the mix for at least the foreseeable future, it appears the Sox will roll with Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease and perhaps Dane Dunning as the top four in their rotation. Carlos Rodon was said over the weekend to be nearing a return, and the Sox also have veteran southpaw Gio Gonzalez on the mend from a groin strain.
Flores, recalled in place of Lopez, could be an option to start a game as well. He made 15 starts for Chicago’s Double-A affiliate last year, totaling 78 1/3 innings with a 3.33 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 53.3 percent ground-ball rate. He’s yet to pitch in the big leagues, so whether his first appearance comes as a starter or out of the ’pen, that’ll mark his MLB debut. Flores isn’t considered one of the system’s elite prospects, but he ranks on the back half of the top 30 at MLB.com (19) and FanGraphs (27).