Alejo Lopez sees the simplicity of hitting to be as black and white as he sees a pop up against a night sky.
He came to bat in the third inning Sunday as a left-hander with the same approach as always: “It’s a super Pete Rose approach – see it, hit it. It’s not more than that.” Lopez lobbed a single over the third baseman’s head.
“I’m pretty sure it was a breaking ball, so I kind of just waited on it a little more than I should have,” Lopez said. “But I still was on plane with the ball to where I could still give it a little drive that way. That’s a big part about hitting – fighting your at-bat and letting the ball travel. You don’t always have to be perfect to succeed.”
In the fourth inning, Lopez was closer to perfection. He doubled deep over the center-fielder’s head in an unusual display of power. He led off the ninth – this time from the right side – with another double to deep center.
“I was trying to do the same exact thing,” Lopez said. “I just ran into a couple and there was not more to it than that. If it’s a pitch that I’m going to like, whether it’s a curveball, changeup or a fastball, I’m going to jump on it. I don’t care.”
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Lopez’s hitting style is keeping him on the path to his big-league dream. He’s batting .326 for the Dayton Dragons and is the top hitter in the low Class A leagues (Midwest and South Atlantic) since July 15. His .369 average in those 39 games has raised his average from .247.
“He’s got a good strike zone and he’s short to the ball,” said Dragons manager Luis Bolivar, a former hitting coach. “He can spray the ball all around the field and that’s what’s making him a really good hitter.”
For Lopez to continue to move up in the Reds’ organization, he must continue to hit for average and have a good on-base percentage, which is currently .383 and .380 since he was drafted in 2015. He is not on any of the top-30 lists that rate Reds’ prospects because he doesn’t hit for power. He has no home runs this year and only five in 674 minor-league at-bats.
Lopez was a 27th-round draft pick out of Glendale, Arizona, and late-round picks don’t start out on prospect lists either. His goal of playing in the majors started when he left home in Mexico City to attend a baseball academy in Canada at 14. Then he lived alone in Arizona as a high-schooler so he could play baseball and get noticed. He was set to go to Arizona State University, but the Reds offered him a good enough deal to sign.
“It’s a chip on my shoulder, honestly, to get there,” Lopez said of the lists. “If I didn’t think that I could be a big-leaguer, I would be doing something else. I wouldn’t be wasting my time.”
Lopez also understands that his ability to play multiple positions will help him advance and make him more valuable to the Reds. He’s played primarily third base for the Dragons and 14 games at second base. He has also played shortstop in previous season. This offseason he expects to work on outfield skills.
“Next year is going to be a really big year, in that sense, because they do want me to play more positions,” Lopez said. “I’ve heard that from a couple people in the org. I’m going to take the offseason time to really prepare at different positions besides third and second.”
Lopez has shown the Reds he can overcome adversity. He dislocated his shoulder in spring training and wasn’t able to join the Dragons until June 15. He struggled for a month to hit like he did in rookie ball, but he mostly kept his approach. His only change was to choke up a bit and be a little more aggressive from the right side.
“I think that was all part of God’s plan for me,” Lopez said. “He put me in the right place at the right time. I’m just really thankful for what he’s done this year. I’ve learned so many things. I think it’s been an amazing year, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Lopez doesn’t know where he will start next season, but he is sure he’s ready to move up to at least high Class A Daytona and show the Reds he’s a prospect.
“He can hit, but he’s got to work harder and he’s got to be able to play multiple positions to give himself more value,” Bolivar said. “If he’s able to do that, I think he’s got a good chance.”