Former Padres infield prospect Justin Lopez attempting to progress as a pitcher

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During the San Diego Padres’ famous 2016 international signing period, the club spent over $80 million to revamp the whole farm system.

Justin Lopez was signed out of Venezuela on July 2 of that year as the Padres gave the young shortstop $1.25 million. Adrian Morejon, Tucupita Marcano, Luis Almanzar, Michel Baez, Jordy Barley, Gabriel Arias, Jorge Ona, Ramon Perez, and Ronald Bolanos (among others) were signed by Preller and his staff.

The Padres changed the rules that season as they gladly paid fines to accumulate the talent they did in one winter.

Of all those players, Morejon may have the most success, but the jury is still out on most of them. Some players, like Juan Vasquez, Luis Castro, Adrian Antunez, and Duilio Ochoa, never enjoyed much success despite being selected during that period. It is a gamble when you are drafting players that are 16 and 17 years old.

Lopez was one of several shortstops signed by the Padres on the international market that year. He was considered a risk to remain at the position as his footwork and frame were questionable. He did, however, have a plus arm with a quick release. The infielder was also capable of throwing at multiple angles while making a play on the diamond.

His defense was never really a problem in the five minor league seasons he played for the Padres, making it all the way to High Single-A baseball in Fort Wayne. Lopez played in Fort Wayne for a total of four different seasons, but his bat could not progress enough for him to make the leap to Double-A.

Lopez totaled 1,472 at-bats over the last half-decade and amassed a .231/.287/.355 batting line with a .642 OPS. The switch-hitter recorded 32 homers in that time but struck out 435 times as he consistently failed to make contact. It was time for a change.

In 2022, the infielder and the Padres decided to attempt pitching full-time.

Lopez always had a golden arm and was athletic enough to try the change. He went 4-0 last season with a 0.87 ERA and a 1.161 WHIP in 10.1 innings pitched between the AZL Padres and the Lake Elsinore Storm. Lopez struck out 12 in that span but did issue five walks.

Recent reports have Justin Lopez sitting 94-97 mph with his fastball.

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Keith Law of The Athletic indicates in his top-20 Padres list that Lopez is showing a feel for a slider and a changeup.

Javier Guerra and Carlos Belen were both infielders who recently made a change to pitcher within the Padres system. Guerra made it all the way to the major leagues as his fastball topped out at 100 mph plus. Belen is still grinding his way through the system but has a ways to go before making it all the way to the highest level.

There is no reason to think Lopez will be a phenom as a pitcher. The athletic former infielder may be successful in switching to a pitcher, but he has a long road ahead of him. Lopez will be 23 this season and will need to be a fast learner to truly progress through the whole system. This is an interesting story to keep an eye on in 2023.

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