Otto Lopez placed eighth in the Northwest League batting race with a .297 average in 2018.
2018 Vancouver Canadians infielder and outfielder Otto Lopez gets the spotlight in this episode of C’s Chat.
For long-time Blue Jays fans, the first Otto that comes to mind is Otto Velez. The man known as Otto ‘The Swatto‘ was one of the Original Jays who played in Toronto from 1977 to 1982. Blue Jays fans of this generation may soon have another Otto to root for, one with Canadian ties.
Through translator and 2018 C’s position coach Jose Mayorga, Otto Lopez said he grew up in Montreal and that’s where he first played the sport.
“Everything started in Montreal with my family. I started playing with a team over there but my Dad thought it was a good decision sending me to the Dominican, so that I can be in a program over there and also have a little bit different type of game. I went down to the D.R. and that’s where I was when the scouts saw me and signed me.”
Lopez got to see a lot of the Great White North by playing with a travel team.
“The team that I remember. I traveled a lot with that team, I traveled to almost like all of Canada and it was a good experience. Right now, I cannot say specific stuff because I was too young. I remembered traveling a lot and that was a great experience for me. I was like (there) for almost eight years in Montreal and then I went to the Dominican League and spent like a year to sign and then I went back to Montreal.”
The Blue Jays signed Lopez as a 17 year-old on July 4, 2016 from a baseball academy in his hometown of Santo Domingo.
“I was with my uncle back in the DR and he took me to this program, to this guy. They call him the nickname ‘El Niche’ so everything started there. My uncle took me there and I feel like (I showed) good stuff there and I started playing with them. And then all the scouts went to see me and then I finally signed with the Blue Jays.”
Instead of beginning his pro career in the Dominican Summer League in 2017, Lopez was assigned to the Gulf Coast League. He got a single in his first pro at-bat against the GCL Tigers West June 26. Other highlights included a four-RBI game against the GCL Braves July 21 and his first professional home run versus the GCL Tigers East August 19. Lopez batted .275 with a .361 on-base percentage along with 10 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases.
“It was a great experience for me. It was my first year, something I will never forget. The only thing I did was just play hard like I always do and tried to do the best (I can).”
Otto Lopez posted a .390 on-base percentage in 51 games with Vancouver in 2018.
The Blue Jays rewarded Lopez by sending him to the Lansing Lugnuts for their annual Crosstown Showdown exhibition game against the Michigan State Spartans in early September of 2017. Lopez had a hit in three at-bats and scored a run in a 5-1 Lugnuts victory that involved the biggest crowd he had ever seen.
“It was one of the big experiences (I had) because it was the first time I was playing in front of a lot of people, like fans and stuff like that. I was a little bit (in awe at) first but then when I got the opportunity to go to the field, I just know what I need to do, hit the ball hard and run hard too.”
The 2018 season saw Lopez report to Bluefield where he spent just over a week. Of the seven games he played, he reached base at least once in all but one game and had four multi-hit efforts. Lopez finished with a flourish by collecting five hits and three runs batted in against the Greeneville Reds June 29. The next day saw Lopez pick up two more hits and drive in a pair of runs in another win over the Reds. He enjoyed his brief time in the Appalachian League.
“It was a good experience, like there was a lot of energy, a lot of fun with the team and a good environment also.”
Lopez echoed those sentiments about playing in Vancouver.
“It’s a good place to play. A lot of fans too. Great place, great environment also.”
Canada Day was the day Lopez got the call to return north of the border as he was promoted to the Canadians. His C’s debut came July 2 when he delivered an RBI single in his second Northwest League at-bat against Salem-Keizer. Lopez got a hit in his first five games in which he had at least one at-bat. His first stolen base came during a pinch-running appearance in Everett July 4 and he had four stolen bases in his first five games before he was caught.
Lopez’s bat really started to heat up with a three-hit game against Spokane July 7 before turning in a 4-for-4 effort in Boise July 11. His first Northwest League home run came the next night at Boise Memorial Stadium.
Lopez’s batting average remained over .300 until the final days of the year when he finished with a .297 mark. He collected 14 extra-base hits, including three home runs, and stole 13 bases in 19 attempts.
The mental game for Lopez was a big reason for his successful 2018 season.
“I just keep my focus, that’s the key to my success. Keep (focused on) what I want to do and where I want to get and just stay with my approach at home plate. Just try to hit the ball hard always and run hard. That’s my game.”
Otto Lopez prepares for an at-bat in the on-deck circle.
A familiar sight for C’s fans in 2018 was Lopez swinging a couple of bats in the on-deck circle before stepping into the batter’s box. He says that’s an important part of his preparation.
“That’s part of my routine, taking two bats there. I try to do that so that it feels like when you get one bat, it’s lighter for me so that I can have like a little bit more bat speed.”
Otto Lopez played second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions for the C’s in 2018.
The Blue Jays appear to be grooming Lopez for a utility role as he has seen time at six positions during his first two years in the system. He committed just five errors during his time with the C’s. Lopez says pre-game preparation is the key to handling his varied assignments on the diamond and in the outfield.
“Everything starts in practice. He tries to go first and attack all his weaknesses, try to practice that first and then also try to get reps at every position because he knows that it is something that in his career that is going to help him out.”
As far as major league players Lopez would like to emulate, two names came to mind.
“I feel I identify with Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor because that’s the type of player I want to be when I get to the big leagues.”
Despite an impressive season that resulted in a berth on the Northwest League All-Star squad at the end of the year, Lopez was not rated among the Top 20 prospects in the Northwest League by Baseball America. He did receive plenty of love from the C’s organization by winning the Charlie Metro Team MVP and Arnie Hallgren Offensive Player of the Year Awards.
The next step up the ladder in Lopez’s quest for the big leagues should take him to Lansing in 2019, the place where he ended his 2017 campaign. He will turn 21 on October 1. Lopez hopes to one day join another Blue Jays prospect with ties to Montreal in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who was born in that city during his father’s playing days with the Expos.
Muchas gracias again to Otto Lopez and Jose Mayorga for taking part in the latest C’s Chat. Thanks a million as well to C’s Media Relations officials Sharlene Canning and Jordy Cunningham for their encouragement and arrangement of this interview.
It took awhile but that wraps up all the interviews conducted with members of the 2018 Canadians at Nat Bailey Stadium this past summer. However, there are still a few things in the works with Spring Training approaching so please keep checking back here as Opening Day at Nat Bailey Stadium is less than four months away.