DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Otto Lopez is the prospect who won’t go away.
After his brief MLB debut in 2021, Lopez lived on the edge of the Blue Jays’ roster in ’22, being promoted and optioned three times over the final month and a half of the season. All he did was hit, going 6-for-9, but his bags back at the hotel were rarely fully unpacked.
That should change in 2023. Lopez is firmly in the competition for the 26th spot on the roster. This time, it would be a more permanent one.
“It’s going to be special if I can make it,” Lopez said Friday. “I’m going to show them that I can work and be there as the 26th man. I’m not going to stop. I’m going to work my [butt] off.”
That’s exactly what he’s done, both early in camp and recently at the World Baseball Classic.
Lopez and his family lived in Montreal for several years when he was younger after his father took a teaching job there, so Lopez was able to represent Canada at the Classic and play shortstop. It was a dream opportunity for him, and given the stage, it's one the Blue Jays were thrilled to see him take. He made the most of it, going 5-for-17 (.294) with a triple and a home run while playing sturdy defense at short.
There’s been nothing loud and sparkling about Lopez’s spring, but that’s exactly who he is as a prospect. He just produces, simply and steadily.
“He played really well and he played a lot,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “What he can take from that is the experience, the reps he got at shortstop, and obviously, the at-bats in a big environment. I’m looking for him to do more of the same of what he was doing before he left. We’re going to bounce him around on the infield and outfield. It was a great experience for him and I love the way he performed.”
Lopez returned from the Classic with some left groin soreness, but the Blue Jays are describing that as a minor issue and expect Lopez to need only a few days "to catch his breath." Assuming he’s back in action for the final week of camp, the battle for that final bench spot likely comes down to Lopez, outfielder Nathan Lukes and Addison Barger (No. 6 prospect).
“What I can offer is my contact and being prepared for every single game, no matter if I’m starting on the bench or in the lineup,” Lopez said. “I’m going to try to be as ready as I can right before everything starts. It’s about getting used to it, so when the time comes, I can take advantage of it.”
It’s important to view Lopez through the lens of a 26th player on the roster, at least for now. His ability to make contact, which has produced a career .305 average in the Minor Leagues, makes him a safe bet to put the ball in play even when coming off the bench cold after four days off. With his ability to play shortstop, second base, third base and the outfield, he’d also have plenty of paths to more playing time if a regular starter went down with an injury.
Lopez’s speed matters here, too. He stole 50 bags in 2019 and 64 in ’21, grading out as a well-above-average runner. From Schneider to Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Kevin Kiermaier and a half-dozen other players on this roster, the Blue Jays have gone out of their way this spring to make it clear that they plan to be more aggressive. The new rules should only help them with this.
It’s all been music to Lopez’s ears.
"That’s amazing because we have a young team that can run a lot," Lopez said. "I want to bring that, too. I want to be prepared for those moments where I can run the bases as hard as I can. Being around this energy is going to be fun."
Lopez may rank as the No. 14 prospect in Toronto’s system, but as far as the Blue Jays are concerned, his “prospect” days are over. He’s developed to the point where his production, and that alone, will determine where his 2023 season ends up.
And if Lopez continues his recent play, he’ll be able to hang some shirts in the closet and stay a while this summer.