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Lopez enters camp with focus, fresh outlook

MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There's a new look to Yoan Lopez this spring.

He's still tall and lanky -- 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds -- but his brown locks are gone, replacing them with blond highlights on top and cutting it short on the back and sides. He's put on a few pounds of muscle, but the biggest change has come from within.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There's a new look to Yoan Lopez this spring.

He's still tall and lanky -- 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds -- but his brown locks are gone, replacing them with blond highlights on top and cutting it short on the back and sides. He's put on a few pounds of muscle, but the biggest change has come from within.

• Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Complete info

"It's a big adjustment to start down this road of professional baseball here," Lopez, 23, said in Spanish. "I think I've learned a lot, and I feel more comfortable now. It's difficult in the beginning. There's a completely different system of baseball and regimen to follow in the United States. It was looser in Cuba. It's just all different here."

It was an eventful first year in the United States for Lopez, Arizona's No. 8 prospect, last season -- on and off the field. The D-backs are hopeful the pitcher's newfound focus will help him reach his potential and eventually help the big league club.

• D-backs Top 30 Prospects

"The biggest thing for me is just getting acclimated to the U.S. and getting acclimated to rules you have here, domestically and with teams, and really understanding how he fits into that process," said De Jon Watson, the D-backs' senior vice president of baseball operations. "He really didn't understand his role as a starter and what he had to do."

Lopez showed up to camp bigger and stronger than last year and with an improved delivery, thanks to pitching sessions with D-backs pitching coach Mike Butcher before the start of the Spring Training. He's also armed with former Major League pitcher Eddie Oropesa, who is also from Cuba, as his translator and unofficial guardian this season. Oropesa, who will partner with Lopez all season, served in a similar role for Yasiel Puig when the Cuban outfielder signed with the Dodgers in 2012.

"Eddie has a lot of experience in baseball here in the United States, and he helps me in a lot of ways," Lopez said. "I have a lot of respect for him, and I needed someone like that. Somebody that can hear you, and you know he understands, because he is from the same place you are. What I feel and what I think are feelings and thoughts he has already had."

Video: LAD@ARI: Lopez whiffs Adrian in the 3rd inning

Lopez could have used Oropesa during a tumultuous 2015. Last July, Lopez left his Double-A team without telling anybody in the organization and showed up a day later on social media. The D-backs found him in Florida and sent him back to Arizona to work out at Salt River Fields. While in Arizona, he hit the No. 1 overall pick -- Dansby Swanson, who has since been traded to the Braves -- in the face with a fastball during a simulated game. Lopez also missed some time during the year with minor ailments.

The pitcher did not want to comment on his absence from the club in July. The D-backs described it as a personal matter.

Overall, the right-hander posted 1-6 record and a 4.69 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 24 walks during nine starts, a span of 48 innings for Double-A Mobile. He went 2-3 with a 5.34 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. He also walked 16 batters during his seven starts.

"From the Minor League season through the Arizona Fall League, he's shown tremendous growth and personality," Watson said. "He had peaks and valleys, times when he was really good and there were times he was OK, and there were times he was bad. The most positive part has been the way he has looked since he got here and the quality of work he's put in since he been here. He's turned it up another notch, and he has a lot more focus."

The D-backs are understandably invested in Lopez's success. The $8 million deal he signed early last year put the D-backs more than 15 percent above their allotted bonus pool and into the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty included a 100-percent tax on the pool overage -- another estimated $8 million -- and prohibited the team from signing any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 until the international signing period that starts on July 2, 2017.

"We are no different than any organization trying to acquire quality talent," Watson said. "We went after a guy who we feel has a chance to fit in the rotation or definitely be on the staff. He's a young arm, a 20-21-year-old arm that has big upside. The guy has been up to 98 and 99 mph, pitching at 95 mph. We just have to harness his command. We'll see where he ends up this year, but he's made strides from last year."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks, Yoan Lopez