photo: Irving Lopez (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
Through 16 games, Irving Lopez leads the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in home runs and all four slash stats, but there is very unusual versatility to his game, as well. The second base prospect explains to TCN’s Derek Shore.
Irving Lopez is the definition of a team-player — always ready and able to lend a hand when needed.
Either of them. He’s ambidextrous.
The St. Louis Cardinals prospect and Springfield Cardinals second baseman is a right-handed throwing infielder.
After serving as the Peoria Chiefs emergency relief pitcher last year, Lopez is also one of Springfield’s emergency relief pitchers in 2019 – and it just so happens he can pitch from the left-side.
Lopez is the rare ambidextrous athlete, able to pitch and play with either hand.
Lopez has a six-fingered glove in his locker just in case he is ever called upon in a game to shift from being a position player to a reliever.
“As a lefty, I was more like a breaking ball guy,” Lopez said. “It has been awhile since I have seen a lefty hitter in the batter’s box. I am more of like a slider guy with a little cutter as a lefty. Righty, I spot a cutter, curveball and changeup. Mixing it up. It is not just fastball.
“But yeah, I’ll switch hands on the mound, hitter to hitter.”
The 5-foot-10, 170 pounder was a lefty starting pitcher and middle infielder in high school in Yuma, Ariz., and went on to a two-year school, Arizona Western College. Lopez spent his final two years of college at Florida International University, where he majored in sports management.
The Cardinals picked him up in the 19th round of the 2017 MLB Draft.
Lopez first started playing baseball when he was three-years old. HIs two older brothers, Edgar and Oscar, argued whether he should be right-handed or left-handed. Edgar wanted Irving to be a lefty, so he agreed to play with him left-handed. When he played with Oscar, Irving agreed to be right-handed.
“When I was a kid, I was always like the mascot of the team with my brothers,” Lopez said. “I was the little kid running around. I was able to throw with both hands growing up. It stuck with me. It is something unique.”
Once a switch-hitter but now exclusively a left-handed hitter in the Cardinals system, Lopez is off to a fast start with Springfield, posting a .277/.404/.681 slash line through his first 14 games at the Double-A level. All are team bests, as are his five home runs.
A native of Hermosillo Son, Mexico, grew up in Yuma as a Dodgers fan idolizing major leaguer Jose Reyes, who was a switch-hitter as well.
Lopez said playing baseball has always been a dream. When in high school, he realized he could make baseball a profession.
“I kept following my dreams,” Lopez said “High school was when I noticed that was what I wanted to do for my future.”
Lopez remembers draft day like it was yesterday. He was sitting on the couch at his sister’s house in Arizona when he received a call from his coach at FIU, telling him the Cardinals were interested.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go. I’ll take it. I’m looking for the opportunity. Let’s do it,’” Lopez said.
So a Cardinals scout called him five minutes later and told him he was going in the 19th round.
“It was a special moment for me and my family,” Lopez said. “It was a cool moment.”
After the draft, Lopez played 50 games in the Appalachian League (rookie ball) for Johnson City in 2017, and had a brief promotion to short-season State College.
Lopez opened his first full season of pro ball at Low-A Peoria last season, hitting .273 with a .757 OPS in 77 games. He was named to the Midwest League mid-season All-Star team with that performance and earned a promotion to High-A Palm Beach shortly after that.
His manager at Peoria last year, Chris Swauger, said the two biggest attributes Lopez brings to the table are leadership and quality.
“He was very productive at the top of the order and was reliable on defense,” Swauger said. “He definitely has some shortcomings, but he did a really good job of attacking those weaknesses and proving to become a very serviceable defender for us.”
Lopez described his first full season as long after coming from short-season ball. He said the game wears on you especially from the mental side because you can struggle at the beginning of the season or it can be backwards.
“You have to stay focused on the mental part,” Lopez said.
Lopez attributed his fast start at Springfield in 2019 to feeling comfortable putting the ball in play. As the leadoff man, his job is to get on base and not try to be a power hitter.
“If things work out that way, that’s awesome,” Lopez said regarding power production. “I’m just trying to be that leadoff guy that gets on base and helps score some runs.”
That is what impresses first-year Springfield manager Joe Kruzel.
“He stays within himself and he understands what type of hitter he is,” Kruzel said. “He has come up big for us. He appears to be pretty comfortable in the leadoff spot. He has been doing a tremendous job both offensively and defensively.”
As for the power, with five long balls already, Lopez is just one away from tying his career-high set over 110 games last year. He credited that to an offseason of working out and getting stronger in the gym as well as playing in ballparks more conducive to offense.
Defensively, Lopez has played second base for most of his career in the Cardinals organization. He feels most comfortable “anywhere in the field.” Last year, he saw time at third base, shortstop and left field, as well.
“I tell myself I want to be a utility-guy more than just a second baseman,” Lopez said.
Lopez has set personal goals for himself this season. His primary one is to keep moving up through the system and making it to the big-leagues.
“Your time is going to come,” Lopez said. “If it is going to come, it is going to come. I have to try giving my best and give the effort they are looking for.”
When that time does come, there will be lots of time for back pats and handshakes after that.
With both hands, of course.
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