Dariel Lopez: Translating Intriguing Toolset into Successful Debut Season

 This year has been a challenging one for some of the minor league players. After no having a season in 2020 due to the pandemic, many got off to a rough start and have had a hard time turning things around.

Another overlooked factor for this season was the elimination of some of the short season levels, usually home to recent draft picks and college players still adjusting to life in the minors. 

What happened as a result was three levels worth of players at different stages in their development were forced together, mostly at Low-A.

While that has led to some entertaining baseball, it has also resulted in some players getting overlooked. It also led to some players facing a level of pitching (or hitting) that they haven't seen before.

When it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates, it hasn't just been the cut down on minor league teams that has led to talent pouring over at each level, but also their recent injection of youth and talent in their organization under Ben Cherington.

In the process of the road jams and influx of talent in the system, some have been overlooked when in other seasons they may have been a focal point of the team.

At 19-years old, Dariel Lopez has endured his first full season of professional baseball with he Bradenton Marauders, a feat alone that shouldn't be dismissed. Especially now that you factor in the increased level of competition in Low-A as compared to previous seasons.

While the Dominican born Lopez was briefly ranked on MLB Pipelines Top 30 prospects, he's a largely non-talked about prospect in the system all the while getting a pretty lofty, and unfair, comparison and some high praise from the man in the best position to watch him work.

"He (Lopez) has some of the best opposite field power I've ever seen," said Marauders broadcaster Spenser Smith when joining the Pirates Unrestricted podcast. "The majority of his home runs have been to right field or right center."

Lopez has gone to the opposite field 40.2% of the time this year, a huge jump from his 25.3% mark in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) back in 2019. While he could use some improvement on turning on balls on the inner half, Lopez has racked up an impressive 27 extra base hits this year, a great start for a 19-year old playing in his first season of full season baseball in Low-A.

Once he learns to use that power to turn on pitches on the inner-half, you can only imagine the power potential that lies within the infielder.

For the season, Lopez has hit to a tune of .257 with a .734 OPS with nine home runs, 61 RBIs, and 51 runs scored, hitting out of the three-hole the majority of the time.

Batting out a premiere run producing spot in the lineup, Lopez has looked liked you would hope someone hitting in his position would - with a .412 slugging percentage, .288 average and has driven 35 runs along with four home runs.

Finding a position for him to stick at will be another task and something that once is figured out could help him get the recognition he's been missing. 

Lopez has struggled in the field this year with his throwing precision, committing 31 errors - three at second base, 10 at third and 18 while playing shortstop.

Smith still believes the young shortstop can stick on the left side of the infield thanks to his arm and range, he is still just 19 after all. 

"If you look past the errors he's committed at shortstop and third base, very strong throwing arm, solid range and a guy that will definitely stick at the left side of the infield."

And the player comparison that MLB Pipeline gave Lopez for the brief amount of time he was in the Pirates' Top 30? None other than Manny Machado, one of the best defenders in the game at third, and a player who also started at shortstop to begin his career.

While that kind of comparison isn't fair for a 19-year old in his first professional season, when just looking at the parallels you can draw the lines when it comes to playing style. He has a long way to go to establish himself like that, especially defensively, but he was pushed a little harder than maybe was expected and he has impressed in 2021.

Currently Lopez has reached base in 15 of 16 games and his on-base percentage in September is the highest mark he's had in a month since May. 

The Pirates could have played it safe with Lopez and had him play 2021 in the Florida Complex League, and no one would have been surprised. In some cases, that was the expectation for him. 

Instead, knowing he'd see some more advanced pitching than usual, they pushed him to Low-A and the result has been Lopez currently sitting second on the team in hits and RBIs, and in a tie for fifth for home runs.

Not bad for his first year in the U.S.

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