Pittsburgh Pirates infield prospect Dariel Lopez had his best season of his minor league career so far, and is now pushing for a 40-man roster spot.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of infield prospects of note throughout their minor league system. At the top, you have guys like Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Ji-Hwan Bae, and Termarr Johnson. Others like Jared Triolo, Maikol Esoctto, and Yordany De Los Santos spread throughout the organization. But one unsung minor league hero this year for the system was infielder Dariel Lopez.
Lopez was coming off an okay but not great 2021 season. In 416 plate appearances, he slashed .258/.341/.393 with a .348 wOBA and 103 wRC+. He struck out nearly a quarter of the time with a 24.8% strikeout rate but did have a decent 9.9% walk rate. Although it wasn’t a terrible season, there was nothing that shouted potential future key player, at least statistically.
Lopez showed raw power and talent and put that together this season. Now settled in with High-A Greensboro, Lopez batted .286/.329/.476 with a .359 wOBA and 116 wRC+. Lopez hit for a good amount of power. He cranked out 19 home runs in 420 plate appearances and had a .189 isolated slugging percentage. The downside is his walk rate decreased to just 5.5%, and his K% remained around the same at 25.5%.
But Lopez’s overall numbers were hampered by a weak April showing. He owned a .470 OPS, .219 wOBA, and 28 wRC+ through the season’s first month. But from the start of May through the end of the season, Lopez managed to post a strong .304/.347/.513 line (.861 OPS), .382 wOBA, and 131 wRC+. His 5% walk and 24.4% strikeout rates were still a bit concerning, but he had an ISO just over .200 at .209 and averaged 30 home runs every 600 plate appearances.
Lopez mainly played third base for the Grasshoppers but also saw time at both shortstop and second base. Defensively, he isn’t terrible at any of those positions, but he lacks good range. FanGraphs pins him as a 40-grade runner, which doesn’t bode well for his future as a middle infielder. He could end up at third base, but with far superior third base defenders in the organization, both in the majors and in the minor leagues, he’ll likely have to move to first base sooner rather than later.
Even if Lopez has to move to first base, the upside is that he has a high upside when it comes to his bat. This was the first season he put together an ISO over .150, and, as we saw earlier, he had an ISO over .200 for five months of the season. Lopez is Rule 5 eligible, and the Pirates should seriously consider protecting him. Sure, he’s still young and won’t turn 21 until February 2nd, but this is a guy that could be in the mix for starting time at first base within the next year.