The Cincinnati Reds don’t have a clear spot to play Alejo Lopez daily, but it was impossible to ignore the way he was hitting in the minor leagues.
Lopez, a 27th-round pick from the 2015 MLB Draft, led minor leagues with his 72 combined hits at Double-A and Triple-A. In 49 games, he hit .360 with 19 doubles, 27 RBI and 41 runs. He reached base in all but two games this season, posting a stunning .437 on-base percentage with 22 multi-hit games.
The switch-hitter played second base and third base at Triple-A Louisville. He has little experience at shortstop, but he could be a candidate to play there in an emergency.
“Sometimes, certain guys just have to do a little bit more,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Well, he did a lot more. I think it’s been pretty apparent that he deserved an opportunity. You’d love to see what he can do at this level.”
Lopez received the news of his first Major League promotion on Sunday when he was called into Louisville manager Pat Kelly’s office. Kelly asked him if he remembered what he told him two months ago. Lopez responded no. Kelly reminded him, “I told you that you would be a big leaguer.”
When Lopez stared at Kelly, the manager responded that Lopez was headed to the Major Leagues.
“Childhood dream come true,” Lopez said. “A lot of emotions going on. A lot that I cannot explain right now.”
Lopez, who was born in Mexico City, has always hit throughout his minor league career. He felt he always had to prove himself as a low-round pick. He hit .300 in rookie-ball in 2017, .321 at Low-A in 2018 and .287 at High-A in 2019.
The difference this season is that he’s hitting for more power. He’s already surpassed his career-high in doubles this year.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I had to do a lot more because I really had to put myself out there,” Lopez said. “I didn’t really want to go to school. I didn’t want to go to college. I wanted to play baseball. I took a chance. I talked to my parents about it. We took a chance.
“We knew the odds, but I still felt confident back then. Confidence has never been a problem. But yeah, I had to prove myself every year. I knew I had no room for mistake. I knew I could not have one bad year because I know how it all works. Learned to be consistent. Learn how to build a lot of character throughout the process. Now we’re here. It’s amazing. It’s amazing that the day has come.”
Lopez grew up a fan of Hall of Famers like Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin, Barry Bonds and Derek Jeter – and even Rod Carew from old tapes.
“I just think it’s very cool to hit .350,” Lopez said, laughing. “I think that’s just never going to get old. Yeah, I understand this is a different era and people love the long ball and it’s great. Watching a home run, it’s hard to do, so it’s cool to appreciate it. Hitting .350 is just a different beast. It’s never going to get old.”
Lopez wasn’t in the starting lineup Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Reds already have Jonathan India as their everyday starter at second base and Eugenio Suárez at third.
There may be days where Suárez slides to shortstop, allowing Lopez to start at third, but he’ll have to hit his way to earn more playing time. Bell said his ability to play multiple positions is important.
“We saw him in spring training where he was willing to do whatever it took,” Bell said. “He’d come in late in the games and worked, worked, worked as hard as he could. Even in spring training, he stood out. The energy he played with, his willingness to do anything, you could tell he was just going to be a grinder that was going to find a way to make it to the big leagues.”
Said Lopez: “Whatever they need me to do, I can do that role. I haven't been told what it's going to be, but whatever they need is what I'm going to do. It's about winning games. That's why I'm here.”
That mindset to do whatever it takes has carried Lopez to the Major Leagues. He’s willing to play anywhere. He arrived midgame the day of his promotion to Triple-A Louisville, and he singled on his first pitch.
Lopez was grateful that he played in the Mexican Winter League last offseason, an opportunity to play after he spent last summer practicing at home in Arizona.
Monday was his first day inside of Great American Ball Park. He called it humbling.
“I’ve been chasing this dream for a long time,” Lopez said. “This year really felt like I had a chance at it. I just played my best baseball from the first day. I was waiting for this day, anticipating it. Didn’t take any at-bats for granted. Played the game pitch to pitch. Really, that’s what has taken me here. I wasn’t thinking about a month in the future or two months in the future. I was thinking game to game. I think that really helped me to get here.”