When the news broke that the White Sox were sending outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals, I immediately suspected Lucas Giolito would be involved. The White Sox are notorious for wringing talent out of pitching arms that other organizations cannot. The Nationals were down on Giolito after an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to alter his delivery early last season and I am thrilled the White Sox found a creative way to get him into the organization. However, what makes this trade so enticing is the potential of the two other arms the White Sox received in addition to Giolito. You can read my write-up on Giolito’s profile and analysis, but let’s explore Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to see what made this trade such a success.
Lopez is an example of a true diamond in the rough, as the Nats shrewdly signed him as an 18 year-old for a mere $17,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. Lopez quickly gained velocity, perhaps to the detriment of his arm, as he lost nearly all of his 2013 season thanks to a sore arm that was classified as a “bone weakness.” Lopez came roaring back in 2014, emerging on the prospect scene with a minuscule 1.08 ERA over 16 starts between Low A and A Ball. 2015 saw him decrease his walks and increase his strikeout total while spending the year in A+ Potomac, but he was much more hittable, inflating his ERA to 4.09. Washington promoted Lopez to AA to begin 2016, and he terrorized batters with 100 strikeouts over just 76.1 innings, having multiple starts with double digits K’s. The Nationals saw that he could help them in their pennant push, and he spent the rest of the season between AAA and the majors, accumulating 44 big league innings. Lopez was understandably inconsistent facing MLB hitters, but in his best start he struck out 11 batters over seven innings, only allowing two walks, four hits, and one earned run.
(Video courtesy of Baseball America)
Lopez’s arsenal begins with a plus fastball that has topped out at 100 MPH and is commonly graded as a 70 pitch on a 20-80 scouting scale. It is described as “electric” with life and sits typically between 95-97 MPH. He utilizes excellent arm extension and has a relatively low effort delivery. Lopez backs up his fastball with a 78-81 slurvy curveball that is above average and projects plus. He is able to locate it well, throwing it down and in effectively to left-handed batters. His third offering is a below average upper 80’s change-up that he barely uses, but some scouts peg as a 55 potential pitch, due to arm action deceptively similar to his fastball.
There are some who doubt Lopez’s ability to stick as a starter (ESPN’s Keith Law bluntly called his chances 0%), due to concerns about his size, delivery, and command. At 6’0” and 185 pounds he doesn’t have the prototypical front of the rotation starter’s body, as his hulking teammate Lucas Giolito does, for example. However, he is built solidly and has a very strong upper torso, as evidenced by his arm-heavy delivery. His delivery action causes him to come across his body and leaves him unbalanced as he finishes towards the plate. This is likely the cause of some of his struggles with command (2.8 BB/9 in minors and 4.5 in brief MLB debut). Lopez will never have plus command, but the hope is his stuff is good enough to mask it. It is easier to get away with missed locations when you are throwing 97 MPH with heavy movement and can force hitters to expand their zone. Lopez will start the year in AAA Charlotte and has the luxury of being able to continue to develop his change-up and refine his command. If the White Sox can bring along his change-up to a point where it compliments his fastball and smooth out his delivery a bit, Lopez has the upside to be a very good #2-3 starter. If not, Lopez would almost immediately be a force in the White Sox pen, letting loose his fastball and using his curve as a devastating 1-2 punch.
Dunning is a bit of the unknown in this deal, as he was just drafted by the Nationals this past June. Dunning was a starter at the University of Florida as a sophomore, but moved to the bullpen for the 2016 season due to the glut of available starters in a loaded rotation. He was extremely effective in this role, striking out 88 batters with just 12 walks while posting a 2.29 ERA over 78.2 innings. That was enough for the Nationals to select him 29th overall and immediately make him a starter. In his pro debut, Dunning overwhelmed Low A hitters with a 2.02 ERA over 33.2 innings, striking out 29 and only walking 7.
(Video from Dunning’s college work, by Jheremy Brown, from YouTube)
Don’t be fooled by the stint in the bullpen in college; Dunning has the build and the stuff to be a starter. At 6’4” and 200 pounds, he has ideal size and his height allows him to throw his plus fastball with lots of sink. He sits 92-93 MPH, but can run it up to 95 on occasion with good downhill plane. While Giolito and Lopez feature plus curveballs for their secondary offering, Dunning best breaking ball is an above average mid-80’s slider that has good break and tilt. Dunning’s third pitch is a below average change-up that he rarely used as a reliever. Because of his overall low college reps, all his pitches (especially the change-up) have considerable potential as he continues to start in the pro ranks. As you might gather from his stats, Dunning features plus control and fills up the zone with all his pitches. The White Sox were “very high” on Dunning during the draft process and scouted him several times. Dunning has the potential to be a fast mover in the system because of an already polished repertoire and his impeccable command. I am sure the White Sox will work heavily with him on his change-up to solidify that as a legitimate third offering. If Dunning is able to refine his change-up and continue to locate his other two plus offerings, his upside is a mid-rotation arm that could see the big leagues in 2018.
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