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Pablo López on upcoming MLB debut: “An experience I’ll remember and cherish forever”

López speaks exclusively to Fish Stripes about growing up in Venezuela, his strategy on the mound, using analytics and...his mustache?!

MLB: Miami Marlins-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

About 11 months ago, the Marlins traded reliever David Phelps to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for a package centered around young outfielder Brayan Hernandez. Along with Hernandez, the Marlins received right-handed pitchers Lukas Schiraldi, Brandon Miller and Pablo López.

To the casual fan, this return may have been uninspiring, just another swap of established major league talent for a group of minor leaguers. Even the most optimistic among us could not have predicted any of the prospects involved to arrive in Miami so early.

However, the 22-year-old Pablo López has made a meteoric rise through the farm system. This Saturday will be his major league debut, and if his recent history is any indication, the Marlins will reap the rewards of the trade for years to come.

Through 62 13 innings this season, Pablo owns a very desirable 1.44 ERA. Having never competed above the High-A level, the Marlins gave him the opportunity to start the season in Double-A Jacksonville and he ran with it. A 0.62 ERA through eight starts earned him a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans, and now this subsequent promotion (likely to be officially announced Saturday afternoon).

I had the privilege to talk to him a bit about his impending call-up, his life, and his time as a pro athlete.


Let’s start off with the most pressing question: rumor on the street says you’re getting called up to start this weekend in Miami. How does it feel to be getting a call-up to the major leagues?

As of right now, nothing has been officially told directly to me, but I’m well aware of the rumors and it’s already so surreal. It’s something I’ve been dreaming my whole life, something so big that it just doesn’t seem real. Players work so hard and invest so much for so long that when the moment comes it’s like being starstruck. It’s so surreal!

You were pulled [June 26th] from your start in Triple-A NOLA after just 17 pitches through 1 23 innings. How confusing was that and what were you thinking as you walked off the mound?

It was definitely a little confusing! As I was walking off the mound, I was thinking that maybe it was just a short start to keep my pitches or innings down, which is something that teams do sometimes—they control the innings by short starts.

When did the possibility of a call-up start to go through your mind?

When I got to the dugout, some of my teammates started saying that that might have been the reason and I thought they were joking, but then they started getting more and more serious and that’s when it started going through my mind and I could not believe it! That’s when the surreal moments started.

Raised in Cabimas, Venezuela, it has been about six years since Pablo signed to play professional baseball with the Mariners organization.

When did you know baseball was going to be your plan?

I have been playing baseball since I was six years old, it’s been in my life for so long. I remember going to watch my dad play with my mom and sister and that’s why I wanted to play baseball too. Then when I turned 15 years old I knew I wanted to play baseball for a career and that I was going to work super hard to hopefully get an opportunity and pursue it.

Young Pablo López! (left)
Photo by @pablojoselopez/Twitter

What type of impact did your family have on your pro career and how tough was it to make the decision to move from Venezuela to pursue your career?

My family have always been there to support me ever since I was a kid playing little league baseball. They would all go the games and cheer and it was so great!

My dad has always been my mentor and my coach. When I made the decision that I wanted to play baseball and pursue that as my career, they were very supportive—my dad, my sister and everyone else. They just wanted to make sure I finished high school and I promised them I would and I did.

Making the decision to play baseball and make it my career was a hard one, leaving my family back home while I was playing wasn’t any easier. I got kind of used to it eventually, but I was lucky enough my dad could come and visit me often.

My family is Cuban so I understand, to a degree, how tough the situation in Venezuela has been both for the people in Venezuela and those who have family in Venezuela. How does that situation make you feel and how does it contribute to your drive to succeed in your baseball career?

At times it makes me feel powerless because I’m not there with them and I don’t know exactly what’s going on at times. Luckily with technology I’m able to stay in touch with them and I do it on a daily basis, I call them every day. It’s a part of my drive and motivation because I know it could allow me to help them more in the future and it could prevent me from feeling powerless.

You’ll now join a long list of Venezuelans in the major leagues, including fellow Marlins Elieser Hernandez, Miguel Rojas, and Martín Prado. How does it feel to be representing your country and that you could possibly be on the mound for Venezuelan Heritage night at Marlins Park?

It’s an amazing feeling and honor, honestly! Guys like Elieser, Miguel and Martín are so great and it’ll be awesome to possibly have the opportunity to pitch on Venezuelan Heritage night! It’s a day that would for sure make me feel closer to home and having the opportunity to share it with fellow Venezuelans on the field will be an experience I’ll remember and cherish forever.

Is there anyone you try to emulate your game around?

Growing up, I would watch the games where Johan Santana and Félix Hernández would pitch and I would enjoy those games so much. They were/are the best at what they do so I would pay close attention and try to catch something good out of those games.

St Louis Cardinals v New York Mets
Santana
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners
Hernández
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The game has recently become increasingly analytical with the fans and the front office. As a player, how do you feel about sabermetrics and do you consider them during your preparation before facing a lineup?

Yes, I absolutely consider them during preparation. There are so many resources and ways to prepare nowadays. I think that any information that you can get before facing a lineup is a good opportunity to create a plan or have a better idea of how to create the plan. There are videos, heat maps and other kind of great resources.

Do you have a favorite statistic, either for pitchers or hitters?

For pitchers I would say WHIP and OBP for hitters.

If I was Pablo, my favorite pitching stat would also be WHIP. This season, between Double-A and Triple-A, he has a sparkling 0.93 WHIP.

On-base percentage may not be his forte, but he now has a .063 OBP after recording his first professional hit on June 19 off former first-round draft pick Casey Kelly in a game versus the Sacramento Rivercats.

Exaggerated shifts are another aspect of baseball that has taken over the league. What is your opinion on them and how do you feel about pitching with an exaggerated shift behind you?

In my opinion I think shifts work, there are so many stats and ways to predict where the ball will get hit that if you have some sort of advantage and anticipation, it’s good to take it. I try not to think about it too much when I’m on the mound, I try to control what I can control and try to execute the pitch and I’ll let my teammates do the rest because they’re the bests at what they do.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

So, originally, you were signed by the Mariners and you spent about five years in their minor league system. How would you describe that experience and how does it differ from the way the Marlins manage their minor league system?

I’m forever grateful with the Seattle Mariners for giving the opportunity to start my pro career. I learned so much about baseball, pitching and the mental aspect of the game in my five years with them. It was a great experience that taught me so much and I’ll never forget.

I really like the philosophy that the Miami Marlins have as an organization! It’s about development, but also about developing a winning mentality and knowing that we can take advantage of the opportunities and that they’ll give us all the resources and insights to get to where we want to get and that’s a wonderful philosophy.

Have you noticed any differences in the way the Marlins manage the farm system philosophically or in terms of training and preparation now that the team is under new leadership?

This year once spring training started, they explained to us the new philosophy that they are trying to build. It’s all about what it takes to be a leader and a winner—about accountability, professionalism, being a good teammate, work hard, work smart and always be moving around actively. We’d run from the building to the fields and from the field to the building. They would provide us with all the information they could that they knew would benefit us. They want what’s best for us and they’ll do what it takes.

In 2013, you had Tommy John surgery after injuring your elbow. How has that injury and long rehab process contributed to the way you prepare yourself physically to pitch today?

It has contributed in a big way. Going through the surgery and the long rehabilitation process wasn’t fun but it was definitely a good opportunity to get to know my body and develop routines that could help me stay healthy and feeling good. I learned so much about stretching, working out, conditioning and what was good for me and what wasn’t.

The scouting report we all see on MLBPipeline.com had you throwing high 80s to low 90s, but then you came into spring training this year blowing 95mph fastballs past major league hitters. And it’s been said that you have been sitting 93-96mph this year. Was this a case of a poorly made scouting report or did you change something mechanically to attribute to that increase in velocity?

I worked a lot mechanically this past offseason, trying to create consistency with it and I also did some good strength and conditioning workouts and routines that I think helped me greatly. I’m usually low 90’s with my fastball and at times some mid 90’s fastball will show up here and there. But I try to worry more about location.

His focus on location really shows in the box score. Through 396 career innings, Pablo has only walked 58 batters. That’s a career 1.3 BB/9. This season through 62 13 innings, his walks have been up slightly, but he still has walked just 12.

How does that increase in velocity expand your possibilities as a pitcher and how does it open up your repertoire during a game?

Fastballs and offspeed pitches go hand in hand. Fastballs make the secondary pitches play better and secondary pitches make the fastballs play better. With increased velocity the repertoire of a pitcher can get better because it makes the offspeeds more effective. And it’s also more difficult to sit on fastball when it’s faster.

World Series, Game 7, bottom of the ninth inning, tie game, bases loaded, 3-2 count...What pitch are you throwing?

Two-seam fastball! It’s a firm pitch that has some movement and I trust it a lot.

One last question that many die-hard fans are itching to know: Will the mustache come back?

Haha great question...Yes it will, eventually! I haven’t done it yet because of the no facial hair rule there is in the minors. But it’ll come back!

Ben Sandstrom/MiLB.com

Okay, those are all the questions I have. Is there anything else you’d like to cover or someone you want to give a shoutout?

Mmm...probably to all the Miami Marlins community and the fans! There are so many great players that are also great people in this organization. They should be excited about that.

We hope you enjoyed this interview of Marlins prospect and soon-to-be major leaguer Pablo López. I’d like to express my gratitude to Pablo for being kind enough to give his time to us at Fish Stripes and to the Marlins community to allow us to pick his brain a bit.

Thank you for reading, until next time!