New Iberia’s Stefan Lopez will decide quickly whether to sign a professional contract with the New York Yankees or return to Southeastern Louisiana University for his senior season after being drafted in the 16th round by the 27-time World Series champions on Wednesday.
Lopez said Thursday he and his parents will meet with representatives of the Yankees tonight to discuss signing with the team after being selected in the 16th round of Major League Baseball’s amateur player draft.
Originally he’d been called in the 10th round and asked if he’d sign for what the team was offering if they picked him in the 11th round of the draft. Lopez said that offer wasn’t enough to make him want to sign a pro contract, so he told them so, and another player was chosen instead.
Lopez added that teams have a certain amount they can pay to draftees under the latest collective bargaining agreement — there’s a pool of money each team has to sign its selections from the first 10 rounds, with recommended amounts for each slot. Fines are levied if teams exceed the amount of money they have in the pool for their draft picks, and they can’t pay draftees from after the 10th round a signing bonus of more than $100,000.
“I don’t want to short-change myself,” said Lopez, adding that though teams may throw what seems a big amount of money out to a 21-year-old such as himself, in reality, after taxes, it’s not much more than he might make after completing his college degree and getting into the work force for a few years.
Knowing that he’d already turned down more money than he could be offered in later rounds, Lopez stopped following the draft after Tuesday’s picks were completed. He was surprised to get a call from the Yankees on Wednesday telling him he’d been picked by the team in the 16th round.
“I wasn’t keeping up with (the draft),” he said. “The (scout) who called was following me throughout the season. He said he told the team, ‘Pick this guy.’”
Lopez made a name for himself this season as the Lions’ closer, setting school and Southland Conference records for saves in a season (20) and career (30).
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound New Iberia Senior High product went 2-1 with a 0.61 earned run average this past season and was named the Southland Conference Relief Pitcher of the Year.
He’s a finalist for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award after striking out 42 and walking only five in 291⁄3 innings and holding opposing batters to a .179 batting average.
While he is waiting to see what the Yankees will offer him, he knows the team is capable of coming up with creative ways to get around bonus restrictions.
“You’re talking about the New York Yankees,” he said. “You’re talking about one of the richest organizations in sports.”
Of course, he also has leverage, specifically, that he can return to college next season if the team doesn’t meet what he is looking to get from them.
And he anticipates returning in a different role next season if he heads back to Hammond. A third baseman and starting pitcher in high school, he began as a starting pitcher for the Lions as a freshman but after a rough outing, other players moved into that starting role and had success.
“The coaches put some guys in to pick up my slack, and they ran with it,” said Lopez. He knew he wasn’t going to be put back in as a starter at that point. “You can’t take out guys who are doing well.”
He got a chance to go in as a relief pitcher, in a game where the Lions trailed 13-7. He used that tough situation as motivation, and it led to a change in direction in his career.
“I went in with a chip on my shoulder,” said Lopez. “I just went in and threw like I’ve never thrown in my life. We ended up winning the game, and I worked my way up to being the closer. They gained confidence in me, and I gained confidence in myself.”
But he figures his real shot in the pros is as a starting pitcher, so he’d like to do that in college if he returns next year. Lopez throws a fastball in the low 90s and also has a slider and changeup, though he hasn’t used those as a closer.
“I’ve done everything I can do as a closer this year,” said Lopez. “I’ve accomplished everything I can as a closer.
“If I come back as a senior, I want to help my team out but I want to do what’s best for me, too.”
His coach already has broached the subject of him being a starter next year, Lopez said.
“I can go back to Southeastern and be a Friday night starter, which is what I’m probably going to do” if negotiations with the Yankees don’t pan out, Lopez said.
He’ll find out soon enough after talking with the Yankees reps today.
“I think it’ll all work out,” he said.
One way or the other, it will.