Stefan Lopez’s ultimate goal is to reach the major leagues, but he’s got a backup plan in place if that dream doesn’t come true after signing a contract with the New York Yankees organization on Tuesday.
Part of the deal he reached with the team that took him in the 16th round of the draft last week is that the Yankees will pay for him to finish his college degree when he is ready to do so. Lopez said Thursday evening that he’d reached a deal with the team a couple of days earlier.
He was set to leave Tampa, where he’d gone to undergo a physical examination by the team’s physicians, for the organization’s Class A Short-Season team, the Staten Island (N.Y.) Yankees.
“School’s very important to me,” said Lopez by phone from Tampa. “They offered to pay for school when I want to finish.”
Though he declined to talk about specifics, Lopez said the Yankees made him a good offer, including incentives, and with the offer to pay for college. Lopez just concluded his junior season at Southeastern Louisiana University, a season that saw him earn first-team All-American honors from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after setting school and Southland Conference records for saves in a season (20) and career (30). He’s a finalist for the NCWBA’s Stopper of the Year Award, given to college baseball’s best closing pitcher.
“I just felt it was the right time for me to get my (baseball) career started,” said Lopez. “The ultimate goal is to reach the majors, but if for some reason that doesn’t work out, I can go back to college and finish my degree.”
Lopez said he hasn’t had a chance to work out much yet for the Yankees organization, but expects to get right into the swing of things with Staten Island. He and several other young players were headed from Tampa to New York to join the team this morning.
“Hopefully if I have a good season there, I can go somewhere else (in the Yankees’ minor league organization), whether it’s Class A or Double-A or Triple-A …”
Lopez said he’s excited about the opportunity to start his professional career, but since he hasn’t done any baseball-related work yet he can’t speak about what that’s like yet. Much of the past couple of days have been spent with the team doing paperwork.
“I’m walking into a whole different world, but it’s the same (sport) I’ve been doing all my life,” he said. “I know there’s going to be guys up there with talent, but I have to find ways to separate myself (from everyone else).”
Not having met the Staten Island Yankees manager, Justin Pope, yet, he isn’t sure where the team will use him. He expects he’ll start as a reliever, since that’s been what he’s done since early in his freshman season at SLU.
“I’m sure I’ll be coming out of the bullpen, just because of my past,” said Lopez. “Whether’s it’s as a closer, a middle reliever or a short reliever, I don’t know.”
Whatever role he’s chosen to fill, whether it’s one of those relief roles or as a starter, Lopez is eager to face it.
“As long as I’m successful, that’s all that matters,” he said. “It’ll probably be an easier transition coming out of the bullpen than as a starter, but it doesn’t really make a difference to me.”
Staten Island is the defending New York-Penn league champion. The team is scheduled to open it season Monday at Brooklyn, which is affiliated with the New York Mets.
“I’m definitely excited about it,” said Lopez.