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Lopez drafted by D-Rays

June 08, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

CALEXICO — Through 918 picks in Major League Baseball's first-year player draft Tuesday and Wednesday, Calexico High's Diego Lopez had not been selected.

Not that he expected to be a top pick, but just waiting for something to happen started putting doubt in his mind, enough doubt that Wednesday he visited Grossmont College in La Mesa inquiring about playing next season as a backup plan in case he wasn't selected.

But about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Lopez's dreams were finally realized as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected him as their 31st pick (919th overall).

"At first I didn't think I would get drafted. I mean, the last couple of games I pitched I really didn't do that well and I thought teams would pass on me because of that," said the 17-year-old, 6-foot-4 Lopez, selected as a pitcher by the Devil Rays. "Since this was my first full year of pitching, I didn't think I'd go that high. I was expecting maybe somewhere in the 40s or 50s, but definitely not in the 31st round."

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What is surprising is Lopez was taken as a pitcher. He had a fairly successful year on the mound, finishing with a 2.49 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 59 innings, but throughout his high school career he established his reputation in the Imperial Valley as a catcher. He finished the 2001 season with a .352 batting average, 22 RBIs, three stolen bases and two home runs.

Last summer a New York Yankees' scout asked Lopez to work out as a bullpen catcher for Lake Havasu's semi-pro team, the Havasu Heat Lopez worked out with the team briefly and he figured big league teams would look at him as a catcher.

Now, with his future as a pitcher, Lopez knows more time and work are needed to polish his skills.

The MLB Web site commented on Lopez as a pitcher, saying, "(Lopez's) slider has occasional late bite and his fastball has occasional bore movement in on righties."

Said Lopez: "They say that I'm raw and I need some more work. I know that I'm going to have to work to get better and I know the quickest way for me to make it to the majors is with my pitching."

Lopez hasn't signed with Tampa Bay and said an option he would consider would be pitching in college. He hasn't set a date for his decision, but said he is planning on talking with representatives from the Devil Rays to discuss his future.

For now, Lopez will just soak up the emotion and excitement surrounding Tampa Bay's decision to take a chance on him. Then he'll get to work proving the Devil Rays made the right decision.

"For some reason I kept dreaming that I was going to be the very last player taken in the draft. I don't know why, but that's what I was thinking," said Lopez. "But things turned out pretty good. It's always been one of my dreams and goals to get drafted. Now I'm going to focus on making it to the majors.

"Things are really starting to happen for me and all the hard work is starting to pay off. But this is just the beginning. I'm not going to be satisfied until I make it to the majors."

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