The Royals on Friday night agreed to trade third baseman Mike Moustakas, a pivotal piece in the city’s return to the postseason for the first time in three decades, to the Milwaukee Brewers.
While Moustakas prepared to join former teammates Lorenzo Cain and Joakim Soria on the West Coast, where the Brewers were playing the San Francisco Giants, the Royals shuffled the deck to welcome prospects Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez. Phillips, a 24-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder, will join the Royals immediately. Lopez, a 25-year-old right-handed reliever, was optioned to Class AAA Omaha.
“(Phillips has) played center and we’re trying to make over our outfield,” general manager Dayton Moore said Saturday. “The bottom line is we’re going to look at those guys in a variety of different roles.”
Here are some things to know about the pair.
▪ Baseball America ranked Phillips as the Brewers’ seventh-best player after the 2017 season. But Lopez, who was the Brewers No. 2 prospect after the 2015 season, plummeted to 15th best in the organization following a rough 2016 campaign.
Both were ranked in the outlet’s top 100 prospect rankings. Phillips debuted on the list at No. 57 and Lopez at No. 59 after the 2015 season. While Lopez fell off the list, Phillips dropped to 80th after the 2017 season.
▪ Phillips has been traded to a rebuilding club at the non-waiver deadline before. A sixth-round pick of the Astros in the 2012 draft out of Seminole (Fla.) High School, he was the Astros’ second-ranked prospect when they traded him, pitchers Adrian Houser and Josh Hader and right fielder Domingo Santana to the Brewers on July 30, 2015, for outfielder Carlos Gomez, right-hander Mike Fiers and other considerations on July 30, 2015.
Asked during spring training in 2017 about being traded from one rebuilding organization to another, Phillips told MiLB.com, “It’s very similar, seeing the two organizations. When I was with Houston, when I’d just got traded, we were in the same position (as) now. We were the No. 1 organization in baseball, and you see players starting to blossom into big-leaguers and you’re seeing Houston, maybe not last year but the year before, they were a playoff team. It’s a process. The talent, you just have to let it unfold and hopefully it translates into the big leagues. But they’re very similar.”
▪ Lopez, a native of Puerto Rico, was in his eighth season in the Brewers’ organization. They selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft of the Caguas Military Academy (P.R.). Lopez spent the next four years slowly climbing the organizational ladder until he put together a breakout 2015 season for Class AA Biloxi. Chosen the Southern League pitcher of the year, he led that league with 12 wins and a .205 opponent average. He ranked second in ERA (2.26) and third in strikeouts (137). He received a major-league call-up and made his debut Sept. 29, 2015.
Lopez could not build on that progress in 2016. He struggled with Class AAA Colorado Springs, amassing a 6.81 ERA in 17 games (16 starts). His walks-per-nine-innings rate jumped to 6.24 and his strikeout rate (7.49) suffered, too. After a reset at the Brewers’ Arizona facilities, Lopez returned to Biloxi. He had a 3.97 ERA in eight starts while striking out 47 batters and walking 16 in 45 1/3 innings.
But Lopez did not remain a starter. He stumbled upon returning to Biloxi at the start of the 2017 season. He went 3-6 with a 4.61 ERA in 26 starts before moving to the bullpen. In 13 relief outings, he collected five wins, two losses, seven saves and a 3.62 ERA.
Lopez had a 5.65 ERA in 24 outings for Colorado Springs this season. He made 10 appearances over several stints for the Brewers this year. He allowed six earned runs, recorded 15 strikeouts and issued 13 walks in 19 2/3 innings.
Lopez still throws a devastating curveball, which major-leaguers this year have hit at a meager .125 clip. He also wields a fastball that hovers around 95 mph and an 88 mph changeup.
“He hasn’t been getting a lot of consistent work because he’s kind of been up and down, similar to the way Jake Junis was last year for us,” Moore said. “He just needs to settle in. He has the arsenal to be successful. He has power to his pitches, he’s athletic, he has good makeup, he’s committed. Those guys tend to get better. They just gotta settle in and find a role. We believe that he’ll be one of 12 for us going forward. His role will be defined based on how he pitches.”
▪ Phillips has also had to overcome failure. An oblique strain set him back in 2016, and his approach at the plate seemed to suffer as a result. He went from batting a combined .309 with a .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentage at three stops — High-A Lancaster and Class AA Corpus Christi in the Astros’ organization and the Brewers’ Class AA affiliate — in 2015, to a .229 average in 124 games his first full season at Biloxi. Phillips’ 154 strikeouts in 2016 led the Southern League, but he also ranked among the league leaders with 16 home runs (fourth) and 67 walks (third).
The Brewers promoted Phillips to Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2017. He rewarded them, posting a .305 batting average with career highs in homers (19) and RBIs (78). He also hit 23 doubles and 10 triples and struck out 129 times in 383 at-bats.
Manager Ned Yost’s son, Ned. Jr., is a coach at the Brewers affiliate and relayed this scouting report: “He said, ‘I’ve seen him hit with power and for average.’ He said it was more last year than this year, been kind of a struggle for him this year. But a phenomenal, tremendous, off-the-chart makeup. Loves to play the game, plays the game with energy and just hustles his ass off.”
▪ Phillips is a threat on the base paths. He has stolen 84 bases in 124 attempts (67.7 percent) in 645 minor-league games.
▪ Lopez told the Journal-Sentinel during spring training that he and his wife, Karla, fled Puerto Rico with their 4-year-old son after Hurricane Maria wrecked the island last September.
“We had to move to Miami so (my son, Mikael) could get medical care and all that,” said Lopez. “I left (the rest of) my family back (in Cayey). They had no money, no electricity, no gas or water. Not much food. All the primary things were missing. It was bad. I never thought (the devastation) was going to be that big. “
Mikael, Tom Haudricourt reported, was born with Familial Mediterranean fever. It is a genetic autoinflammatory disorder that causes recurrent fevers and painful inflammation of the abdomen, lungs and joints.
▪ Phillips has flaunted his canon arm throughout his career, and last year made waves when he made a Statcast-record 104 mph throw to the plate in September. Phillips threw out Pittsburgh’s David Freese, who was trying to score on a fly ball to right-center field.