Four suspensions in four years, including one to start this season — it’s not the type of 4-for-4 performance University of Miami shortstop Brandon Lopez wants to talk about.
“It’s crazy,” Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said of the suspensions, which were for unspecified violations of team rules. “He’s been in my doghouse for a lot of different reasons.”
He’s out now though.
Lopez is having a breakout senior season — on and off the field. He entered Saturday night’s game against Pittsburgh hitting .413 with a .472 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage.
Two scouts, speaking off the record, have said Lopez could go as high as the eighth round in next month’s MLB Draft. The low end of that range, scouts said, is Round 20.
Lopez has been going so well that Morris has moved him to the most important spot in the batting order — cleanup, where his hot bat helps to ensure that three-hole hitter Zack Collins gets pitches to hit and is not just automatically walked.
But perhaps the best thing to happen to Lopez recently is that he graduated from UM last week, earning a Bachelor’s degree while majoring in sociology.
“He made the dean’s list last semester, and he was close this semester,” Morris said. “There were times I thought he wouldn’t make it — we had a lot of meetings in my office.
“It’s just a growing-up process. He’s really matured. I’m very happy for him and his family.”
Lopez is the oldest of four kids, including two sisters who attend Florida State and a 15-year-old brother who plays football at Archbishop McCarthy.
He lights up when talking about his family, joking that his sisters attend Miami’s rival university and his brother plays for a rival of his high school, American Heritage.
As for the suspensions, Lopez said, they are behind him.
“I don’t look back,” he said. “I’m focused on our team making it to Omaha [for the College World Series].”
Thanks in part to the way Lopez is playing, there is a good chance of that happening.
The fourth-ranked Canes (38-9, 17-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) are benefitting from more than just Lopez’s bat, however. His defense has been stellar, too. He has made just five errors this season, and his .971 fielding percentage is on pace to be his career best.
From his freshman to junior years, his fielding percentages, in order, were .953 with 12 errors, .960 with 11 errors and .946 with 11 errors.
He is not a power hitter, but he is swinging with far more authority this season. Entering this season, he had just 16 doubles and one homer in three years. This season, he already has 12 doubles and one homer.
In 164 games entering this season, Lopez had a career batting average of .258. That has skyrocketed this season, but Lopez said these gains have been made without any adjustment to his swing.
“It’s just the experience of being a senior and having three years under my belt,” Lopez said.
Bruce Aven, who coached Lopez as a Heritage senior, has another theory.
“I think not putting up the numbers and not getting drafted last year as a junior woke him up,” Aven said of Lopez, who hit .406 as a high school senior and was drafted in the 34th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. “He’s finally doing what he is capable of.”
Canes second baseman Johnny Ruiz, who works closely with Lopez as his double-play partner, praised his teammate’s abilities, especially on defense.
“It’s not easy coming in as a freshman and sophomore and playing at a high level the way he did defensively,” Ruiz said of Lopez, who is a four-year starter. “The offense was just going to come as he got older and more mature.
“Brandon hasn’t always done the right thing. He is aware he made a mistake [to start this season]. He’s the first one to own up to that. But he has done a great job since he’s come back.”