* 2B Christian Lopes played in over 100 games at class-A Dunedin and then headed down under to turn two with the Canberra Cavalry and now he's headed to Dunedin for Blue Jays spring training. ....
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
CANBERRA, ACT, Australia – Christian Lopes found what he was looking for, and all it took was a quick trip down under to end his search.
Striving to find consistency in his game, when the 22-year-old middle infielder sat down with Toronto Blue Jays development coach and minor league hitting instructor Steve Springer last season, the idea of winter ball came up. Lopes was interested, so Springer asked minor league field coordinator Doug Davis, who felt that the California native was a good candidate.
Among the almost 30 Blue Jays players who opted to stay on the diamond through the off-season, Lopes joined Jack Murphy, L.B. Dantzler and Anthony Alford in the Australian Baseball League, where the Toronto farmhands suited up for the Canberra Cavalry.
“It’s awesome,” Lopes said. “It’s a good opportunity definitely to come out and play and see something else for a change, and the opportunity to get some more at-bats, and play in this competition. It’s good, and guys are here to win.”
The former seventh-round pick out of Valencia High School headed down under just looking to improve his game, after hitting .243/.329/.350 with three home runs, a triple, 26 doubles, 52 runs scored and 33 runs driven in over 106 games for the Dunedin Blue Jays in the Florida State League last year.
“It was a learning season for me,” Lopes said. “It wasn’t the best and it wasn’t the worst. It was average, if I had to rate myself. But I learned a lot from it. Every year we’re just getting better and trying to get to the next level to get to the big leagues and stay, and that’s the goal.”
His top priority with the Cavs was to find consistency, and that was exactly what Lopes did for the Aussie squad before injuring his hamstring near the end of the season and cutting his year short. In 31 games, he became one of Canberra’s most dangerous and most reliable men at the plate, hitting .371/.421/.581 with six home runs, eight doubles, 24 runs, 24 RBIs and more walks than strikeouts.
“Adjustment-wise, I’m just trying to find a way to be consistent in my work, in my preparation, and trying to be the same guy every single day,” Lopes said. “Stepping into the box and having a plan, and sticking to my strengths. A lot of guys can go and do well for a couple weeks, but who are the guys who can lock it in day in and day out and be consistent, and be the same guy for the team every single day?
“I’m getting better at doing that. That’s what the minor leagues are for, they produce players and some guys figure it out and some guys don’t. I’m just trying to be one of those guys who figure it out...I’m trying to be consistent at everything [and] defensively I have a ways to go. Every aspect of the game, I’m trying to learn the chess game of the game within the game.”
The Cavalry’s 6-foot, 185-pound second baseman still believes he has a lot of work to do in order to keep finding the same success he had in the southern hemisphere, but he has obviously made huge strides.
“There are a lot of parts [of my game] where I’m stronger than other areas,” he said. “Hitting [is my strength], moving guys over and being able to handle the bat … defensively, I need to work on staying consistent and making my routing plays.
“Offensively I need to make sure I’m sticking with my strengths and keeping my approach and that I’m not wavering. I’m working with being one pitch behind because I always want to be ahead in my thinking in situations and stuff like that.”
Lopes embraced his time at The Fort at Narrabundah Ballpark in a different way than he had enjoyed playing before, which is something he hopes to take with him into the upcoming season and beyond.
“I hope to take the attitude of enjoying the game with me into spring training,” he said. “As far as stepping out on the field and enjoying it, and playing with the guys and remembering that we all play a kid’s game and it’s fun.”
While the laid-back atmosphere in the Australian Capital Territory allowed the team to have more fun on the field than in some other baseball environments, Lopes also saw just how much the game meant to the fans in Canberra.
“I had heard that we have a lot of loyal fans and a lot of people who care about the game here,” he said. “They’re trying to develop the game and it’s in the process of moving up. I was definitely excited to come here [and] everyone was right on the money with what I heard, as far as the fans and what they want to do. I respect it and I’m really hoping I [could] contribute.”
Into the final weeks before full-squad spring training begins on the minor league side of Blue Jays camp in Dunedin, Lopes is hoping to make even bigger contributions over the course of the rest of the year.
“I would like to be an everyday guy who gets in there and is the guy that the coach can rely on,” he said. “Who he can put in the lineup every day and he knows he’s going to get the best out of me. That’s the goal.”