By: Brian Frank
Otto López’s unique journey to Sahlen Field has taken him through three countries and allowed him to learn two new languages.
López was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, but moved to Québec when he was just ten years old due to his father getting a job in Montreal.
Going from the Dominican to Montreal at such a young age was a bit of a culture shock for the youngster. But López says he learned French rather quickly due to its similarities to Spanish.
“I learned French at school and from my family,” he said. “They lived a lot of years back there, so they taught me.”
López had played baseball in Santo Domingo, but not competitively - that would change when he arrived in Montreal.
“I wasn’t playing baseball on an organized team,” Lopez said of his time in the Dominican. “I was just playing in the street with my friends.”
López was born in the Dominican Republic, but moved to Montreal when he was ten. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Once in Montreal, he began playing organized baseball and remembers his excitement when his dad asked him if he wanted to join a team.
“When I first started playing, I was a pitcher,” he said. “Pitcher and infielder.”
Playing baseball allowed him to travel around Canada.
“I played with Team Quebec,” he said. “We traveled to Toronto to play. We went a few places in Canada. I played in the Canada Cup too.”
Baseball wasn’t the only sport López participated in while living in Canada.
“I tried to play hockey but not on the ice," he chuckled, "only in the street with the boys. And I played badminton a little bit at school.”
He also began watching sports on television and became a Montréal Canadiens fan – a team that he still follows. The Expos had left Montréal four years before López arrived in the city, so he naturally became a huge fan of Canada’s only remaining baseball team – the team that would sign him a few years later.
“I became a huge Blue Jays fan,” he said. “I grew up watching them on TV.”
In 2015, López moved back to the Dominican Republic to focus on playing baseball year round at a baseball academy – and to hopefully be offered a professional contract.
“One of my uncles told me I could go train in the Dominican. When I first got there, he said – okay you’ve got one year to prove what you can do. That’s when the Blue Jays saw me and I signed as a free agent.”
Already fluent in Spanish and French, López began learning his third language when he started playing for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays as an 18 year old. He said English didn’t come to him as easily as French did, but he worked hard at it and eventually picked it up.
López had success at every level of the minor leagues he’s played at during his ascent through the Blue Jays’ system. He slashed .275/.361/.360 for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2017, .297/.390/.434 for Low-A Vancouver in 2018, and .324/.371/.425 at Lansing in 2019.
In 2020, when COVID-19 shut down the minor-league season, López returned to Montreal to train in order to be ready when baseball finally resumed.
“I worked at home in Montreal,” he said. “I tried to work a lot at my house. I had my family to help. I have brothers who love baseball and played before. So I was training and keeping ready for whatever happened.”
López began the 2021 season at Double-A New Hampshire where he slashed .331/.398/.457 in 70 games. He was promoted to Buffalo on August 2 and continued to hit – slashing .289/.347/.405 with 15 stolen bases in 43 games for the Herd.
López has played multiple positions since joining the Herd. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He joined a Bisons team that was in second place, attempting to win its first division title since 2005. López’s impressive play for the Herd down the stretch was one of the key reasons the team was able to accomplish their goal and win the Northeast Division. López said winning the division was very important to him.
“Yeah, that means a lot to me because that was the first time I won a division (in the minor leagues),” he said. “I was very excited to win. That was huge for me.”
He noted that he enjoyed playing for manager Casey Candaele. Candaele is now the interim bench coach for the Blue Jays.
“He’s an awesome manager,” López said. “I love him. What can I tell you? He’s a friend to me. We enjoyed him managing our team.”
López’s memorable 2021 season also included another major event in his career. In mid-August, he was called up to the Blue Jays to make his major-league debut. He appeared in one game at Washington before returning to Buffalo.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. I was excited to go there and to keep working and prove I can play there.”
He returned to Toronto this season and appeared in one game, playing center field.
López has been red hot at the plate for the Herd recently. In his last nine games, he’s slashing .444/.500/.750. In one game during that stretch, he went 4-for-4 with two home runs, including an inside-the-park homer, a double, and two stolen bases. Two nights earlier, he had two triples in a game. López was named the International League Player of the Week for the week of July 25-31. During that span, he went 10-for-18, slashing .556/.591/1.167 with two triples, two home runs, six RBI, and three stolen bases.
He’s also shown his defensive versatility since joining the Bisons. He’s played thirty-six games at second base, thirty-two games in leftfield, eleven games in center field, and seventeen games at shortstop since he arrived in Buffalo last August.
It’s easy to see why López is such an enticing prospect with his hitting ability, defensive versatility, game-changing speed, and positive attitude. It’s been a long journey to Sahlen Field for the 23-year-old prospect – starting in the Dominican Rebublic, moving to Montreal, and then playing throughout the U.S. in the Blue Jays minor-league system. He certainly seems on course to make his next stop soon in the big leagues.