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NWL notes: Lopez honing his skills
Boise backstop learning nuances of catching, calling a game
08/12/2011 2:10 PM ET
Rafael Lopez is hitting .306 with four homers in 41 games with Boise.
Rafael Lopez is hitting .306 with four homers in 41 games with Boise. (Shari Sommerfeld/MiLB.com)
Boise Hawks catcher Rafael Lopez knew he was going to have to tweak a few things as he adjusted from college to life as a professional. Just how much he had to change, though, caught him off guard, especially considering his baseball background at Florida State.

In addition to claiming the ACC's Atlantic Division four out of the last five seasons, the Seminoles have also produced Giants catcher and 2010 National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey. The 23-year-old Lopez was sure he was defensively sound, especially considering the success at Florida State. After just a few games as a professional, though, it was clear that changes needed to be made.

Almost immediately Lopez started developing new fundamentals as a catcher. Previously he had taken a more direct route to the ball -- now he stays back and catches it with softer hands. Simply put, the difference is in his reception -- it's like a ball landing on a pillow, as opposed to a brick wall.

"I'm starting to get the hang of that, and I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable," Lopez said. "Pitchers are coming up to me and telling me a difference they notice now, compared to when I first got here as a catcher. The coaches are starting to notice, and I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable back there."

Although it came as a surprise to him that his fundamentals weren't quite up to par, it wasn't long into the season that he and the Hawks' coaching staff realized changes needed to be made.

"Good catchers won't get realized -- the bad catchers will get realized for their mistakes," Lopez said. "When your catcher's doing his job, it's usually not noticed, because nothing is being messed up, and they're so quiet back there."

In addition to that, Lopez has had to learn how to properly call a game, which is no easy task in itself. During his days at Florida State, his coach called the shots, so that added another skill to throw into the mix. Although it is a new skill to learn, he's quickly become a student of the game and realized what skills he needs to master in order to be an effective catcher.

"You have to learn how to read swings to see if it's a long swing or a short swing, and if they're leaning over the plate or if they're bailing out trying to hit an inside fastball," Lopez said. "The hitter is pretty much dictating what you're going to throw."

Although essentially relearning the game from a defensive standpoint, Lopez hasn't had to adjust much offensively. He said his swing and stance are virtually the same from college, and thus far he's had to focus on being prepared early on in his at bats.

That hard work has paid off as he's hitting .306 with four home runs and 27 RBIs in 41 games with the Hawks. Through it all, he hasn't had any trouble adjusting to the tedious professional schedule, something that's allowed him to have consistency at bat while trying to relearn his native position.

"You just have to work through it," Lopez said of the grind. "If you work through it mentally, you'll usually work through being tired. You start telling your mind you're not tired, and then you start feeling somewhat normal."

In brief

Life as a pro: Texas Rangers 2011 first-round pick Kevin Matthews made his debut Tuesday with the Spokane Indians. The left-hander allowed three hits and one earned run while striking out six in three innings of work. Matthews made seven appearances in the Arizona League after signing.

Complete 180: Everett had its seven-game home winning streak snapped Wednesday after falling, 18-7, to Tri-City. Four Dust Devils homered, and the 18 runs were the most allowed by a NWL team in a single game this season.

Playoff tix on sale: After clinching a playoff berth July 25, the Eugene Emeralds are primed for their first playoff appearance in 10 seasons. Home games are scheduled for Sept. 6 and 7 (if necessary), and tickets went on sale to the general public Aug. 8.

Patrick Brown is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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