MINNEAPOLIS -- Jorge Lopez was all smiles Sunday at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, a stopping point for Brewers prospects past on their way to the big leagues. The right-hander dressed at a locker neighboring former Milwaukee All-Star Jose Hernandez, who served on the "World" team's coaching staff, in a clubhouse filled with some of Minor League Baseball's best international talent.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Lopez briefly took the mound at Target Field and retired the only hitter he faced with some help from second baseman Jose Rondon's slick defense on a ground ball toward second base.
Part of Lopez's mind, however, was on a little boy in Miami. His 13-month-old son, Mikael, is awaiting an intestinal transplant.
"It's a little bit tough sometimes when you try to work every day and you've got that in your mind," Lopez said. "But God is good, and I take it as one of life's experiences."
Lopez, 21 and a second-round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2011, has sweetened his stock this season (he's No. 19 on MLB.com's list of Milwaukee's top prospects) while pitching for the advanced Class A Brevard County Manatees. He is 8-4 with a 3.26 ERA in 16 starts, with the best ratio of strikeouts to walks (2.69) of his brief career.
He has been granted peace of mind pitching near his young son. Mikael Lopez was born prematurely last year and spent the first year of his life in a hospital suffering from an unknown autoimmune disease. After dad was assigned to Brevard County, he arranged for Mikael to be transferred to a facility in Miami, where doctors determined a transplant was necessary.
The Manatees will stage a golf fundraiser in August, collecting entry fees and hole sponsorships to help Lopez and his family cover medical and transportation costs. The Brewers organization has helped by occasionally altering Lopez's schedule to allow him to travel down Interstate 95 to Miami when necessary.
"It's part of life," Lopez said.
But it's not a part of life most 21-year-olds experience, so the Brewers have been supportive.
"In my time here, we do a great job of reaching out and helping our guys," said Minor League pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin. "His staff in Brevard has gone overboard to help him, [manager] Joe Ayrault and [pitching coach] David Chavarria, and we've worked around his concerns and issues, trying to be supportive and keep him going.
"As difficult a thing as this has been for him, I think he's coming through this pretty good. ... He's a good kid. He's solid. He's mature."
He's also a nice pitcher. Listed as 6-foot-4 and 186 pounds in the Brewers media guide, Lopez has put on good weight during his three years pitching professionally. He has embraced Tomlin's increased focus on learning to pitch at an earlier stage in player development, instead of simply gaining arm strength in the Minor Leagues. Lopez has impressed coaches with his grasp of the changeup.
"He's the poster child for player development," Tomlin said.
The Futures Game was another good step in that development. Two of the Brewers' four 2014 All-Stars once upon a time played in the event (Aramis Ramirez and Francisco Rodriguez) as did a slew of past Brewers All-Stars, including Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo and Jimmy Nelson.
"Myself and [Brewers field coordinator Charlie Greene] talked to Lopez and explained to him that almost everybody who's played in this game has pitched in the big leagues, and what a great honor this is," Tomlin said.
Lopez was already aware.
"I have followed the Futures Game, but I never imagined being selected," Lopez said. "It's a big opportunity. I never thought I would be here.
"I like Jimmy Nelson a lot. I follow him all the time, watch him pitch whenever I can. When I saw he made the [Futures Game U.S.] team last year, I saw him pitch. I never thought the next year I would come here. I'm excited."