That’s right. On this voting day I cast my vote for Nicky Lopez at the utility infielder position for the 2019 Kansas City Royals. The current infield looks like Cuthbert/Dozier at third, Mondesi, Merrifield, and O’Hearn/Dozier at first. The outfield is crowded and Whit can go out there and play CF at times as well opening second base for Lopez. I really am in favor of bringing Lopez up to be the utility infielder instead of signing someone like Ryan Goins again.
Lopez plays above average defense at a premium position. He also is a career .308 hitter in the minors who gets on base 37.1% of the time. If you look at his strikeout to walk ratio, it’s actually really good! Lopez has 147 walks to 134 strikeouts. He walks in 10.5% of his plate appearances which will keep his on base profile useful if/when he gets into a slump. He strikes out in only 9.6% of his plate appearances.
Lopez doesn’t have big power with about 20% of his hits going for extra bases. But we aren’t accusing him of being a middle of the order hitter. We’re talking about a LHH who is pesky, contact oriented, and has above average contact skills. When he plays, I would hit him either 8th or 9th the entire season. Lopez did manage a .139 ISO in Omaha last summer. Lopez had a 127 wRC+ at NWA this past season before being promoted to Omaha and putting up a 109 wRC+ there for the rest of the season. There is some pop. Don’t forget his grand slam last year in the Arizona Fall League.
Lopez hits about 40% of his balls in play to the opposite field. This suits him very well as it allows him to get on base at a higher rate. He pulls only about 35% of the time, or 1 in 3 balls put in play.
Lopez doesn’t run a lot running just over 25 times per year but he is successful 73.1% of the time giving him 60 career steals. I think he could improve on that skill with some work with Rusty Kuntz.
To me, the Royals need to continue to showcase Whit in CF at least once a series which will give Lopez a start at second base at least once every 3 games. Add in times that Mondesi needs a day off or Whit gets a full day off and he will play about 40% of the games. Some say that Lopez can play the outfield as well but I’m not going there right now. There is an argument to be made for more at bats at the minors, but I think Lopez is at a point where he needs to learn the big league game at the big league level. I know that Yost isn’t a guy that likes to play the youngsters unless he absolutely must, but I think this is a situation where he just needs to find 2 out of every 5 games for the youngster. Eventually due to injury, trade, or free agency, Lopez will be a starter for our infield. I’m all in favor of giving him the shot at being the utility guy breaking camp.