While we all know the Royals are loaded with pitching and hitting prospects, a question has always remained about who the future centerfielder might be. Michael A. Taylor received a 2-year, $9 million contract in September 2021. We all know what Taylor brings to the table, though. Elite defense with a questionable bat. Taylor was so good in centerfield in 2021 that he won himself a gold glove. It is hard to argue that Taylor is the best in the organization defensively. His bat, on the other hand, is a different story. He has shown improvements this year in getting on base, but he has struggled to be productive near the bottom of the lineup. He was below league average in 2021 offensively and has continued to do the same this year.
Kyle Isbel is another consideration for centerfield, but he profiles more as a left fielder. He doesn’t have the plus speed needed to stick out there but could be an above-average left fielder if the Royals end up not bringing Andrew Benintendi back. That isn’t to say Isbel can hold his own in the center. He can track down balls and does very well getting good reads on balls. The bat is what plays for Isbel. Even in small sample size, Isbel seems to have the upper hand on Taylor offensively. Marcus Meade from Royals Weekly did a fantastic job earlier in the year diving into both Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel.
With the chance that Isbel goes to left with the departure of Benintendi and the Royals don’t bring back Taylor after the 2023 season, where does that leave Kansas City in their future search for a center fielder? Enter Nick Loftin. Loftin was taken 32nd overall by the Royals in the 2020 MLB Amateur Draft. The former Baylor Bear was taken as a shortstop in the draft, but the Royals knew he was a swiss army knife and could play all over the field. The question about Loftin has always been, “What can’t Loftin do?”. He’s never had an elite carrying tool, but Loftin does everything right. He can hit, access gap power, have a glove that can play all around the diamond, and run the bases well.
Loftin’s speed and athleticism made him the perfect candidate to be the Royals’ potential solution in centerfield. Before the 2022 season, Loftin played games 2B, 3B, and SS for the High-A Champion Quad Cities River Bandits. He’s displayed a strong arm that could even hold up as a low-end right field arm which makes you believe there won’t be any concerns about his center arm. He’s got elite footwork, which gives you even more hope for his transition to the outfield. Loftin gives you the same vibes that Whit Merrifield does. Utilizing his above-average tools across the board to the best of his ability makes him a strong candidate to be a very productive major league regular.
On top of Loftin’s defense, ignoring what he does with the bat is very hard. In 2021, he slashed .289/.373/.463 with both double-digit home runs (10) and stolen bases (11) in 410 plate appearances. What gets you excited is his insane 14.6% strikeout rate and his 10.2% walk rate. He has even improved on that in 2022, bringing his strikeout rate down to an insane 10.7% in his first 25 games. Loftin shows excellent patience at the plate and a well-above-average feel for the strike zone. His quick hands and barrel-to-ball abilities make him a reliable leadoff hitter.
The bat will, without question, play. If Loftin can make the quick adjustment to center field, the Royals may have solved their problems. So far, in 21 games for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he has two assists and two errors with 53 putouts in center field. Loftin more than has the athletic capability of making the transition, and Royals fans might not have to wait too long until we see him in center field at the K.
Photo Credits: Josh Franzen (@PrtTimeFranimal)
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