Royals rookie utility man Whit Merrifield has not only won himself a starting job, he’s also put himself in the American League Rookie-Of-The-Year race.
Before the season, Merrifield’s name was no where to be heard among pundits trying to project the 2016 AL Rookie-Of-The-Year. Ten weeks ago, the favorites were players like Minnesota’s Byron Buxton, Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy, Minnesota’s Jose Berrios, Texas’ Joey Gallo, and Korean veteran first baseman Byung Ho Park (Minnesota) and Dae Ho Lee (Seattle).
However, Whit Merrifield’s play over the last month has thrust the 27-year-old rookie into contention. Merrifield is slashing a terrific .327/.339/.482 with 9 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs, and 3 stolen bases. He’s drawn starts at second, third, left field, and right field, while playing solid to outstanding defense at all four positions. More importantly, he’s provided a spark at the top of the KC Royals lineup.
I can’t think of an AL rookie that has provided more value to his team.
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Oh, there are other candidates. Corner outfielder Tyler Naquin is slashing .300/.346/.490 with four home runs for the Cleveland Indians. Nomar Mazara from Texas might be the consensus favorite by batting .299/.345/.450 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs in more than twice as many at bats as Merrifield (231 vs. 110). Another strong contender is Detroit pitcher Michael Fullmer, who boasts a 7-2 record, 2.43 ERA, and just had a 33.1 inning scoreless streak snapped by a Salvador Perez solo home run Friday night.
However, if you throw in Merrifield’s defensive skills, plus his versatility, I think he’s got a shot to take home the award if he can finish out the season somewhat close to how he’s started it. Consider that Merrifield ranks no. 2 in fWAR (Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement) for all AL rookies, and he’s only behind Mazara with 1.3 fWAR. Note that Mazara has played 59 games compared to Merrifield’s 26, and that WAR is a counting stat.
Merrifield is providing value in all phases of the game, with the bat, with the glove, and on the base paths. None of the other top rookie performers can say the same thing.
The fact is that Whit Merrifield has been a pleasant surprise this season for the Kansas City Royals, and has provided unexpected performance. The KC Royals front office even exposed Merrifield to the Rule 5 draft last winter, which gave any team in baseball the chance to claim him for the $50,000 selection fee.
He’s got the Kansas City Royals Royals so completely convinced that they dumped under-performing second baseman Omar Infante and ate $14.7 million in guaranteed money left on his contract. KC Royals manager Ned Yost said:
"“This kid’s not a flash in the pan. His swing works up here. It’s very compact, very short, he covers the plate really, really well.”"