KC Royals: Whit Merrifield Securing Second Base Job
By John Viril
KC Royals rookie Whit Merrifield is staking his claim to the second base job with a strong September. Merrifield is slashing .319/.377/.404 in 53 plate appearances in the season’s final month.
Whit Merrifield‘s September rush follows a terrible crash in July in which he hit a miserable .170/.241/.245. The biggest problem for the Kansas City Royals was that Merrifield stuck out 17 times in 58 plate appearances. A 29.3% whiff rate just isn’t going to get it done for a middle infielder with mediocre power.
The slide cost Merrifield not only his starting gig at second base, but also his roster spot. The Kansas City Royals sent him down to AAA in favor of no. 1 prospect Raul Mondesi in late July. However, opposing pitchers have overpowered Mondesi at the plate. Despite his terrific glove work and speed, Mondesi is slashing a mere .190/.234/.273.
Raul Mondesi Needs To Return To AAA
Mondesi’s biggest problem is that he lacks the plate awareness to force pitchers to throw strikes. The 21-year-old shorstop struck out 43 times in 134 plate appearances. Mondesi’s .321 whiff rate is even worse than Merrifield’s July crash. The blunt truth is that Mondesi needs to work on his hitting skills in AAA, because he’s just not playable at the major-league level as anything but a utility player.
Eventually, Mondesi’s quick bat and good pop should yield solid offensive production for a middle infielder. Mondesi’s fabulous range and outstanding arm suggest his best position is shortstop. In the end, the KC Royals need to prepare him to take over for Alcides Escobar after Escobar’s contract expires before the 2018 season.
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As a result, Whit Merrifield is the second base solution for the foreseeable future. In his return to Kansas City, Merrifield has adjusted to the tactics that had bedeviled him in July. His recent performance has gone a long way toward showing that he has the skills to stick as a major-league regular.
Overall, Merrifield has slashed .286/.324/.393 with 17 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 home runs for the Kansas City Royals in 68 games. He’s produced 1.3 bWAR (Baseball-reference Wins Above Replacement), which is solid production for a middle infielder.
In an ideal world, Merrifield would be a super-utility player to exploit his ability to play seven positions. But, I doubt that Mondesi’s bat will improve enough by the beginning of next season for him to hold down second base.
In a best case scenario, Merrifield will continue to get on base enough to remain at leadoff for the KC Royals. Merrifield would then displace Alcides Escobar atop the Kansas City Royals lineup. Such a move might help save the lives of sabermetric-inclined fans across Kansas City because it would end the blood pressure spikes caused by seeing Escobar lead off.
Next: Kendrys Morales Powers Royals To 10-3 Win Over White Sox
Get used to Whit Merrifield Kansas City, because he’s going to play for the Royals for many years to come.