Kansas City Royals: What is Nicky Lopez’ long term fit?

Nicky Lopez has seen a good amount of playing time for the Kansas City Royals this season. What is his long-term fit for this team?

Drafted in the 5th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Nicky Lopez made the switch from third base to shortstop as a sophomore in 2015. He led the Creighton Bluejays in triples and sacrifice bunts that season as well. Lopez slashed a rather lackluster 0.246/0.321/0.335 but greatly improved that line in his junior season to 0.306/0.417/0.444.

He’s realistically never going to be a power hitter despite him planning to go on a Whit Merrifield-like offseason training and diet program. Lopez has indicated that he hopes to gain 10-15 pounds of muscle, and the process of doing so will commence as soon as the season is over:

“I’m going to go straight to the facility. I want to get stronger. I’m going to work out with trainers down there. I’m excited to get there and attack it, and come back even stronger and better next year.” – MLB

The 24-year old saw his playing time significantly increase when Adalberto Mondesi went on the injured list with a dislocated shoulder back in mid-July. He put together a really strong month of August in which he slashed 0.262/0.279/0.357 and struck out in just 10.5 percent of his plate appearances. Conversely, he only took walks at a 2.3 percent clip.

Ideally, you’d like to see his on-base percentage somewhere near the 0.350 mark. So while adding some muscle to become a more prominent player is nice, Lopez will need to work on taking more walks. Since Mondesi’s return to the lineup last Sunday, Lopez has played in just one game. It’s been a crowded infield with Merrifield, Humberto Arteaga, and the newly called-up Erick Mejia all needing playing time.

As far as a long term fit? Fangraphs has his projected 2020 stats with a slash line 0.259/0.323/0.353 while talking walks at an 8 percent clip. That would be a much improved Nicky Lopez, who will be in his first full season next year.

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StatCast has Lopez connecting with the barrel of the bat in just 1.4 percent of the time, which is in the bottom 2 percent of the league. His exit velocity and hard-hit percentage are also near the bottom at 83.7 mph and 18.9 percent, respectively. Assuming he can add the muscle he is looking for, expect those numbers to increase and hopefully he can start to develop into an everyday player.

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