12 days of KC Royals: A breakthrough for Nicky Lopez
By Jordan Foote
After a rough rookie season with the KC Royals, every fan should be rooting for infielder Nicky Lopez to bounce back in 2020.
Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s 12 Days of KC Royals Christmas series. Every day through December 25, the team here will take turns coming up with their wish lists for the hometown squad. Today, let’s focus on second baseman Nicky Lopez.
Playing baseball at Creighton University in Nebraska and building a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades infielder, Lopez would return to the state of Nebraska a mere two years after being drafted. In 57 games with the Omaha Storm Chasers in 2018, the wiry second baseman hit for a .278/.364/.417 line. Those numbers jumped to .353/.457/.500 the following year, prompting a promotion.
Lopez debuted with the Royals on May 14 of this year. Known for his ability to make contact, zoom around the bases and play solid defense, things slowly got worse over his first three months. After posting a .606 OPS in May and a .624 OPS in June, that already-low figure fell all the way down to .443 in July. Lopez hit just .186 in 23 starts that month.
Things began to look up, though, as the season came to an end. After returning to his previous form in August (struggling, but not nearly as bad as in June/July), Lopez was impressive in Sept. The lefty-hitting infielder experienced a mini-breakout, raising his batting average to .289 and his OPS to .778. Striking out just three times in 48 plate appearances, this was a positive sign for the Royals and their rookie. Oh yeah, he did it all while battling a hand injury, too:
"“Towards the end of the season, I was battling a little hand injury that was nagging for about a month or so. I got jammed pretty bad a couple times and then got slid into at second base that aggravated it as well. We have a great training staff that helped me out a ton and made it possible to keep playing every day. I feel great now and am ready to get after it this offseason.”"
In that same interview with Lopez, he touches on how it takes him a bit to adjust to the learning curves he encounters at each promotion. This checks out, as his AA and AAA numbers improved drastically over time. The hope is that this also rings true for the MLB.
Lopez is, simply put, a gamer. He’s used that word to describe himself in the past, and it fits his style of play to a T. He shows up to the ballpark, mans second base quite well, and is blazing fast. Perhaps the Whit Merrifield-like diet Lopez is going on this winter will turn into harder-hit balls — and maybe even a few home runs — but even if that isn’t the case, he’ll be more comfortable at the plate this season. The best version of Nicky Lopez is certainly ahead.
Here’s to hoping Lopez breaks out in a big way in 2020!