KC Royals: Nicky Lopez is poised for a breakout 2020 season

 

KC Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez struggled in his rookie season. With some added muscle, he’s setting himself up to come back much stronger in 2020.

As the KC Royals beef up for another long season, second baseman Nicky Lopez appears to be doing the same thing. Per MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan, the second-year man has added 18 pounds of muscle since the end of the 2019 season. Following a nutritional plan similar to what star utility guy Whit Merrifield implemented a few offseasons ago, Lopez is looking to improve on a so-so rookie season.

Lopez hit .240 in 2019, adding a .276 OBP and .325 SLG. Good for an OPS of just .601, his playing weight of around 165 pounds simply didn’t do him any favors in the power department. He had averaged just five home runs per season in the minor leagues, so the Royals knew they weren’t getting a power hitter. They were getting someone with on-base skills, good speed and a great arm/glove combo.

Despite battling a hand injury down the stretch of the season, Lopez’s performance improved quite a bit in September. Posting a .289/.333/.444 line, good for a .778 OPS, he flashed the hit tool that dominated in the minors. That’s a far cry from where he began the season — and in a good way.

The Merrifield diet helped him tap into some of the raw power he possessed. After hitting just a pair of home runs in his 81-game rookie season, he came back in 2017 and hit 19 of them. Since then, he’s followed that up with 12 and 16, respectively. Eating extra calories and turning it into healthy weight turned out to be the key to unlock Merrifield’s door to more upper body strength.

Lopez probably won’t ever experience a similar transformation, but he can still add a bit of power to his bat. Power doesn’t have to come via home runs. It can simply be turning some singles into doubles, hitting the gaps more often, or establishing some warning track pop. Hard contact is more difficult to defend and usually results in better numbers. Should Lopez add that threat to his game, he’ll be that much better as a result.

Next: 2020 season preview: Richard Lovelady

Expect a much better season from Nicky Lopez. It’s always taken him a bit to adjust to each new level he plays at, and that showed as the 2019 season progressed. With an entire offseason to get healthy — and get big — his best baseball is ahead of him and could begin as early as this year.

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