2. Nicky Lopez, IF
Nicky Lopez played in over 100 games for the KC Royals last year. My bet is that we see a different Lopez at the plate this season.
There is no sugar-coating 2019 for Nicky Lopez. He struggled in his first taste of big-league baseball. He struck out over 13 percent of the time. He walked in less than 5 percent of his plate appearances. It was downright brutal, at times.
The good news is that Nicky Lopez has a strong track record of figuring out each level of baseball. Nicky was actually moved up sooner than many expected last season. Mostly because it became clear that he had figured AAA baseball out. Through 88 games in the Pacific Coast League, he had taken 47 walks and only 34 strikeouts.
He walks more than he strikes out. That is almost unheard of in today’s game. I am fairly certain that some people in the KC Royals organization are not even aware that is legal.
Lopez is also an excellent defender. He is a natural shortstop that can cover second-base without any issues. He has quick footwork and a sure glove and is fun to watch play defense. The video below is a good one to get an idea of how Nicky patrols the shortstop position.
The only concern with Nicky is whether he can hit enough to justify playing him at second base. The most home runs Lopez has ever hit in a season is seven. So, he is not going to become a power hitter. But I would expect him to get on base in 2020.
There were some signs that Nicky has begun to figure out how to get on base over the last month of the 2019 season. He hit over .280 and got on base in a third of his plate appearances. That is also the player we have seen work his way through the minors.
The reason Nicky Lopez is being overlooked for 2020 is that his 2019 season was really bad. He struggled to make any kind of decent contact. His hard-hit percentage was barely twenty-five percent. He will have to learn how to barrel up the ball better. Much of that, though, will be just getting used to seeing major league pitching. He has had adjustment periods at other levels. He has always figured out how to stop striking out and start getting on base. I would be surprised if we did not see his numbers turn around for 2020.