Whit Merrifield has built a reputation as the KC Royals’ best and most consistent player. Will that continue as he moves to center field this season?
Welcome to the continuation of Kings of Kauffman‘s 2020 KC Royals season previews. Leading up to spring training, we’ll be breaking down 30 different Royals. Our analysis will include what they accomplished last season, what to expect this season, along with any other information pertinent to the player. Today’s subject: Whit Merrifield.
Just about everyone knows Merrifield’s story by now. A ninth-round draft pick in 2010, he didn’t make his major league debut until 2016. Playing half a season’s worth of games, he put up some solid numbers and eventually took over as the full-time second baseman the following year. In 145 games in 2017, Merrifield hit .288 to go with a career-high 19 home runs.
2018 saw Merrifield put together arguably his best season yet (we’ll touch on 2019 here in a second — it was probably just as good). Not only did he lead the league in hits, but he also paced the league in stolen bases with 45. Throw in a .304/.367/.438 line and an .806 OPS, and it’s easy to see why both the team and its fans grew to love Whit.
What did he offer last season?
Merrifield played in all 162 games last season, again winning the “hit king” title with 206 on the year. He also tied with two other Royals for the lead in triples with 10. Both his slugging percentage (.463) and OPS (.811) were career-highs. Overall, it was a great year for Whit.
Because of the shuffling of the infield ahead of this year, the team announced Merrifield would be moving to center field for 2020. He was ranked a top 5 center fielder preseason before even starting the full-time job, which is a testament to the respect he garners as a super-utility player.
What should we expect in 2020?
B-Ref: .292/.343/.451 line, 35 2B, 5 3B, 16 HR, 67 RBI, .794 OPS
FG: .282/.337/.426 line, 36 2B, 6 3B, 14 HR, 64 RBI, .763 OPS
Merrifield recently turned 31, so it’s not a huge shock to see both projection systems call for a bit of a regression. Baseball-Reference’s stat line seems a lot more accurate in regards to how well he will perform, though. While the FanGraphs one is certainly still solid, Merrifield is more than a solid player. He’s a very good one, in fact.
The main worry surrounding Whit Merrifield’s 2020 season won’t be age, nor performance at the plate. It will be his defense in center field. Him playing there full-time isn’t as scary as you think, though. Nothing about Merrifield is flashy, but he works hard day in and day out, keeps a smile on his face and is good at just about everything. Seeing him repeat as the hits leader for a third-straight season wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it would be surprising to see his bat suffer much of a decline.
What do you think, KC Royals fans? Will Whit Merrifield keep up his great play in 2020? Let us know what you think in the comments below.