KC Royals: 3 players who must not fail this season

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /
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KC Royals, Whit Merrifield
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Their most versatile player must give the KC Royals his best in 2021.

There is no more valuable an asset in the KC Royals’ personnel inventory than Whit Merrifield. Entering his sixth major league season, Merrifield is the most uniquely versatile player on the club, and probably the major leagues.

Since making his big league debut in 2016, and despite considerable sentiment to trade him for a passel of prospects before his marketability wanes, Merrifield has played only for the Royals, and almost everywhere on the diamond at that. While he’s spent more time at second base than any other position, he’s done everything else except catch, pitch or play shortstop.

Playing so many positions hasn’t hurt Merrifield’s performance. He’s led the majors (or tied for the lead) in hits, at-bats and games played twice, and triples and steals once. His career line of .295/.342/.444 is excellent. He’s hit at least .300 two times, clubbed 10 or more home runs in three of his five campaigns, and hasn’t posted an average below last year’s .282.

He’s the guy Ned Yost, and now Mike Matheny, can pencil in anywhere on the lineup card and not give the decision a second thought. Merrifield responds well no matter where he plays and regardless of his position in the order.

So it is that, as the Royals try to take their next step toward renewed relevancy, Merrifield is so critical. Although the club expects Andrew Benintendi, their new lefthanded bat, to ease the pressure on Nicky Lopez’s weak lefty hitting, it won’t be permanently patient with their second baseman if his offense continues to slide. Merrifield, who probably plays second better than any other position, is the first and most logical choice to play there if Lopez falters.

Merrifield appears slated for right field; fortunately, he plays center and left well, too, and may have to step into center if Michael A. Taylor doesn’t hit well enough to keep the job. And he can move seamlessly to either position if Taylor, or Benintendi in left, are injured or need time off.

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Assuming Major League Baseball’s plans to play a full 162-game schedule don’t go awry, Kansas City may need to rely on Merrifield’s versatility even more than in the past—with 60 games (at most) under their belts from last season, players face increased injury risk as they try to acclimate themselves to far more playing time. Merrifield could find himself playing more positions more often.

Simply put, Whit Merrifield may now be more important to the club than ever.

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Judging from their offseason activity, the KC Royals intend to win now. Brady Singer, Carlos Santana and Whit Merrifield are critical to accomplishing that goal.