Poor springs by two players could scramble the KC Royals’ 2021 plans.
Defensively, they leave little, if anything, to be desired. But because their soft bats don’t allow much margin for error, second baseman Nicky Lopez and center fielder Michael A. Taylor may be the least untouchable players in the Kansas City lineup. A dreadful spring by either could change things dramatically for the Royals.
Lopez’s glove is almost flawless; a strong argument can be made that he should have won a Gold Glove last season. His four-year work at the plate in the minors was good—he never dropped below .279 and hit a full-season best .308 in 2018—but has deteriorated so much in two big league campaigns that talk of him platooning, or worse, is open and frequent. His average dropped 39 points last season and he slashed .201/.286/.266 with a 53 OPS+.
Taylor is, at least for now, a slightly better hitter than Lopez, but his career .237/.291/.395 line and 80 OPS+ aren’t what everyday KC Royals centerfielders typically post. Fortunately, his defense is more than just passable.
Considering the wealth of young and minor league pitching they’ll face in the Cactus League, dreadful springs by both players are improbable. But if the bats of either (or both) are unacceptable, the club may have to make moves. Whit Merrifield can step into one of their slots if Lopez or Taylor flop, but he can’t replace both. And moving presumptive right fielder Merrifield to another spot will rock the entire lineup: Hunter Dozier can move to right, but not without leaving third base open, and the Royals simply don’t have another proven third baseman or outfielder.
Chances are Lopez and Taylor won’t have such bad springs that the Royals feel compelled to move in a different direction. After all, spring training play isn’t usually a good measure of immediate future performance. But if either collapses at the plate, things could change quickly for the Royals, and probably not for the better.