KC Royals: Nicky Lopez’s role may change this year

(Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /

The KC Royals may be compelled to alter Nicky Lopez’s role this season.

Between now and Opening Day, the Kings of Kauffman writers are analyzing how various KC Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is second baseman Nicky Lopez.

So far in spring training, Nicky Lopez has reverted to his form from last year, as he’s been quite bad at the plate. He seems unable to hit the ball consistently and hasn’t walked much. And although it’s only spring training, Lopez may be on the way out soon.

Even with his terrible spring, Lopez will probably be the starting second baseman on Opening Day, but how long will that last? Spring hasn’t treated Lopez well, as he only has a slash line of .118/.231/.147 (with a .378 OPS), which is not good, to say the least. With second base being a huge question mark for the KC Royals, Lopez’s role could change this year.

The signing of Hanser Alberto may mean Lopez switches from starter to platoon player if he struggles out of the gate. Lopez’s problem has not been his defense, as he should’ve won a Gold Glove last year by defensive metrics, but his bat is almost non-existent.

In his career, Lopez’s slash line is .228/.279/.586, bad for a player who in his college and minor league careers could hit the ball all over the field and get on base at a consistent rate even if he didn’t hit for a lot of power. Many believed Lopez could have been Kansas City’s next second baseman if Whit Merrifield moved to the outfield; so far, Lopez has not shown that.

Lopez displayed spurts of what could be for a stretch last year and was a popular pick for a breakout in the KC Royals organization as he bulked up. This year is very different as Lopez is fighting for a spot in the Opening Day lineup and a lot of fans believe this may be the last chance he gets in the majors.

FanGraphs and Baseball Reference projections for Lopez’s KC Royals season

FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) projects Lopez as a player who develops into a zero WAR player with a decent slash line of .253/.315/.346 and .661 OPS. This is similar to former KC Royal Cheslor Cuthbert; the only significant difference is Cuthbert had a higher slugging percentage and lower OBP. The biggest thing projected is that Lopez’s wOBA and wRC+ get a good increase of around 20 points each, which would further round out the Royals’ lineup if it happens.

Baseball Reference projects Lopez going back to his usual self and not producing a lot offensively (.232/.296/.333 with a .630 OPS).

What will the 2021 season hold in store for Nicky Lopez?

There are a lot of underlying questions for this season concerning Nicky Lopez. Will he be on the bench? Will he earn a place in the starting lineup? Will he get sent down to the minors for a little bit to work on his bat? The most obvious question, though, is will he be a platoon player this year? The answer is “Yes”—he’ll platoon with Hanser Alberto.

The situation will be similar to the Ryan McBroom vs. Ryan O’Hearn battle last year, as both players are fringe MLB starters who are good at a couple of things but bad at others. Lopez is an elite defensive second baseman who needs more refinement with his bat, while Alberto is better with the bat and average in the field.

If Nicky Lopez can overcome some of his bad offense, he’ll be the starter for most of the year, but he needs to be at least a little better than his previous two years. He needs to find ways to get on base more often so the KC Royals have more opportunities to score runs.

While Lopez struggled a lot last year, I believed that he was developing because he started to play a lot more “winning baseball” by making plays that helped the KC Royals win games by getting key hits to continue an inning, or making a pitcher work for an at-bat.

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Expect more of this with Nicky Lopez this season as I still believe he can break out and be a good second baseman for the KC Royals for a couple of years.