KC Royals: Whit Merrifield could lead his team to contention

KC Royals (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
KC Royals (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

This KC Royals veteran may finally get a chance to lead his team to the postseason.

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 super-utility man Whit Merrifield.

There are a couple of players on the KC Royals roster that really need no introduction. One who has put himself on the top is Whit Merrifield. There are plenty of leaders around the clubhouse for every team, but all around, Merrifield has moved into one of the top spots seamlessly and for a good reason.

Some may have wondered if Merrifield would ever get his chance. He was drafted by the Royals in the 9th round of the 2010 draft from the University of South Carolina and got to work in Single-A that same year.

He didn’t waste much time, climbing the ranks each season and finally hitting Triple-A in 2014, but this is where he stalled for a moment. He put up decent numbers in 2015 in the minors, but they were down just a bit than in previous seasons. Still, he pushed through.

Finally, in 2016 he got his chance. Merrifield saw 81 games in the majors in 2016 and things have been different ever since. In that 2016 season, he impressed with a slash of .283/.323/.392, adding 2 home runs, 22 doubles, and 29 RBIs.

Things only got better in 2017. He slashed .288/.324/.460 with 19 home runs, 32 doubles, and 78 RBIs. He also stole an American League-leading 34 bases. He followed these numbers up with another outstanding season in 2018, slashing .304/.367/.438, hitting 12 home runs, 43 doubles, and 60 RBIs. He also led the major leagues in steals with 45 and hits with 192.

Still, Merrifield wasn’t done making his name known. In 2019, he played a full 162 games, slashing .302/.348/.463 with 16 home runs, 41 doubles, and 74 RBIs. He also led major leagues in games played, at-bats (681), hits for the second year in a row (206), and tied for the lead in triples (10).

While 2020 could be seen as a bit of a down year for Whit, he still put up impressive numbers. He over the 60 game season, he slashed .282/.325/.440 and added 9 home runs, 12 doubles, and 30 RBIs.

What makes all of this even more impressive is that Whit doesn’t just play one position. While he has typically seen one spot more than others in any given year, it’s not out of the question to see him jump around from both the infield to the outfield.

Whit seems to be able to do just about anything, and he will do whatever he can to help his team. This is why he has become the leader he is. Not only because he is an outstanding player, but because he knows what he has to do for his team to get them back to the postseason again.

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Merrifield’s 2021 season

It’s likely difficult to project what Whit Merrifield will do as he continuously surprises everyone. Baseball Reference and FanGraphs do their best though. Baseball Reference has Whit slashing .284/.340/.432, adding 15 home runs, 32 doubles, 64 RBIs, and 24 stolen bases.

FanGraphs is fairly similar, projecting Merrifield to slash .281/.331/.428, with 16 home runs, 35 doubles, 65 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases.

What will the 2021 season actually hold for Whit Merrifield and the KC Royals?

When Whit Merrifield is at the plate, there is sure to be some excitement and more than likely multiple hits in each game. Merrifield has made a habit of getting hits and it’s likely he is one of the few in the Royals lineup that pitchers don’t like to face.

2021 holds an unknown for Merrifield though that mostly surrounds where he will play a majority of the season. It was expected he would return to the outfield but things have changed now. Nicky Lopez was originally optioned to the alternate site but was called back up today as Adalberto Mondesi was put on the injured list.

While this could see Merrifield moving to second while Lopez takes over at shortstop, there is plenty up in the air at the moment.

He could also always stay in the outfield and another combination of players be used, but with Kyle Isbel making an impression in spring training, there is a chance Whit could give up his outfield spot to get the young outfielder some work.

Either way, Whit will make the best of it. If he does see continuous movement to begin the season, the projection numbers above could be fairly accurate. While most would take those numbers any year, they still seem a bit low for what Merrifield has done in past seasons. Moving around the field, though, can be tough on anyone causing his numbers to be a little lower than desired.

Without a doubt, though, Whit will still lead the Royals. Along with players like Salvador Perez, Merrifield will have to guide the many young and new players they have through the majors, and with the group of talent the Royals have right now, maybe even through the postseason.

Expect more greatness from Merrifield. He will continue to hit and be a terror on the basepath along with making plays on defense. It’s time for Merrifled to fully take the reigns for Kansas City and lead them back to contention.

Next. KC Royals: Why Andrew Benintendi belongs here. dark

Whit Merrifled will still be good in 2021, there is no doubt there. With the new and young players in Kansas City, he may be able to lead this team back to a winning season.