KC Royals: Why Nicky Lopez should be the 2022 shortstop

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Anything can happen between now and Oct. 3 when the KC Royals conclude their 2021 season with a home game against the Twins. Nicky Lopez, for example, could slump miserably at the plate and ruin the surprisingly excellent season he’s having.

If that doesn’t occur, something else should. As soon as this season wraps and before the Royals scatter for home, Manager Mike Matheny should sit Lopez down, congratulate him for his turnaround season and, on the spot, give him the shortstop job for 2022.

Right then and there. Deal done, giving Lopez a winter of knowing the job he did so well subbing for Adalberto Mondesi now belongs to him.

It only makes sense, even with Mondesi presumably returning this season or next and Bobby Witt Jr., a natural shortstop, likely destined for Kansas City’s Opening Day lineup.

Nicky Lopez, after all, has earned the job.

Only a few months ago, before the team broke spring camp and on the heels of Lopez’s awful 2020 (.201/.286/.266) at the plate and a terrible Cactus League performance (.118/.231/.147), the Royals informed him he wasn’t heading north with them. Instead, he’d be heading to the minors, a place he hadn’t played since his May 2019 big league debut and probably never wanted to see again. Then Mondesi suffered the first of two oblique injuries that, together with a hamstring issue, has robbed him of all but 10 games this season.

Mondesi’s misfortune put Lopez back on the road to Kansas City, and he opened the season at shortstop. His glove was immediately good, but his bat was again soft. He hit only .227 through May.

That’s when Lopez caught fire, batting .333 in June, then .338 in July. Through Friday, he’s hitting .311 with a .359 OBP since the All-Star Break, a not so small reason why the KC Royals have a post-Break record of 22-17.

Looking far more comfortable, confident, and selective in the batter’s box, Lopez has owned the club’s best batting average at times, and does so again after collecting three hits against Seattle Friday night—he’s hitting .282 to lead Whit Merrifield by a point. And he has a .353 OBP.

Just as impressive, but not at all surprising, is Lopez’s defense. He was in the Gold Glove conversation as a second baseman last season, and will be more so as a shortstop this year. Through Thursday, Lopez’s .985 fielding percentage led American League shortstops, and he’s as good defensively as Mondesi, if not better,

Lopez is having his best major league season by far. Filled with confidence in the field and at the plate, he’s found his comfort zone; if Salvador Perez wasn’t a Royal, Lopez would be the club’s hands-down MVP.

So, the Royals need to leave well enough alone at shortstop. Witt can play third base, where’s he seen occasional action this season; Mondesi can move to second, allowing Whit Merrifield to switch to the outfield, where Kansas City planned for him to play before Mondesi went down.

Mondesi could also try the outfield to reduce his chances of injury.

But wherever others play, Nicky Lopez needs to be the shortstop. He’s become a star there. As the old saying goes—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Next. KC shouldn't call up Witt Jr. or Pratto. dark

The KC Royals don’t need to choose between Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez, or Bobby Witt Jr. for their shortstop next season. Lopez deserves the job.