The KC Royals may have their best infield ever when the 2022 season begins.
When the Royals broke spring camp and headed north for Opening Day late last March, they lugged with them infield issues they hadn’t planned on. The first of three injuries that stole much of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi’s season forced KC to recall weak-hitting Nicky Lopez to fill in at short, scuttled plans to move Whit Merrifield from second base to right field, and caused the early promotion of Kyle Isbel to try his hand in right.
Now, its infield is the least of Kansas City’s worries as the club prepares for 2022. Next season’s might be the best infield in team history.
Combined with his great glove, Nicky Lopez’s surprising (shocking?) season at the plate makes him a lock at shortstop, a position he’s earned the right to call his own.
Or, the Royals could move Lopez back to second to make room at short for either Mondesi or Bobby Witt Jr., although the better choice, considering Mondesi’s troubling injury history and Witt’s athleticism, is to leave Lopez where he is and install Witt as the new third baseman.
That scheme allows Merrifield to remain at second, his best position, and Mondesi to rotate between the left side of the infield (he’s played third, short and second in the majors) and DH and to take an occasional turn in the outfield.
First base is the only cause for concern. Carlos Santana fields the position well enough, and his 19 homers prove he still has power, but his terrible .214/.319/.342 2021 line must improve. If it doesn’t, Nick Pratto may be ready to step in after slamming 36 homers, driving in 98 runs, and posting a .988 OPS across Double and Triple-A.
Any way you cut it, and no matter who plays where, a talent-loaded infield gives KC fans every reason to feel good.