The Royals have selected the contract of young infielder Nicky Lopez, per a club announcement. Righty Jake Newberry will be optioned to open an active roster spot; the 40-man move will be announced tomorrow.
Lopez’s ascent comes as a bit of a surprise. It was just two days ago, after all, that the club indicated it’d be utilizing Whit Merrifield primarily at second base. Instead, the veteran will be bumped into right field while Lopez will take the reins at the keystone. GM Dayton Moore explained that he and skipper Ned Yost changed course after discussing the matter over the weekend. (Via Rustin Dodd of The Athletic, on Twitter.)
The 24-year-old Lopez was taken out of Creighton in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He is known more for his sturdiness than the types of loud tools that would suggest a lofty ceiling in the majors.
Lopez’s contact ability and keen approach were on display last year, when he logged a .382 on-base percentage and walked more than he struck out in a season split between the two highest levels of the minors. Entering the current campaign, he was billed as one of the organization’s ten best prospects.
While Lopez was already very much on the radar, it’s fair to say he has raised his stock quite a bit already in 2019. He hasn’t yet added significant power — and may never do so, unless he can follow the paths of a select few others that have turned contact ability into dingers in the majors — but Lopez has taken his skillset to new heights in the early going.
Over 138 plate appearances this year for Omaha, Lopez carries a .353/.457/.500 slash line with an outlandish combination of twenty walks against just five strikeouts. (That sort of BB/K ratio is associated with the original Billy Hamilton and his contemporaries, not the active Billy Hamilton who’ll soon be Lopez’s teammate.) He has also successfully swiped nine bags in a dozen attempts, which suggests an avenue for expanding his offensive value with a club that is more willing than most to tempt fate on the base paths.