Royals utilityman Whit Merrifield racked up a career-high 39 outfield appearances a year ago, but he’s probably not going to approach that total this season. The Royals are wary of the physical toll that the outfield could take on Merrifield and will try to keep him at his primary position, second base, as much as possible, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com and Rustin Dodd of The Athletic explain.
While Merrifield has already accrued 11 outfield appearances this season, he hasn’t played there since April 11, Flanagan notes. In the Royals’ estimation, the decision to keep Merrifield out of the grass has likely helped him continue his impressive run of durability this season. Merrifield logged 303 of a possible 324 appearances from 2017-18, including 158 of 162 last year, and has been present in all 40 of the Royals’ games in 2019.
Unlike last year, when he was by far the brightest light on a 58-win team, Merrifield’s one of several standouts on this season’s club. At 14-26, the rebuilding Royals are still looking way up toward the majors’ contending teams, but Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi, Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler are among offensive regulars who have joined Merrifield in providing reasons for optimism. Merrifield, who’s a few months removed from signing a team-friendly extension, is slashing .294/.352/.531 (131 wRC+) in his age-30 season with 20 extra-base hits (eight doubles, six homers and six triples), seven steals and just 27 strikeouts in 180 plate appearances.
Between Merrifield and Mondesi, Kansas City’s infield looks as if its locked down for the near and long term, which will have ramifications on other members of the organization. For instance, those two are blocking hot-hitting middle infield prospect Nicky Lopez, whom general manager Dayton Moore spoke about Saturday.
“There’s nobody left to call up right now [where] there’s a chance to play every day,” Moore said. “What I will say is that yes, we’re very excited about Nicky Lopez and he will have a bright future on this team, we hope.”
The 24-year-old Lopez has hit an eye-opening .363/.463/.513 (151 wRC+) with three homers and nine steals in 134 PA with Triple-A Omaha, all while drawing 20 walks and striking out just five times. Still, if we’re to believe Moore, a promotion isn’t imminent.