With the positional analysis done for catcher and first base, we now move to second base, and this is the first position at which there is at least a little possibility of a surprise.
Nicky Lopez is clearly the plan at second base entering the season. So far in his major league career, Lopez has been all about the glove. Mike Matheny and Dayton Moore love his defense. And as I said when I discussed first base, I am always in favor of a fielder being good at playing defense. Having said that, there is a need for at least some offense.
The Royals have increased their offense at other positions in the offseason. First base should be more reliable. If Salvador Perez stays healthy, the catcher position will be improved. No doubt left field will be better offensively. And the more the players around him hit, the less need there is for Lopez to be a factor offensively.
But Nicky Lopez does need to improve his on-base percentage. He had an OBP of .286 in 2020. That’s not going to cut it. He doesn’t have to hit for power, but he needs to get on base. And he needs to hit enough to supplement drawing walks.
The most likely contenders for the second base job will be Whit Merrifield and Bobby Witt if Lopez doesn’t get it. Don’t get me started on the possibility that Witt might play second base, but the Royals have told him to focus on second base, third base, and shortstop this spring and to not worry about outfield at this time.
Witt should probably be the shortstop when he is ready to play at the major league level from everything I have read and heard. Adalberto Mondesi should not play there simply because he arrived first or because of any concern that Mondesi might have an issue playing another position. The Royals could maybe shift Mondesi to the outfield to let Witt take over shortstop and possibly move Whit to second base.
And Whit Merrifield is the other player I think could end up as the second baseman. If he is there, it’s because other players have filled the outfield spots, and he is no longer needed out there. That would be ideal. I have always said that even though Whit has tons of value regardless of where he plays, the team is better with him at second base because that should mean it is stronger at other positions.
So those are the three I could see at second base this season. Nicky Lopez has the edge right now because Whit is needed in the outfield, and Bobby Witt will likely be in the minors.
There doesn’t appear to be anyone from the minor leagues other than Witt that could cause Lopez to lose the second base job this season.
The Royals hope that Lopez can improve his offense and solidify the position, but they have to have a backup plan. Lopez set a low bar offensively in 2020. Can he get away with that same lack of production in 2021? Hopefully, we will never find out.