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What to know about Royals infielder Nicky Lopez

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The kid has some potential.

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Nicky Lopez has been promoted to the Royals’ roster, and while you may be excited at the prospect of someone, anyone else in the lineup other than Chris Owings, you may not know exactly who this new Nicky Lopez guy is. So let’s get to know the newest member of the Royals.

Lopez is 24-years old, stands 5’11’’, 178 lbs, and is a left-handed hitter, capable of playing second base or shortstop. He is originally from Naperville, Illinois before playing for Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, where he was selected in the fifth-round of the 2016 draft by the Royals. He was hitting .353/.457/.500 with three home runs and nine steals in 31 games for Omaha this year before his callup. Overall he hit .296/.378/.403 in four minor league seasons.

What does Nicky Lopez bring to the table?

Nicky Lopez fits perfectly with the theme of speed and defense

Lopez is a middle infielder who brings solid defense up the middle, and speed on the basepaths, exactly what the Royals are looking for in re-making their ballclub. As Royals Assistant General Manager J.J. Picollo remarked on Lopez’s quick ascension to the upper minors, “defense is what has gotten him there this fast.” While he may not make eye-popping plays at short as much as Adalberto Mondesi, he can hold his own at the shortstop position with solid fundamental play with the occasional highlight-reel play. Lopez can also run a bit, stealing 69 bases in 352 minor league games with a 73% success rate, giving the Royals yet another threat on the bases.

He hardly ever strikes out

Baseball is moving towards more and more strikeouts, but Lopez is going against the grain with a uniquely high-contact approach. Among all professional baseball players in affiliated baseball at both the minor league and Major League levels, Lopez had the second-lowest strikeout rate in the game this year, whiffing just 3% of the time. Those numbers aren’t that unique for him, as he has struck out just 8.9% of the time in his minor league career, a far cry from the rate of the average Major Leaguer this year - 23%.

But Lopez isn’t just putting the ball in play no matter what, he has a clear idea of what to do at the plate and is able to draw walks like few others in the organization. He has a 10.7% career walk rate in the minors, actually drawing more walks than strikeouts. He seems to undrestand his role as a top-of-the-order hitter is to get on base.

“I just try to get on, let my two, three, four hitters drive me in. I feel like that’s the best way to help my team win... Just work the counts, get the pitch counts up, any way to get on base.”

That high walk rate may go down in the big leagues as pitchers with better command attack him more aggressively, but Lopez shows much better pitch recognition than most players, and that could translate to Major League success better than simply having power or speed.

The kid is a total gamer

Gritty “gamers” and intangibles has become so cliche as to invite ridicule, particularly on this site, but Lopez is a good blend of intangible and skill that could increase his chances of sticking in the big leagues. Lopez has drawn rave reviews from coaches throughout his career, such as from Jamie Quirk, his manager at Wilmington a few years ago.

“The first thing that stuck out to me is I could tell he loves the game. He comes to the park every day, you can tell he’s glad to be there, wants to play, wants to compete, It’s not a grind. It will be at times, but that’s the thing that stuck out most to me was the enjoyment he has being on the baseball field, because if you don’t have that you’re in the wrong sport because it’s day in and day out for seven months.’’

That kind of attitude and attention to detail drew the eye of Ned Yost in spring training.

Lopez can usually be found at the top step of the dugout during Cactus League games observing an opponent, whether it’s Trout or another team’s minor-leaguer. While starters head for the clubhouse after they leave a spring-training game, Lopez usually sticks around all nine innings.

“He knows that if he stays,” Yost said, “there may be one little thing that he can pick up that will make him better.”

And of course, you know Dayton Moore loves those kind of intangibles.

He’s a fan favorite. Our players adore him. The coaches love putting his name in the lineup. He plays with energy. He has a lot of fun. He’s got talent. He’s got ability.

He is by all accounts, a super guy

Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star has collected a few accounts of Lopez’s generosity, not only with teammates, but with fans. Hey, he made this kid’s day.

And he’s saying all the right things.

Lopez sounds like an easy guy to root for. Welcome to the show, Nicky.

What do you expect out of Nicky Lopez this year?