The 2010s were a decade filled with memorable moments as a Royals fan. The Wild Card game, back-to-back League Championships, a World Series win. Good times were had by all Royals fans. There are a number of players who one could argue are or were “the face” of the Royals throughout that time. Gordon, Cain, Hosmer, Moose, and a number of others could all arguably be the ones to hold that title.
But the current face of the Royals, the one who has endured and continues to perform at a high level is Salvador Perez. Perez is having a good year at the plate so far (.307/.326/.511, good for a 123 wRC+, his best since his abbreviated 39 game season in 2011), and continues to display good defense behind the plate.
But Salvy’s time with the Royals is coming to an end soon. Hard as it is to imagine, barring an extension that is likely ill advised (Salvy is getting old, catchers don’t typically age gracefully, and he’s not a good enough hitter for 1B or DH), next season will be his last season with the Royals.
Given that there will soon be nobody left from that fateful 2015 squad (exception being Mondesi and his pinch-hit in the World Series), and new names emerging as the hope for the future in Singer, Kowar, Lacy, Witt Jr, I believe the next face of the Royals is already on the Royals this season: Nicky Lopez.
Of course, defining who the “face” of a team is is entirely subjective. Currently I would argue that Salvy and Whit hold that title, with Gordon and Duffy coming in close behind. But Nicky Lopez is starting to show why he belongs in the majors, and I believe his success will propel him to the forefront.
But why Nicky Lopez? First, he’s only 25 and about to enter what will likely be his peak. He’s also a skilled defensive player, which is something that the Royals have prided themselves on. While his batting line this season (.250/.339/.365) is nothing spectacular and roughly a league-average line, he is walking nearly 12% of the time, something that will likely allow him to hit high in the order in the coming years.
Lopez has never been a power hitter, that’s not his game. His minor league batting line of .296/.378/.403 paints the picture of a hitter who doesn’t strike out, puts the ball in play and takes walks when they are given, striking out a total of 139 times through 6 seasons while walking a total of 167 times. Lopez will become the lead off hitter the Royals always hoped Escobar would be.
The next few years of Royals baseball is likely to be similar to the early 2010s, with a lot of growing pains, hard losses and disappointment. Hopefully the end result will be a championship caliber team with Lopez leading off as the table-setter and the face of the Royals. I may be alone in this belief, but I stand by it.