CLEVELAND -- Get ready for a new and improved, and much stronger, Nicky "Shorts" Lopez next February.
The Royals’ rookie middle infielder, vows to go on a Whit Merrifield-like offseason training program once this season ends.
In case you’ve forgotten, in the offseason of 2015, Merrifield, feeling he needed to get substantially stronger for a better shot of making the big leagues, went on a bizarre training program. It included eating seven meals a day (thousands of calories) with multiple workouts a day. It was grueling, but Merrifield stuck with it, and he went from 175 pounds to 195, adding mostly upper body strength. That transformation has turned him into one of the top offensive weapons in MLB.
“I told [Merrifield], I want to do it and to send me that diet plan,” Lopez told MLB.com. “It worked for him. Hopefully it will work for me.”
Merrifield had a word of caution.
“I’m glad he’s interested in it,” Merrifield said. “He needs it and he knows it. But it involves a lot of working out with weights and training. It was tough. But I’m happy he wants to do it.”
Lopez, who is 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, said he plans on heading to Arizona immediately after the season ends.
“I’m going to go straight to the facility,” Lopez said. “I want to get stronger. I'm going to work out with trainers down there. I’m excited to get there and attack it, and come back even stronger and better next year.”
The goal, Lopez said, is to add 10 or so pounds of upper body strength. One thing Lopez has learned since being called up from Triple-A Omaha in May is that to show some offensive pop in the big leagues requires more muscle. He entered Saturday's game against the Indians with just a .305 slugging percentage and a .574 OPS.
“I’ll never be a guy who leaves the yard on a consistent basis,” he said, “but I want to be able to drive the ball to the gaps consistently.”
Lopez’s offensive issues don’t stem solely from a low slugging percentage. The hitter he was in the Minors, the one who consistently put the ball in play and who had a 4-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio this season at Omaha, hasn’t showed up in the Majors. That, of course, is not unusual for a rookie learning the ropes.
Lopez had struck out 43 times in 308 at-bats and walked just 15 times entering Saturday.
“It’s not what I did in the Minor Leagues, but in time I’ll get better,” Lopez said. “I have to get adjusted in this league.
“The more you do your homework up here, the pitchers do more. You have to make more adjustments up here than in the Minors. It’s been tough because I’ve never faced these pitchers before. It’ll get better the more I see them, second time around. You can get a personal book on them.”
And Lopez said he has always struggled with each jump to a higher level in baseball. He hit .295 at Class A Advanced Wilmington, but he dropped to .259 his first time through Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The next season, he hit .331 at Northwest Arkansas, but he dropped to .278 at Omaha.
“Every go-around in the Minors, I struggled a little bit with each jump,” he said. “But then I came around as I was there longer. Next year, I’ll improve on it here.”