KANSAS CITY -- It's not often a player can go from leading the Major Leagues in stolen bases one season to perhaps being only the fourth-best base stealer on his own team the next.But that may be the case for Royals budding star Whit Merrifield, who led the Majors in
KANSAS CITY -- It's not often a player can go from leading the Major Leagues in stolen bases one season to perhaps being only the fourth-best base stealer on his own team the next.
But that may be the case for Royals budding star Whit Merrifield, who led the Majors in hits (192) and stolen bases (45) in 2018.
But with the emergence of shortstop Raul Mondesi, who stole 32 bases in less than half a season in 2018, and the additions of blazers Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore, Merrifield will be hard-pressed to again lead his own team in steals, let alone the Majors.
And Merrifield is totally OK with that.
"The more speed, the better," Merrifield told MLB.com by phone Wednesday. "It will help all of us offensively to have that much speed on the bases. All you have to do is distract the pitcher a little, and it will help the hitter. We're going to have that all over the place next season."
Merrifield envisions a Royals team that could easily steal 200-250 bases in 2019. And that could translate into many more RBIs for Merrifield, who in his first full season in '17 drove in 78 runs despite hitting mostly from the top of the order.
"There's no question: I like hitting with men on base," Merrifield said. "And when you have guys with speed on base, it just opens up so many opportunities for you."
Royals manager Ned Yost wasn't giving any hints at the recent Winter Meetings where he might hit Hamilton, the speedy new center fielder, in the lineup. The Reds primarily put Hamilton toward the end of the order, and if Yost uses the same strategy, it could help Merrifield not only in terms of RBIs but with his on-base/batting average as well. Merrifield, a highly proficient hit-and-run candidate, hit .304 last season, a number that could spike with Hamilton prancing around the bases.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Merrifield said. "Plus you've got Mondi hitting behind me, and that's a lot for the opposing pitchers and defenses to account for.
"It would be great if guys like Gordo (Alex Gordon) and Salvy (Salvador Perez) could be in position to drive in 100 runs or so. It's very possible. Gordo already is the best defensive left fielder in the game, and if he continues the offensive resurgence he had last year, we could have a really productive lineup. With him and Salvy and [Jorge] Soler, I mean, no one can hit a ball farther than Soler."
Royals officials have theorized that Gore, even if just used as a late-game pinch-runner, could get 100 or so opportunities in a full season to steal bases. If Gore were to get 70 steals, and Merrifield gets 40-50, and Hamilton and Mondesi get 60-70, it's easy to see where that projection of 200-250 team steals comes into play.
"We could have an offense that would be hard to contend with," Merrifield said.
Merrifield is realistic about 2019, especially for a team coming off 104 losses. But he also sees hope.
"I like what our young pitchers were able to do last season," Merrifield said. "If we get a couple of guys who suddenly break through, whether it's in the rotation or the bullpen, we could sneak up on some teams. I don't think a lot of people are thinking too much about us.
"But, at least in the clubhouse, we know there is talent there. We know how good we can be. We have weapons on offense. We have that potential with the pitching staff. I think it will be really important for us to get off to a good start - that's what kind of killed us last year. But if we get off to a good start, hey, you don't know what can happen in our division."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.