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Inbox: Early thoughts on N. Lopez, 1B, Matheny

February 21, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Cactus League schedule is underway, and the Royals will have a ton of evaluating to perform over the next five weeks.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Cactus League schedule is underway, and the Royals will have a ton of evaluating to perform over the next five weeks.

There are 68 players in camp, 39 of those pitchers. And there are precious few spots available on the 26-man roster so the competition should be intense, especially for bullpen spots.

With that, let’s get to your questions for this week’s Royals Inbox.

Second baseman Nicky Lopez, who added about 18 pounds of muscle, mostly in the upper body, has told me he is noticing much more pop in his swing this spring. That was evidenced by his home run during the intrasquad game Thursday, and his impressive turns during batting practice. Lopez hit two opposite-field homers during one BP session earlier this week. Lopez looks noticeably bigger, and so far the results at the plate are encouraging.

New manager Mike Matheny has raved about Ryan O'Hearn’s potential going all the way back to the Winter Meetings. The feeling here is that the first-base job probably is O’Hearn’s to lose. The organization is high on Ryan McBroom as well, and there is a chance both could make the team -- McBroom can play some outfield as well. Hunter Dozier will play mostly right field but he, along with catcher Salvador Perez, could see some time at first base.

Notes: Friends to battle at 1B; Lopez bulks up

It’s obviously way early but I think there’s a decent chance both make the team. Trevor Rosenthal has more velo (upper 90s) but both he and Greg Holland have had the same issues -- command. Both would be great additions to the clubhouse -- they are fiery competitors who would be excellent mentors.

It’s only been two weeks, and this shouldn’t be perceived as any type of criticism of Ned, but the intensity level seems higher this camp. And part of that just could be that the players are trying to impress a new boss. Our private beat writer sessions have a different tone than those we had with Ned. Matheny has a sense of humor, and it comes out in our sessions, but there’s just no hint of sarcasm, which was kind of Ned’s endearing trait. And no, Matheny hasn’t once made fun of my attire. Yet.

It would be surprising if Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar didn’t make their MLB debuts this season. The Royals aren’t rushing either, but getting to the big leagues at some point in 2020 is a planned part of their development. Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch are just a tick behind on their development timeline and both need to make the next step to Double-A Northwest Arkansas and perform well there. Lynch also is coming off some shoulder issues in 2019 but seems fine now.

The Royals’ coaching and medical staffs’ top priority with Adalberto Mondesi, who is coming off shoulder surgery last fall, is to monitor his work volume here in camp, and then perhaps during the regular season as well. The goal obviously is to get him through a full season without going on the injured list. The Royals are trying to emphasize to Mondesi the importance of playing smarter with his body -- in other words, stay aggressive, but no unnecessary diving. That’s a story we’ll be keeping an eye on all season.

Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred believe both Glenn Sparkman and Jorge López are better suited for the bullpen because it will force a sense of urgency in each of them to stay on the attack from the get-go. Sparkman likely will experience a few ticks up in velocity in shorter stints and could hit 96-97 mph regularly. López probably will be stretched out a little more but he, too, needs to stay on the attack -- as a starter, López often tried to pace himself more. The same was true of Sparkman. Matheny said he was blown away by López’s first career save in Cleveland last year when López was dominant and on the attack in a 1-2-3 inning.

The sense I get is that the players have a lot of respect for Matheny already, and also maybe are even a little intimidated. I’ve had several players tell me that Matheny has an unmistakable presence to him (I can sense that, too). What strikes you about Matheny is that there is always a tremendous amount of thought that goes into everything he says. He’s very deliberate that way. But as I mentioned before, he does have a sense of humor that comes through in our daily private sessions.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.