'Who are you?' KC prospect packs on 27 pounds
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- As the Triple-A season was winding down last year, Nick Loftin felt his strength and power diminishing. Baseballs he smoked were dying in the air and dropping into outfielders’ gloves. His production waned, and the wear and tear on his body was apparent.
So, Loftin entered the offseason with one goal in mind: Get stronger.
This is a common concept in baseball, and it isn’t new for Loftin. Every offseason, he gains weight, but he never maintains it, losing it as soon as Spring Training starts with the added baseball activity.
This offseason was different. And when Loftin’s teammates began to trickle into Arizona for workouts last month, there were some who didn’t recognize him. Scouts have asked who’s playing third base during Cactus League games.
Adding 27 pounds will do that.
“To have teammates come back and be like, ‘Dude, who are you? What did you do?’ has been awesome,” Loftin said. “I didn’t necessarily want to change the narrative, but I wanted to do something that could help with what I do best: Hit a baseball. If I can continue to do what I do at the plate, win every pitch, put the ball in play, with this added muscle, who knows what could happen?”
Loftin, the Royals’ No. 4 prospect, is known for his athleticism, his bat-to-ball skills and his versatility. He has good awareness of the strike zone and could be a true utility man who gets 500 at-bats. He hit 17 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year, with a .736 OPS, but his power potential has been a question mark.
His added weight this offseason was not meant to turn him into a home run hitter, but it was meant to keep him strong at the end of a long season. Loftin began this offseason with a blood test that showed him what nutrients he lacked, among other things.
Then he worked with the Royals’ strength, sports science and sports nutrition personnel in Arizona to create a training plan.
“We have Nick’s trends from over the years and know how he typically responds to higher volume and higher intensities,” Royals director of sports nutrition Erika Wincheski said. “We sat down and talked through all of it. We know when his volumes go up, he has a harder time maintaining weight, and his strength goes down. So let’s attack that and have a focus on it.”
The motto was: "More."
More heavy lifting. More mobility work.
And more food. Specifically, more carbohydrates. Steak, chicken, rice and pasta helped Loftin keep up the calories he was burning in the cages, the weight room and the conditioning field.
“If you’re going to drive your car a lot, you need more fuel,” Wincheski said. “Same kind of concept for him. If he’s working harder one day, he needs more fuel. And he immediately saw very consistent results all offseason.”
After one month of "more," Loftin crushed his goal of 190 pounds. He kept going and reached 205 before settling at 200, which he’s maintained since the start of big league camp. He also made a small change to his swing, getting rid of his toe tap and adopting a small leg kick, which helps him simplify the load in his swing and be on time with pitchers more consistently.
The results have been eye-opening.
On Saturday, Loftin hit his first spring homer to the left-field berm at Surprise Stadium, with an exit velocity of 107 mph. Loftin can’t remember a time he’s hit a ball that hard, if ever.
On Wednesday, Loftin laced a two-run double into the gap off Rockies closer Daniel Bard. Both hits were off sliders, a pitch Loftin has had trouble with before.
“I’ve noticed even in BP, I’ve hit balls over the center-field wall that I’ve never done before,” Loftin said. “It’s really cool to see. I’m not chasing them, that’s not who I am, but if I can continue to hit the ball hard, good things can happen. It’s brought a lot of confidence.”
The most encouraging part for Loftin and the Royals is that the added weight hasn’t taken Loftin away from his strengths. He’s bigger but moving better than ever, reaching sprint speeds consistently that he’s only reached periodically before. And he’s more explosive, which has made his defense better at third base -- the position he could wind up playing in the Majors as soon as this year.
“I’m not here to win a spot right now, I’m here to win pitches,” Loftin said. “And if I can win every single pitch, everything else will take care of itself. And hopefully I’ve set myself up to be more powerful when the grind of everyday baseball starts to wear on you, to stay strong through the latter half of the season.”