Royals No. 5 prospect Loftin collects 1st hit, RBI and more in MLB debut

Perez homers twice, Lyles holds Red Sox to two runs over eight innings in win

September 2nd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Nick Loftin was inches away from his first career home run on Friday night. Instead, he settled for a double and a weightlifting session with Salvador Perez.

Making his Major League debut on Friday, Loftin, Kansas City’s No. 5 prospect, went 2-for-3 with a walk in his first plate appearance as the Royals routed the Red Sox, 13-2, at Kauffman Stadium. After Loftin’s long double for his first career hit and RBI in the third inning, Perez congratulated him in the dugout and joked with the rookie:

“Me. You. We need to get in the weight room after the game,” Perez said.

“I’ve got a big workout coming soon,” Loftin said after the game.Always a leader, Perez also showed Loftin how to get the ball over the wall. The Royals captain mashed two homers and helped rejuvenate a team frustrated by a lack of offense over a six-game losing streak. Every Royals starter logged a hit as the club scored the same number of runs Friday as it had in its previous six games combined. Kansas City kept adding on as starter Jordan Lyles shut the Red Sox down with eight innings of two-run ball.

“I think it was more so guys came in here ready to work and ready to get after it,” Bobby Witt Jr., who hit his 28th homer of the season, said. “Change some things up and get going.”

The Royals have had memorable debuts over the past two years, and Loftin’s was no different. As he prepared to DH and bat eighth on Friday, memories from the first time he played at Kauffman Stadium flooded his mind.

After the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Royals held an instructional camp that fall with several players who were at the alternate training site during the season -- top prospects and upper-level players.

And the newly drafted Loftin.

Just a few months after the Royals drafted him No. 32 overall out of Baylor, here was Loftin playing at a Major League stadium with teammates who had been playing professional baseball for years longer than he had.

“Every day during that camp I sat right here in that chair and would always look out there at the seats and just imagine what it’s like being here with a packed crowd, lots of fans, against a big league team,” Loftin said Friday. “I was very thankful for that opportunity to be able to have my very first professional games be at Kauffman Stadium.”

When Loftin stepped to the plate for the first time Friday, it at least wasn’t the first time he’s done so in Kansas City. But the nerves and adrenaline still got to him some, so as he walked to the plate in the second inning, he utilized one of his timeouts, something he normally doesn’t do.

“I wanted to make sure that when I got up there, that I was ready to go,” Loftin said. “The nerves were really flowing as I was walking to the plate. … I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to use it. I’m going to look around, remember that moment that I had.’”

After a few deep breaths, Loftin worked a walk against Red Sox starter James Paxton.

“As the [plate appearance] went on, my nerves went away,” Loftin said. “I think it does give testament to who I am as a player, knowing the zone and having that good plate discipline.”

Loftin’s identity is a contact-oriented approach, knowledge of the strike zone and occasional power – everything he showed Friday. He grades as a plus runner and steady on defense with the ability to play all over the infield and at the corner-outfield spots. The 24-year-old slashed .270/.344/.444 for a .788 OPS across 82 games in Triple-A this year.

“He knows how to spray the ball around the field, knows how to compete with the entire strike zone,” hitting coach Alec Zumwalt said. “I don’t feel like he’s a one-sided hitter. And he’s inquisitive because he wants to keep getting better. He challenges me all the time. He’s coming in with a level of maturity that most guys don’t have.”

Since coming back from a knee injury on July 15 that saw him miss a month and a half, Loftin has a .745 OPS with a 90 wRC+. The Royals could have kept him in Omaha this month to get him four to five at-bats every day to help his development.

But he needed to be added to the 40-man roster anyway this offseason because of his Rule 5 Draft eligibility. And the Royals view him as a potential key piece of the core moving forward.

“The benefit of getting Major League at-bats and getting acclimated to the day-to-day Major League routine and getting a little more comfortable here outweighs at-bats he might get at Triple-A,” Quatraro said.

As for the ball Loftin crushed Friday, he already knows where he’ll display it: next to the ball Perez signed for Loftin at Spring Training this year.

“I asked for it because I was very fortunate to go to big league camp [in 2021], and he was the first person that I saw and met,” Loftin said. “He knew me by my first name. I told him that meant a lot to me simply because I was this nobody from Baylor who got drafted by the Kansas City Royals.

“Here you go, Salvy, the captain of the Kansas City Royals, a legend, taking time to talk with me and calling me by my first name before I even shook his hand.”

Now they’re in the same lineup in Kansas City. And Perez is already thinking about helping Loftin get stronger.

“A little bit of pushups. Biceps,” Perez said. “He’s going to get a homer tomorrow.”