Lopez optioned to Triple-A after tough spring

March 29th, 2021

The Royals made official what they had been signaling in the final week of Spring Training games, optioning second baseman to Triple-A Omaha on Sunday night.

Lopez hasn’t played in a Cactus League game since Wednesday. Instead, he's been working at the Royals’ complex while Whit Merrifield has taken over second base in games. Lopez hit .118 with a .378 OPS across 34 at-bats and 16 games this spring, with 13 strikeouts and five walks.

“We’ve had some conversations, knowing that we have some time to get his swing in the right place,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said Sunday. “He’s been working the last several days and has made some good strides, so we hope he continues to work hard and work on the consistent at-bats that we know he can put together.”

In two seasons with the Royals, Lopez has excelled defensively, but underwhelmed at the plate, hitting .228 with a .586 OPS across 594 plate appearances. The 26-year-old was an on-base machine in the Minors, so the Royals want him to get back to the hitter he was then, focusing on contact rather than power.

Lopez has worked this spring on simplifying his swing and staying back in his stance, while trying to apply those adjustments to game action.

“Obviously it’s not the spring I’ve been looking to have,” Lopez said on March 21. “But it’s definitely been a process where I’m learning a lot and learning about myself, and I’ve been working hard with [hitting coaches John Mabry and Terry Bradshaw]. … I feel comfortable and confident with where we’re going, we just noticed some things that would help my swing. It’s going to take some time, but we’ve been working pretty hard.

“I’d be lying to say it’s easy to stay positive during that, because you want to see some production, you want to see yourself driving balls and getting on base. But you have to take some positives out of it, know that you’re trending in the right direction and just believe in what they’re wanting me to do and what they’re asking of me is going to work. And obviously, I believe and trust them.”

The Royals have not set their 26-man Opening Day roster or their Opening Day lineup yet, but it appears that Merrifield will open the season at second base instead of right field. Matheny wouldn’t commit to naming Merrifield the starting second baseman on Sunday, but noted that he has made some solid plays there this spring.

“Whit sure looked good today,” Matheny said after Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Rockies. “Made some nice plays and some nice plays yesterday, too.”

With Merrifield potentially at second base, that opens up right field to start the season. The Royals could go a few different ways: They could shift their position players around and have Hunter Dozier in right field and Hanser Alberto as the starting third baseman. But that isn’t how it has looked in the final few Cactus League games; Dozier has started at third base, with outfield prospect Kyle Isbel in right field.

Isbel has had an excellent spring, keeping his name in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot. He smoked two balls to the outfield on Sunday -- a 105.5 mph double in the third inning and a 106.3 mph lineout in the sixth inning.

“Good at-bats,” Matheny said. “Not getting a lot of opportunities in the outfield, but every time I look up, he’s moving with the ball, in the right place. He’s got a real good sense of where he needs to be. Good baserunner, too. Just had a really good spring.”