Around the horn: Mixing, matching at second base

January 19th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

One of the main things we learned about manager Matt Quatraro and his staff in their first season coaching the Royals last year was that they love to move their players around and play the matchups against opposing pitchers.

Case in point: The Royals used 158 different lineups during their 162-game season last year.

Second base is one position at which the Royals can maximize their versatility, because they have several players who can fill in there. There will be plenty of competition for the position in Spring Training.

That’s where we’ll start with this installment of our around the horn series.

Projected starter: Michael Massey
Massey is the incumbent, and he’ll get a chance to retain the starting role in Spring Training. The 25-year-old had quite the roller coaster of a season last year and finished with a slash line of .229/.274/.381 with 15 home runs and 18 doubles. Massey posted just a 5.2% walk rate paired with a 21.5% strikeout rate. There’s clearly power in his offensive profile, and his defense is solid, as he posted 3 outs above average last season and developed good rapport with shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. up the middle.

That said, it won’t be surprising for Quatraro to mix and match at second base. Massey is a lefty, and the two backup options listed below are righties.

Backup options: Garrett Hampson, Nick Loftin
Hampson and Loftin can play multiple positions, something that only helps the Royals. Hampson is viewed as more of a shortstop and center-field option. Loftin can handle the corner infield and outfield. But both could see time at second base.

The Royals signed Hampson to be a bench option at several positions and add a righty bat to the lineup. He greatly increased his on-base percentage last season with the Marlins and is a contact hitter with speed -- eyeing an abundance of doubles in Kauffman Stadium. Loftin, the Royals’ No. 5 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, had a strong showing in a small sample in the Majors last year. He batted .323 with an .803 OPS in 19 games while playing second, third and first base. He has an average hit tool, but his athleticism lets his tools play up. The Royals envision him as a true utility player, which Loftin seems to embrace. The next challenge for the 25-year-old is to sustain his performance over a full season, where he’ll encounter more ups and downs.

Maikel Garcia, who likely will be the starting third baseman, could play second, if needed.

Question to answer: Who will step up? 
As important as versatility is, and as much as the Royals value playing the matchups and using their different options on different nights, most would say it’s better to have a starter they can rely on consistently at each position. Will that person emerge this year? 

The Royals would love to see more out of Massey or see Loftin break into the Majors with a bang. Hampson could prove to be a savvy signing if he continues his play from last year over a full season. Either way, seeing whether they have a second baseman of the future could be a goal of the Royals’ 2024 season.

Who else is in the Pipeline?
The Royals have enough depth at second base with utility players in the Majors, and there aren’t any big-name prospects they need to make room for this year. , their No. 27 prospect, had a strong year in Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2023 before finishing it in the Arizona Fall League. He could be back at Double-A to start the season or open it in Triple-A Omaha.

Kansas City will have second-base depth in Omaha, with Cam Devanney and Devin Mann there. Both can play all around the infield, and both were invited to Spring Training as non-roster invitees. Devanney was part of the return the Royals got from the Brewers for Taylor Clarke in a trade last month; he posted an .823 OPS for Triple-A Nashville last season and played first, second, third and shortstop. Mann was part of the Ryan Yarbrough trade with the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline last season. Nate Eaton has big league experience. Although he mainly plays outfield, he can fill in at second or third base.