The Royals selected shortstop Nicky Lopez out of Creighton University with their fifth round selection and 163rd overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. He has seen plenty of success to start his pro career. Lopez debuted in Burlington where he led the Appalachian League in runs (54) and shortstop fielding percentage (.981) while drawing more walks (35) than strikeouts (30) and stealing 24 bases in 62 games. Lopez skipped the South Atlantic League and has rewarded the Royals through 41 games in his first full season in the Carolina League, where he owns a .318/.382/.451 line with seven doubles, five triples, nine steals, 18 walks and 11 strikeouts.
Lopez is not a player many people discuss when talking about the Royals’ farm system. He entered the season ranked the organization’s 24th prospect by MLB.com and unranked by Baseball America. While the Kansas City farm system is one of the weaker ones in baseball, they do have some solid depth at the shortstop position. Raul Mondesi, Corey Toups and Ramon Torres are all splitting time in Omaha, Jack Lopez and Humberto Arteaga are up the middle in Northwest-Arkansas, and high-priced international signings Jeison Guzman and Ricky Aracena waiting to go out to rookie ball soon. Marten Gasparini received the highest bonus for any player to come out of Italy in 2013 as a shortstop, but he has transitioned to the outfield with Lexington this season.
Many fans and prospect experts look at Mondesi as the Royals’ heir apparent to pending free agent Alcides Escobar at shortstop, and with good reason. The 21 year old has as high of a ceiling as anybody in this relatively thin system. But the organization has been very aggressive with Mondesi, who has yet to accumulate more than 600 minor league at-bats above high-A ball and is a career .252 minor league hitter. He was over-matched to a .095 average in 42 at bats in a brief stint as the everyday second baseman to open the season, and it is clear that he needs more seasoning in the minors before getting another look. The tools are there, especially on defense, but the Royals need to let Mondesi’s offense develop at his own pace. If he is surpassed by another player in the system in the process, so be it.
Lopez is the guy with the best chance to do that. He fits this team to a tee and what most organizations look for from up the middle players. He is a “baseball player,” meaning he will grind out at-bats, make consistent contact, use the gaps, draw walks, and steal bases, while being steady in the field. That is what the Creighton baseball program is known for, and Lopez has a chance to ultimately bring that style of play and his baseball fundamentals to the highest level as a top of the order catalyst for years to come.
Kansas City has a good amount of talent up the middle in their organization. The first name that comes to mind for most is Mondesi, but Lopez is the guy to keep an eye on as the long term answer at short.