Nicky Lopez, who entered spring training as the Kansas City Royals‘ projected starting second baseman, will begin the 2021 season in the minor leagues.
The team announced following Sunday’s exhibition win over the Colorado Rockies that it has optioned Lopez to Triple-A. But with the minor league season postponed until at least May, he’ll likely head to the Royals’ alternate training site in Springdale, Arkansas.
Lopez, 26, has flashed elite defensive skills during his two seasons in the big leagues. He had nine defensive runs saved at second base and was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. But after posting a .296 batting average with a .781 OPS during his four-year minor league career, he has struggled offensively in the big leagues. After posting a .240 average with a .601 OPS as a rookie in 2019, he regressed at the plate in 2020, hitting .201 with a .552 OPS.
Lopez was unable to get in a rhythm offensively this spring, posting a .118 average with just one extra-base hit — a double — and five walks over 39 Cactus League plate appearances.
With Lopez not making the team, Whit Merrifield is expected to begin the season as the Royals’ primary second baseman. Hanser Alberto, a non-roster invitee who has dominated left-handed pitching in recent seasons, could also see time at the position. Prospect Kyle Isbel, who remains in major league camp with only four days to go until Opening Day, could seize the starting right field job with Merrifield moving from the outfield back to second base.