In a batting cage at the team complex in Surprise, Ariz., Royals prospect Nicky Lopez picked up a slightly bigger bat than he was used to and set himself up in the batter’s box.
He had meant to try this before. He and his hitting coach at Class AA Northwest Arkansas toyed with the idea of retooling his swing toward the end of the Naturals’ season in September but never got around to implementing a change.
So on one of his first days in the Arizona Fall League last month, Lopez finally closed up his stance and stood straighter at the plate. He cut the moving parts out of his approach, better balancing his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame, and took a hack at a practice pitch.
His swing was smoother. The ball jumped off the bat differently.
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Lopez, a left-handed-hitting shortstop who has always taken a contact-first approach, hasn’t turned back since.
“This seems to work the best,” Lopez said. “I’ll just keep riding this out until I have to make another adjustment. Hopefully I don’t need to.”
Entering play Friday, Lopez owned the second-best batting average (.386) and the third-highest on-base percentage (.444) in the league, which brings together some of baseball’s top prospects for about a month and a half of competition. He hit five doubles and three triples and drew five walks in 14 games.
Royals fans can get a glimpse of him and other future stars on MLB Network and MLB.com during the league’s 12th Fall Stars Game at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Lopez was chosen to the all-star roster Thursday after receiving the most fan support out of three West division candidates up for a final vote. Padres prospect Luis Urias is the other shortstop on the West team.
After being drafted in the fifth round out of Creighton as a junior and batting .281 in 62 rookie-level games last year, Lopez was promoted to Class A-Advanced Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas this season. He hit .279 with 38 RBIs and eight triples and stole 21 bases overall. He also struck out 52 times and drew 52 walks in 129 games.
Lopez has never figured himself a power hitter. In 59 games at Class AA, he slashed .259/.312/.293 with 11 RBIs. He relies on his glovework to make an impression.
“He’s got a very good idea of who he is and what his abilities are,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said of Lopez, ranked 11th among Royals prospects by the team and MLB. “He doesn’t try to do too much. The game moves a little slower for him. … He has great instincts on defense, plenty of arm strength and good traits.”
Lopez was invited to the fall league along with the following Royals minor-leaguers, who all play for the Surprise Saguaros: right-handed pitchers Jacob Bodner, Zach Lovvorn and Jared Ruxer, left-hander Matt Tenuta, catcher Nick Dini and right fielder Elier Hernandez.
The Star’s Rustin Dodd contributed to this report.