In the last year, few Royals prospects have burnished their credentials more than Nicky Lopez, a fifth-round pick in 2016.
Lopez, a shortstop out of Creighton, posted a .393 on-base percentage in rookie ball in 2016, then batted .279/.348/.356 while splitting time at Class A Wilmington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas last season. And that was just the start.
Last fall, Lopez was one of the best players in the Arizona Fall League, a prestigious proving ground for top prospects. He batted .383 with a .433 on-base percentage and 1.001 OPS. Across 20 games, he hit two homers and finished with nine extra-base hits, showing more pop in his bat.
As a result, he began the season ranked as the Royals’ 11th-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and seventh-best, according to Baseball America. He’ll turn 23 next month.
The Royals believe Lopez has the defensive instincts and ability to remain at shortstop. He could also slide over to second base or offer value in a utility role.
This spring training, The Star is offering a glimpse of the Kansas City farm system. Here’s a recent Q&A with Nicky Lopez:
The Star: Let’s start here. You obviously had great numbers in the Arizona Fall League. What do you think the key was to kind of have the fall you had down here?
Lopez: I think it was just, you know, the confidence. I made some minor adjustments to my stance, my swing, and the size of the bat, and once you start seeing some production, you start getting a little bit more confidence. (You) just have fun with it. I had one of the best experiences of my baseball career down in the fall league. Just meeting all these new guys and playing with guys all over this country from different teams, and it was just a great experience overall. I think that’s what it was. Just confidence.
The Star: Yeah, people always say that some of the best prospects are down there and some of the top pitchers in the minors. It’s kind of a finishing school for players. Did that give you a little bit of confidence, knowing that some of the best prospects in baseball are playing and you’re having success?
Lopez: Oh, definitely. You hear all the big-named guys and all these MLB top-100 prospects and you hear all these, ‘This guy’s supposed to be good at that, this guy’s supposed to be good as someone.’
I started seeing some production in my game and you kind of get the confidence of, ‘I do kind of belong here,’ and it was definitely a morale boost, for sure.
The Star: You also just showed a little bit more power. You mentioned a different bat. How did you feel you kind of tapped into that?
Lopez: Actually, one of the (equipment) vendors down there, they come to every single game with bats, and I saw one and it was heavier than I usually swing, and I liked the feel of it. And I just gave it a try in BP and I liked it and I just kind of stuck with it. And now (I’m getting) a little bit more power off the bat. And then I took the offseason a little bit more seriously on the strength side. I tried to gain some weight and get a little bit more physical and show up this spring a little bit bigger and stronger and I think that, that’s what kind of led to a little bit more power than usual.
The Star: How much weight did you add?
Lopez: Like 10 to 12 pounds.
The Star: If you kind of look at your minor-league numbers, you’ve always gotten on base at a fairly high clip. Is that a skill you feel like you’ve always had? People talk about plate discipline or an approach. Is that something you feel like you’ve always had?
Lopez: You know back to my Creighton days, I kind of started realizing what type of player I was. And when I got to the professional level, that’s one thing you actually have to do, you have to know what kind of player you are, and you’ve gotta perfect the type of player you are. So no, I’m not a player who’s gonna leave the yard a ton, but I’m gonna be a player who gets on base and lets the two, three, four hitters knock me in and drive me in. And just anyway I can get on, get some walks and work the counts and just be a real leadoff hitter. Just knowing who I am as a player kind of actually helped me in the game.
The Star: Yeah, Creighton … I wanted to ask how you ended up there. There’s a lot of Royals fans in Omaha, obviously, and people in KC know Omaha well.
Lopez: Right. I’m from the Chicago area, I went to a camp my freshman year of high school (or) my sophomore year of high school. And the coach of Creighton. He was at Washington State and then went to Creighton. Me and him really hit it off. His name was Spencer Allen, and one of my family friends actually went to Creighton as well, played baseball there. He’s actually in the Detroit Tigers organization now, but I asked him: I was like, ‘How do you like Creighton and all that?’ And I went on a visit and they just gave me the best chance to play as a freshmen. Even though I played third base as a freshman in college, I wanted to play. I didn’t want to go and sit somewhere.
The Star: What were the other kind of schools that coming out of Chicago that you were looking at?
Lopez: I was looking at University of Illinois, Wake Forest, and I was looking at Central Michigan. But I kind of, when I visited Creighton, I kind of fell in love with it and all of the facilities, playing in the TD Ameritrade Park and being able to play with Coach (Ed) Servais and learn more about the defensive side of the game. He’s an unbelievable coach as an infield coach and he just taught me to be a better person and all of that. So I kind of just fell in love with Creighton and went there and I’m happy I did because it worked out.
The Star: I guess you might have a chance to spend a little time in Omaha — kind of a place you’re familiar with. Have you thought about that opportunity at all?
Lopez: I did. And, you know, if I’m there, that’s gonna be awesome because I’m really familiar with the town. I actually really love Omaha and I love the fans and I just loved everything about it and I just keep going back there every single offseason as well. So I really like Omaha. So if I’m able to go play there, that’d be awesome.
The Star: Last thing, just being in major-league camp for the first time, is there anything you want to try to get accomplished or to take from watching these guys?
Lopez: I’m just really happy to be here. It’s a great opportunity. I’m trying to pick the brain of the guys who are here, because that’s what I’m striving to do, get to the big leagues as soon as I can. So just ask some questions and then just have fun with it. It’s a great opportunity and you know, I just want to try my best and have fun with it and just take everything in because this is — not many people get to experience what I’m experiencing.