Whit Merrifield made his major league debut on May 18, 2016 the year after the Kansas City Royals had won their first World Series in 40 years. Whit finished the season playing in 81 games and the Royals finished at .500 with an 81-81 record. Just as fast as the Royals rose to the top, they started their slide back down to the bottom as key veterans and free agents moved on from the 2014-15 run that saw KC win 184 regular season games with back-to-back World Series appearances.
In 2018 and 2019 the Royals won only 58 and 59 games respectively and Whit was leading baseball in the hits category finishing with 192 in 2018 and 206 in 2019. However, Whit’s expectations have never changed heading into a season.
Merrifield talks about the young core of pitchers led by the rising star Brad Keller and the veteran presence of Danny Duffy. In the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, we got a look at Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, both first round draft picks in 2018. Both took their lumps, but both showed the potential that could lead to solid 2021 numbers for both young arms.
The Royals also went out and acquired more offense. Instead of giving their young pitchers more time to develop, Merrifield says it’s encouraging to see ownership be aggressive when many teams take a different approach of rebuilding.
Early in the offseason, the Royals picked up centerfielder Michael A. Taylor, then came the signing of first baseman Carlos Santana, a 26-homer, 86 RBI producer. Then late in the winter, a trade bringing in Andrew Benintendi who brings defense, speed and the potential for a high average bat to replace the perennial Gold Glover Alex Gordon.
The Royals lineup could look like this:
Adalberto Mondesi (led the league in triples in 2019 and stolen bases in 2020)
Whit Merrifield (hits leader for two straight seasons)
Jorge Soler (led AL with 48 HRs in 2019)
Then the 8 and 9 hitters with second base still up for grabs and Taylor in CF.
Merrifield says if Benintendi and Santana are patient, he and Mondi can use their speed to create havoc on the base paths and pressure opposing pitching early.
Whit’s expectations have always been to make the postseason, but now with a young nucleus ready to prove their big league ready and a new ownership group in John Sherman providing the tools needed, Merrifield says it’s time for everyone to get on board.