Kansas City Royals: Whit Merrifield Needs to be Everyday Starter

The Kansas City Royals are plugging holes all over their lineup but at second base, it is not because of injury. Poor play by the starter has given Whit Merrifield a chance to play.

Injuries to some of their best players have caused the Kansas City Royals to dip into their minor league system to fill the voids left by Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas.

Players like Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner (until he too suffered an injury) have taken up the slack and breathed new energy back into the ballclub.

Players like Paulo Orlando and Drew Butera, who is filling in for the injured Salvador Perez, have also provided a boost to the Royals.

One player recently promoted, though, needs to be named the starter and should be treated like a starter. Whit Merrifield looks like a major upgrade over veteran Omar Infante.

Defensively, Infante looks slow and without range. According to Fangraphs, his Ultimate Zone Rating isn’t terrible at 2.4. That ranks him fourth in the American League among all second basemen who’ve played enough to earn at least 50 plate appearances. 

His Defensive Runs Saved metric tells a different story, though. He’s tied for 21st in that category, costing the Royals two runs.

Whit Merrifield in far fewer games is already at .1 in UZR (it is an accumulative stat) and is tied for ninth with one DRS.

Defense only tells part of the story. In 26 fewer games, Merrifield already has a higher Wins Above Replacement than Infante – .3 to .2. What’s impressive is that Merrifield has accumulated that in just 12 games.

In just 50 plate appearances, Merrifield already has 15 Runs Produced (Runs + RBI – HR), while Infante has just 27 in 149 plate appearances. Merrifield is hitting .360 and Infante just .239.

Yes, this is a very small sample size, and there are some warning signs with  Merrifield. He hasn’t walked yet in his 50 plate appearances, and he has 11 strikeouts but in the minors, he accumulated a decent .334 On-Base Percentage.

He doesn’t have much home run power, but he can hit doubles. He’s put up 161 in his seven-year minor career, and he has six already in his first 12 games as a Royal. (All stats through Thursday, June 2.)

Sure, Infante may offer the team some veteran leadership but at this point and time, the Royals are not a young or inexperienced team. They are seasoned winners, and Infante’s value there has to be limited.

In the loss Thursday in Cleveland, Infante failed to turn a routine double play that cost the team a run in the eighth inning. In the ninth, he didn’t get to a ball that didn’t appear to be unreachable. These two plays led to runs for the Indians.

Infante may not have cost the Royals the win, but he didn’t help either. There is no guarantee Merrifield makes either play, but he sure looks like the better player right now.

Of course, the Royals owe Infante approximately $14 million and Kansas City is not a franchise to eat that kind of money lightly, if at all.

Manager Ned Yost needs to commit to Merrifield as his everyday second baseman and only use Infante very sparingly. Maybe he can be a productive right-handed pinch hitter when the Royals start playing in some National League parks.

Right now, he doesn’t look like a Major League starter at the plate or in the field.

Whit Merrifield, at 27, is a late bloomer. He will not be a superstar but he might be an effective upgrade over Infante.

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At the very least, Yost should not be sitting Whit Merrifield while he is hot. Rest him when he cools off. Infante probably isn’t going anywhere right now, but there is no reason he should be playing in front of the rookie.

The Kansas City Royals are holding onto a precarious lead in the American League Central, and will have to rely on some younger player to fill in the gaps left by injuries.

Whit Merrifield doesn’t look like a gap-filler. He looks like and everyday starter.

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