Shortstop Nicky Lopez was drafted last June by the KC Royals and finds himself less than a year later starting his first full professional season in High-A Wilmington. Manager Jamie Quirk described Lopez as a guy who plays the game with a smile on his face.
“It was really eye-opening,” Lopez said about this past year. “To be able to play with people from all around the world. Coming from college, it’s a whole different game. Here, I had to make the adjustment. I remember sitting on the couch and hearing the Royals drafted me and I was like ‘Wow’. It’s been my dream and having that come true, it was unbelievable.”
“It’s a great accomplishment and I’m proud of it,” Lopez said in terms of reaching High-A less than a year after being drafted. “You can’t really take it for granted. In college ball, making the jump to rookie ball, I had to adjust to the pitching, but I think I’m going to have to do the same thing here. That’s the thing about baseball, it’s a game of adjustments. I’ll take what I can and make minor adjustments if I have to.”
“Personally, I just try to get on (base),” Lopez said when asked about his game. “Let my two, three, four hitters drive me in. The big thing is to just get on. I feel like that’s the best way to help my team win…just work the counts. Get the pitch counts up.”
The Blue Rocks had a chance for two workouts before media day, so the players already have a feel for how the field will play. What’s the biggest difference on the infield for Lopez? “Spring training in Arizona, it’s a little dry, so the ball comes off the bat a little faster on the ground. Here, the grass kinda eats it up a little bit and the dirt’s a little softer. It’s a different game, venue, but I’m ready for it.”
Lopez is expected to play shortstop every day, with his double play partner at second base being DJ Burt. I asked Lopez about playing with the more “veteran” Burt (this is his fourth season): “He’s one of my good friends too, so that’s a good thing. Your shortstop and second baseman have to be in sync and have some chemistry and me and DJ have some chemistry. He’s a loud guy like I am so we talk back and forth during the game. Just having someone over there that you can trust, know that he’s going to be there, every situation is key.”
A little background on Lopez: he was drafted in the fifth round this past June out of Creighton. For those of you who do not know, Creighton is in Omaha, Nebraska, home to the KC Royals Triple-A affiliate. Creighton also plays at TD Ameritrade Park, home to the College World Series (which is NOT a hitters park).
Did he feel any pressure when he was drafted by the Royals? “I think it’s awesome. When I was there in Omaha, I know a lot of people cheered for the Royals. There’s a huge fan base there…I just think it’s really cool. It’s kind of like a family environment out there, so I know they’re rooting for me too. So if I’m lucky enough to make it up to Triple-A and even the big leagues, I think I’ll have quite the fan base in Omaha.”
It isn’t very warm in Omaha when the season starts (especially the college baseball season), so Lopez thinks he should be fine if the weather gets colder in Wilmington (like it’s supposed to this weekend). “I’m from the Chicago-area, so I’m used to that. Obviously Omaha, the first couple games, we’re pretty much playing in snow. When we get here, I was like ‘it’s so warm. This is perfect’. But I’m used to it.”
Lopez grew up loving Derek Jeter (like most kids). “I don’t think anyone can mimic his game. Just being able to study the way he goes at his game. I’m also a big fan of Brandon Crawford’s (the SF Giants All-Star shortstop), the way he plays the game. I just try to emulate how he competes and every time you step on the field, play hard.”
Goals for the 2017 season? “I’m just going to go out there and compete and help the team win. When the team’s winning, everyone’s going good. Everything’s clicking and everyone’s succeeding. But when the team’s bad, things kinda fall apart. Just trying to help the team win. Get on base and do everything I can to help the team win. I think that’s the biggest thing and everyone else will have more success.”
*If you would like to watch the full interview with Lopez, click below: