Whit Merrifield was deceivingly solid last season, but his future prospects are dimmed by the reality that his performance was buoyed by a high batting average with little in the way of peripheral stats, including just a 5.7 percent walk rate and a .109 ISO. The 28-year-old is likely to be soft on upside, and a repeat of last year's half-season performance over a full campaign would be a success. Whether the Royals allow the Swiss Army knife to accumulate that much playing time is another issue altogether. Positional versatility might be the biggest feather in Merrifield's cap as well as his greatest utility to fantasy owners in 2017, as it not only allows for some roster flexibility, but it also gives him more opportunities for playing time. However, he's unlikely to be more than a placeholder for the Royals, or for fantasy owners in 2017.
Merrifield went 1-for-2 with an RBI, a walk and a stolen base in Wednesday's 6-2 victory over the Padres in Cactus League play. Merrifield's five stolen bases during Cactus League games are tops among all Royals players, and his contributions on the basepaths to go with a .389 on-base percentage have kept him in the mix for the starting job at second base to begin the season. Unfortunately for Merrifield, Raul Mondesi has been even more impressive in the batter's box during the spring and appears to be the frontrunner for the Opening Day gig at the keystone, so Merrifield may be more realistically competing with Christian Colon for a utility role in the infield at this stage of spring camp.
Merrifield is among the candidates being considered for the Royals' second-base job in 2017, the Kansas City Star reports. The Royals will likely face significant financial restrictions in their bid to upgrade the roster this winter, leaving second base as a position where internal options may have an open competition for the starting job in spring training. In addition to Merrifield, the Royals are considering Cheslor Cuthbert, Christian Colon, and Raul Mondesi for the job. Merrifield hit .283/.323/.392 with two homers and eight steals in 81 games, but he seems better suited for a part-time role as he'll turn 28 in January.
Merrifield got his first career start at first base Sunday and went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and an RBI in a win over the Tigers. He's now hitting .329/.365/.443 in 79 September at-bats, and Merrifield's bat and defensive versatility will likely make him the Royals' top utility player in 2017.
Merrifield went 2-for-5 with a double, a steal, an RBI and two runs against the White Sox on Monday. A cold stretch got Merrifield demoted in late July, but he's been doing plenty of hitting since getting recalled Sept. 2 -- the 27-year-old rookie has gone 20-for-57 (.351) with a couple steals, nine RBI and 10 runs this month. Merrifield's been an everyday lineup presence lately, making him a viable down-the-stretch play in deeper formats.
Merrifield was optioned Tuesday, Jeffrey Flanagon of MLB.com reports. Merrifield will likely head back to Triple-A Omaha as Raul Mondesi, one of Kansas City's top prospects, gets called up. Although Merrifield has been a productive batter in the Royals' lineup, as evidenced by his .271 season average spanning 210 at-bats, he's been slumping since mid-July, going 1-for-17 (.059) over his last seven games.