New-Look Royals Have Whit Merrifield To Lean On

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SURPRISE, Ariz  Whit Merrifield sat at his locker Saturday morning in typical Whit Merrifield fashion: cool, calm and collected.

After an off-season saw the departure of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas, Merrifield has emerged as a leader in a suddenly young Kansas City Royals clubhouse.

“I’m a guy that young guys can come to that haven’t had much time in the big leagues. You know, since we’re a younger team now, not a whole lot of guys have a ton of experience,” he said.

The Florence, South Carolina native is strikingly humble. He fumbled over his words for a minute, carefully hinting at becoming a leader but struggling to compose a sentence that didn’t come across as cocky or egotistical.

He elaborated, almost to ensure I wasn’t getting the wrong idea of him.

“Adding guys like [Lucas] Duda and [Michael] Saunders helped in that regard. I’ve been here the last two years, I guess I’m a little familiar with the system and what we’re doing here in Kansas City.”

Merrifield impressed in his first full season in the big leagues, slashing .288/.324/.460 with 19 home runs, 78 runs batted on top of an American League leading 34 stolen bases in 145 games. This came after a .283 average over 81 games in 2016 earned himself the nickname “Two-Hit Whit.”

Set to be a leader and lineup-regular for manager Ned Yost in 2018, where he’ll play in the field is still up in the air.

Merrifield typically held down second base for a Royals club last summer that was contending for another trip back to the postseason, but did make 12 starts in the outfield. He also subbed in once at both first and third base.

His versatility is key, and something Kansas City can use to its advantage this year.

“It’s something I’ve done my whole life. I’m ready for whatever is thrown my way. You just take reps at different positions,” he said.

“I think once my role gets established, if I’m gonna be in one spot I’ll focus on that. If they’re going to want me to bounce around I’ll continue to bounce around and stay comfortable in multiple positions.”

The loss of Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas, who all played in at least 148 games or more in ’17, opens up several positions around the diamond. As a utility man, the uncertainty of not knowing where he’ll play come Opening Day doesn’t phase Merrifield.

“It’s comfortable for me, I’ve done it my whole life. There’s a comfort level there. I know there’s value in that. I understand who I am and what I can do and it’s comfortable for me.”

Despite a 25-man roster that suffered a severe shakeup and unfavorable expectations this season, Merrifield and the Royals will look to do what they do best: silence the doubters.

“We know we have more talent than people give us credit for so we’re excited to go out there and prove it.”

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