Even Merrifield’s detractors on board with baseball star now

Published 11:15 am Thursday, April 22, 2021

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Through April 17, Whit Merrifield was tied for 15th in Major League Baseball in batting average (.340), tied for 17th in hits (17) and tied for 18th in RBIs (11). He had hit safely in 11 of 13 games. Through April 13, he had knocked in or scored 18 of Kansas City’s 43 runs.

All that sounds like breaking news until you remember he’s been one of the top players in the majors for a while now.

Twice he’s led the majors in hits. Twice he’s led the majors in steals. He’s led the majors in triples. He’s made the American League All-Star Team.

Said Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa: “He’s a guy you just admire. He can play different positions and he’s developed into as good of a hitter as you want to see. He creates huge problems for us. You can admire it, respect it, and hope he has a lousy weekend.”

Said Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon, who was father Bill Merrifield’s manager for a year in the minors in the early 1980s: “I’m a big fan. He’s a good baseball player. A real good baseball player. Whit is (Kansas City’s) anchor.”

In a candid interview with Alec Lewis of The Athletic, former Royals manager Ned Yost admitted he missed on Merrifield, that he shouldn’t have played 725 minor-league games before getting called up for good in 2018.

“I’ve been in this game a long time,” Yost said. “I think Whit was the one player I missed on. I never thought Whit would become what he’s become. I felt strongly about Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Hunter Dozier being solid big-league players. I never felt that about Whit. I felt Whit would be a real solid utility guy at the big-league level when he got the chance, but I never expected him to be one of the best hitters – if not the best hitter in all of baseball – for years running. I missed on that. But the consolation to myself is everybody missed it, too.”

And then: “You look at certain players, and they stand out to you. You can judge and see a kid’s going to be a really good player. I’ve had really good success being able to do that. But he’s the one guy I felt like, ‘OK, he’s going to be a real good Double-A player.’ And, ‘OK, he’s going to be a real good Triple-A player.’ And, ‘He may be a good utility player.’ I didn’t know he’d be an All-Star or perennial All-Star. I don’t know what took us so long to give him an opportunity in the big leagues and I hold myself responsible as much as anyone. He had a dogged belief in his abilities. He knew how good he was. It just took time for us to see it.”

Through April 13, Merrifield’s consecutive-games-played streak was at 317, the longest active streak in MLB.

But what is making Merrifield’s age-32 season all the better is the Royals are finally looking like a contender after a string of losing seasons. After Saturday, they were 8-5 and in first place in the AL Central.