Sunday Notes: Royals Prospect Nick Loftin Finds Golf Challenging


Nick Loftin could get away with covering the entire plate against high school and college hurlers. That’s far harder to do in pro ball, which is why the 23-year-old Kansas City Royals prospect — per the tutelage of the organization’s hitting instructors — is now dialing in on pitches that can he do more damage on. The message he’s been receiving is pretty straightforward: Look for something in a certain zone, and when you get it, don’t miss it.

The dictum is simple; the execution is anything but. Not when you’re facing pitchers who are throwing high-90s heaters and breaking balls that are cutting and diving in either direction.

“It’s easier said than done,” admitted Loftin, whom the Royals drafted 32nd overall in 2020 out of Baylor University. “Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do — besides hitting a golf ball. That’s really hard to do, as well.”

Wait. A golf ball isn’t moving unpredictably at great speed. Rather, it’s just sitting there, motionless, ready to be struck at the swinger’s leisure. For someone with the athleticism to play shortstop and centerfield in professional baseball, squaring up an immobile object should be as easy as pie.

Not necessarily.

“The first time was horrendous,” said Loftin, who began golfing roughly two years ago. “I thought it would be like hitting a baseball off a tee. It was like, ‘OK, it can’t be that hard — hitting a baseball off a tee is pretty easy — but there’s something different about golf. Ball flights, wind direction, club face, path… they all play a factor. And what’s crazy is that I actually believe that playing golf has helped my baseball game. Even though the ball is on the ground and stationary, the rotational patterns are the same — the hip movements and rotary powers of the body. A lot of people think that golf can hinder a baseball player’s swing — my mom and dad are definitely on that board with that thought — but in reality, I think it’s actually helped me out a lot.”

The numbers are on his side. Loftin put up a 130 wRC+ at High-A Quad Cities last year while fanning just 60 times in 410 plate appearances, and this season’s early returns are encouraging as well. In seven games with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the right-handed-hitting Corpus Christi native is 8-for-32 (with a .267 BABIP) and has gone down by way of the K only three times in 36 plate appearances.

What works for Loftin in the batter’s box is a contact-oriented gap-to-gap approach. He’s not without pop — he went yard 10 times a year ago — but that’s far from his objective. Unlike a lot of hitters, he’s not looking to hit the ball 400 feet.

Loftin’s M.O. on the diamond is much the same on the links.

“I’ve kind of gone away from that ego thing in golf,” explained Loftin. “I used to be like that when I was first starting out, but I’ve begun using a 5-wood a lot, and I’ll take irons off the tee. That’s kind of where my game has gone lately.”

Were his baseball swing the same as his golf swing, Loftin would drive a lot of balls to the opposite-field gap.

“I play cut,” Loftin explained when asked for a self-scouting report on his golf game. “I don’t hit a draw. I tried messing around with hitting a draw, but I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that whatever my swing does, just do it. If I’m trying to do something that my swing doesn’t do, that’s just going to cause angst. I try to stay consistent with what works for me.”

That goes for baseball and golf alike. And again, the latter is harder than it looks.

“You have a small ball, and a really small hole that’s 500 yards away,” said Loftin. “You’re supposed to put it in there within five shots. I mean, you almost need to be perfect. At the end of the day, hitting a golf ball is harder than hitting a baseball.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Jose Canseco went 0 for 17 against Duane Ward.

Nelson Cruz went 0 for 17 against Jarrod Parker.

Tino Martinez went 0 for 17 against Scott Karl.

Lenny Randle went 0 for 17 against Milt Wilcox.

Gary Sheffield went 0 for 17 against Jerry Reuss.

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Cal Mitchell isn’t one of the higher-profile prospects in the Pittsburgh system. Drafted out of San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High School in 2017, the 23-year-old outfielder is a well-down-the-rankings No. 37 on our 2022 Pirates Top Prospects list. Despite that pedestrian profile, Mitchell unquestionably possesses potential.

His bat-to-ball skills are a big reason why. As Eric Longenhagen wrote when putting together our Pirates list in February, Mitchell “made contact on 82% of his swings last season.” When I caught up to the under-the-radar former second-rounder during spring training, I asked him for the story behind that swing.

“My dad played college baseball, and while he was a pitcher and not a hitter, he always used this term, ‘barrel accuracy,’” Mitchell told me. “He wanted me making sure that I was accurate with the barrel, and from there, my swing developed into what it is now. I’ve had that focus ever since I was a little kid. I’m trying to be barrel-accurate, wherever the pitches are in the zone. Outside of that, I grew up trying to hit the ball as hard and as far as I can to center field. “

His pitcher-to-pitcher focus varies by velocity and style. If the opposing hurler is a hard-thrower, he’ll often think pull side. Conversely, if it’s someone who is sinking the ball or throwing a lot of off-speed pitches, he tends to think opposite field. In both cases, it’s all about timing. As Mitchell put it, his focus changes “either to the right side of the batter’s eye, or to the left side of the batter’s eye.”

Mitchell can also juice a baseball. His home run numbers haven’t been eye-opening — he went deep a dozen times in 418 plate appearances last year in Double-A Altoona — but he’s far more than a guy who puts the ball in play.

Would he identify as a power hitter?

“I’m a pretty strong guy,” Mitchell told me in spring training, “I’m left-handed and can hit the ball for power. I love hitting the ball for power. At the same time, I pride myself on being able to hit a lot of different pitches, and I want to avoid Ks. I guess it’s a balance of taking my shots — taking my big shots when I can get them — and still making contact with the ball. I want to be accurate with the barrel.”

Mitchell is off to an 11-for-31 start this year with Triple-A Indianapolis. He’s left the yard three times, including once yesterday when he went 3-for-5 with a double, the bomb, and four runs batted in.

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A quiz:

A total of 17 players have driven in 165 or more runs in a single season, and only one of them has done so since 1938. Who is it?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Miguel Cabrera recorded his 2,995th regular-season hit on Friday and needs five more to become the 33rd player to reach 3,000 for his career. He needs one more two-base hit to become the 18th player to reach 600 doubles.

Toledo Mud Hens broadcaster Jim Weber called his 6,000th consecutive game last weekend. Weber hasn’t missed a game since first taking to the airways for the current Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers on April 12, 1975.

John Ellis, a catcher/first baseman for three teams from 1969-1981, died earlier this month at age 73. The New London, Connecticut native had his best seasons with Cleveland, where he was the franchise’s first designated hitter in 1973.

Joe Horlen, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 1961-1971, and for the Oakland A’s in 1972, died last weekend at age 84. A right-hander who earned the nickname “Hard Luck” — he finished 116-117 with a 3.11 ERA over 2,002 innings — Horlen had his best season in 1967 when he went 19-7 with an AL-best 2.06 ERA.

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The answer to the quiz is Manny Ramirez, who had 165 RBIs with Cleveland in 1999.

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Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli played in 445 big-league games as a big-league outfielder, 45 of them with the Red Sox and many more in Boston as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Prior to Friday’s Red Sox home opener, Baldelli was asked what it was like to play the outfield at Fenway Park.

“This is a very unique situation out there,” Baldelli told reporters. “The first thing for me, going out there on the field, was the lack of symmetry, which messes with your depth perception and the way that you sense things on the field. You’re used to not having to look at everything before you do it. Here, everything is just a little bit different. The background you’re looking at, the wall that’s kind of right up against you, it feels like, and the corner in right-center by the bullpen. There are just a lot of different things at play.”

If Fenway is the most unique outfield to defend, which ballpark would rank second?

“Oh man, I’m going to need a list,” was Baldelli’s response to my question. “I don’t know if there’s a clear second — nothing’s really popping off the top of my head — but any time there’s something vastly different… I mean, in Baltimore [the] very short right-centerfield wall that cuts across can mess with you at times. You’re going after the ball and the wall would just sneak up on you.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Roki Sasaki threw eight perfect innings with 14 strikeouts for NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines last night. Pulled from the game after 102 pitches, the 20-year right-hander had thrown nine perfect innings with 19 strikeouts in his previous outing.

Masahiro Tanaka is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings for NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles. The 33-year-old former New York Yankees right-hander went 4-9, 3.01 with Rakuten last season.

The Hanshin Tigers beat the Yomiuri Giants 2-1 on Saturday, with Aaron Wilkerson getting credit for the win and Matt Shoemaker being tagged with the loss. The victory was Hanshin’s second in a row, following a 1-16 start. No team in NPB history had begun a season with just one win in its first 17 games.

Earlier this month, Yakult Swallows southpaw Masanori Ishikawa became the third pitcher in NPB history to record a hit in 21 consecutive seasons. The 42-year-old Akita Prefecture product has 130 hits in all, as well as a career pitching mark of 181-181.

Yasiel Puig is slashing .302/.434/.488 with two home runs in 53 plate appearances for the KBO’s Kiwoon Heroes. Eric Jokisch has allowed run one in 12-and-two-thirds innings for the Heroes.

Moon Bo-gyeong is slashing .366/.436/.463 with one home run in 46 plate appearances for the LG Twins. The 21-year-old left-handed-hitting corner infielder is in his second KBO season.

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Katie Krall had just completed a nine-hour bus ride when she appeared as a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. A development coach in the Boston Red Sox organization, the 2018 Northwestern University graduate was on the road with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, who were about to begin a six-game series in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She had homework to attend to as the bus rolled down the highway. Along with her baseball duties, Krall is currently pursuing an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

I asked Krall how that pursuit — time commitments aside — impacts her role as a development coach.

”The University of Chicago is known for its quantitative approach,” said Krall, whose position has her interacting with Sea Dogs players and coaches on a daily basis. ”I think there is an incredible amount of value in having that data-driven, focused, decision-making. But I’ve also learned so much about culture, and how organizations can put people in situations that really empower them and allow them to succeed. From a coaching perspective, I’m leveraging a lot of my business school skills, as well.”

Krall spent two years as a baseball operations analyst for the Cincinnati Reds prior to joining the Red Sox in January, and prior to that she worked in the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Krall has accomplished a lot at a young age, and she aspires to much more.

“I would love to follow in Kim’s footsteps and be a GM someday,” said Krall, who in June 2018 was hired for the MLB position by current Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng. “It would be cool to be in that same line of female GMs. I [also] love the idea of going back to the Commissioner’s Office and being a custodian of the game and shepherding the sport for the next generation.”

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FARM REPORT

Felix Valerio has come to the plate 34 times with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers and is 11-for-29 with three home runs and just two strikeouts. No. 9 on our 2022 Milwaukee Brewers Top Prospects list, the 21-year-old infielder has 125 walks and 115 strikeouts since beginning his professional career in 2018.

Kahlil Watson has come to the plate 28 times for the Low-A Jupiter Hammerheads and is 9 for 25 with four home runs. Drafted 16th overall last year by the Miami Marlins out of a North Carolina high school, the 19-year-old (as of yesterday) infielder is No. 49 our 2022 Top 100 Prospects list.

Damon Keith has come to the plate 41 times for the Low-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and is 17 for 31 with three home runs. Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 18th round last summer out of California Baptist University, the 21-year-old outfielder has a 1.209 OPS in 122 professional plate appearances.

Patrick Wicklander has 16 strikeouts and no walks in seven scoreless innings for the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs. Drafted in the eighth round last summer out of the University of Arkansas by the Tampa Bay Rays, the 22-year-old left-hander has yet to allow a run in 18-and-third professional innings.

Chase Petty has allowed one earned run in seven innings over two appearances with the Low-A Daytona Tortugas. Drafted 26th-overall last summer out of a Linwood, New Jersey high school, the 19-year-old right-hander was acquired by the Cincinnati Reds from the Minnesota Twins as part of the Sonny Gray trade.

Michael McGreevy has thrown 11-and-two-thirds scoreless innings over two appearances for the High-A Peoria Chiefs. Drafted 18th-overall last summer out of the University of California Santa Barbara by the St. Louis Cardinals, the 21-year-old right-hander has nine strikeouts and has allowed just a pair of hits.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Chicago Sun-Times, Maddie Lee wrote about how Nico Hoerner is anchoring the Cubs infield defense in a variety of locations.

The Lowell (MA) Spinners — one of 40 teams cast adrift in MLB’s inexplicable restructuring of the minor leagues — are hoping to return to affiliated ball. Mac Cerullo has the story at The Eagle-Tribune.

The Indiana Central Little League — the oldest Little League in the state — is hoping to make a comeback after being inactive since the start of the 2020 pandemic. Gregg Doyel has the story at The Indianapolis Star.

Jackie Robinson wasn’t the only candidate to break baseball’s color line. Bijan C. Bayne wrote about Branch Rickey’s wide-ranging search for Andscape.

Emmett Ashford became MLB’s first Black umpire when he worked a game between the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators on April 11, 1966. Marc Bona wrote about the history-making event for Cleveland.com.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

In the top half of the first inning of Friday’s game at Fenway Park, Byron Buxton was credited with a double on a pop fly that had an .020 expected batting average. Five batters later, Max Kepler made an out on a line drive that had a .930 expected batting average.

Hoby Milner retired the only batter he faced and was credited with his first career win in Milwaukee’s 5-4 with over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. The 31-year-old Brewers southpaw was making his 96th big-league appearance. No pitcher in history had started his career with 95 no-decisions.

José Ramirez has 254 extra-base hits since the start of the 2018 season, the most in the majors. The Cleveland Guardians infielder has 122 doubles, 14 triples, and 118 home runs over that stretch.

The Cincinnati Reds used as many three rookie starting pitchers in their first six games of the season for the second time in franchise history. They previously did so in 1902, a season that saw them employ a trio of managers and finish with a record of 70-70 with one tie.

Tim Anderson has slashed .193/.248/.303 in 117 career plate appearances versus the Chicago Cubs. He’s slashed .395/.402/.636 in 133 plate appearances against the Seattle Mariners.


Nelson Cruz’s 450th career home run, which he hit on Monday, was his 385th since he celebrated his 30th birthday. Barry Bonds has the most home runs after turning 30 (509}, followed by Babe Ruth (430), Rafael Palmeiro (414), and Hank Aaron (413), with Cruz and Jim Thome tied for fifth-most with 385.

The Detroit Tigers traded Harvey Kuenn to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Rocky Colavito on today’s date in 1960. Kuenn was the reigning American League batting champion, Colavito the reigning American League home run champion.

On today’s date in 2012, the Texas Rangers homered six times — Mike Napoli going deep twice — on their way to an 18-3 rout of the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Boston reliever Mark Melancon allowed home runs to three of the six batters he faced.

Players born on today’s date include Dennis Paepke, a catcher/outfielder whose big-league career comprised 80 games with the Kansas City Royals from 1969-1974. Originally in the Angels system, Paepke was traded to Kansas City, along with Ed Kirkpatrick, in exchange for Hoyt Wilhelm, in December 1968. It was the first trade in Royals franchise history.



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