With star-level prospects like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez making their way to the Kansas City Royals' big-league club this year, that left the cupboard a bit bare in the potential category as far as the farm system is concerned. With that said, players such as Nick Loftin were still in place to provide what appears to be a high(er) probability to "hit" on the franchise's investment. Through his first 180 games in Kansas City's minor league system, he was exactly that.
Last year, the Royals' 2020 third-round pick debuted in High-A and posted a .289/.373/.463 slash line with the Quad Cities River Bandits. In a 90-game season, he also clobbered 10 home runs while driving in 57 runs and recording a 130 wRC+. He did all of that while also living up to his billing as a defender, making a great first impression.
To start the 2022 campaign, Loftin was a member of Double-A Northwest Arkansas. In another 90-game sample size, this time with the Naturals, his production only slightly declined at the plate. His .270/.354/.421 slash was nothing to scoff at, nor was his steady 100 wRC+ or home run total (12). Loftin also swiped 24 bags in the process while taking yet another step in his defensive development. Once again, he proved to be deserving of something new.
He got off to a terrible start following a promotion to Triple-A Omaha, however.
In his first eight games with the Storm Chasers, Loftin hit just .065 with a .121 OBP. He walked a measly 6.1% of the time while posting an alarming 36.4 K%, which was very out of character for a player who had never struck out more than 14.6% of the time as a professional. He had a grand total of zero extra-base hits, a .000 ISO and just one RBI. A .186 OPS and -53 wRC+ were far from what the Royals thought they were getting but luckily for them, they only got it for a couple of weeks.
Since Aug. 19 — an 18-game stretch entering play on Sunday — Loftin has been performing much better at the plate. His .273/.305/.481 slash is more in line with the player he is, and so is his .208 ISO and eight extra-base hits over that span. Loftin's .785 OPS is supported by four doubles and four home runs, and his underrated raw power is beginning to show back up on the radar. Fifteen RBIs in 18 games is also nothing to scoff at. Loftin's 103 wRC+ (a 200-point improvement from his first eight games) since his early struggles is promising.
There are a couple of areas for improvement, however: drawing walks and striking out less. It's normal for players to increase their amount of strikeouts upon joining a new level, but Loftin's 22.0% clip isn't quite as low as the Royals would likely deem ideal. Loftin has also remained anemic when it comes to walks, as his base-on-balls rate has dropped to 2.4% from his first sample size to now. If he can make incremental improvements in those areas, stats such as his wRC+ and OBP will continue to rise.
Loftin, the Royals' No. 5 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is a player who can make an impact at the highest level as early as sometime during next season. His all-around profile features decent power potential, respectable speed, a professional approach and a very true ability to be a chess piece on the diamond defensively. On a Kansas City team that has multiple players shuffling around positions, Loftin projects as a near-perfect fit in either the infield, the outfield, or both. He's beginning to get back to the player the Royals knew they had and if that progression continues to end 2022 and begin 2023, the Loftin experience could be bringing itself to Kansas City next summer.