By this time next week, Kansas City Royals All-Star second baseman Whit Merrifield will turn 32 years of age and given that he has been a long time favorite of this space, we tend to worry about about the guy's profile since so much of it is built on speed. Yes in an era in fantasy baseball where stolen bases are becoming incredibly scarce, Merrifield served as the oasis in the desert as he stole 34 bags in 2017 and followed that up with 45 in 2018. Alas, Merrifield dipped sharply in that number in 2019 to just 20 and since he was now into his 30's, there was concern he was following traditional athletic profiles with regards to speed falling by the wayside once that age is reached.
Now in terms of the shortened 2020 campaign, Merrifield's 12 steals were somewhat encouraging as he was on pace for near 30 if the season had been its typical length. Yes Merrifield is going to be 32 this season but don't automatically discount that he won't be able to swipe another 20 bags. Yes 40 and even 30 are likely out of the statistical equation now but Merrifield is in great shape and still capable of helping in that category.
In addition to the steals, Merrifield remains a very good hitter whose .282 average last season was actually his lowest mark in that category since breaking in as a rookie. His insanely low strikeout rates keep Merrifled a batting average asset and that absolutely will play again in 2021. Add in about 90 runs batting near the top of the lineup with about 65 RBI and Merrifield still has a lot to offer his owners this season.
Finally, Merrifield did hit 9 home runs last season and would have been in the high teens if the whole season played out. While he has never hit more than 16 homers, a 15/20 campaign in homers/steals is very attainable. So while you ideally would like to avoid speed-oriented players moving into their 30's, Merrifield should still have another season or two left in the tank to supply high-end numbers and so he remains a smart early-round investment this spring.
2021 PROJECTION: .295 15 HR 67 RBI 88 R 19 SB