The Kansas City Royals on Wednesday morning recognized nine individuals with organization awards for the 2018 season today at the club's Spring Training complex in Surprise, Arizona, with two members of the 2018 Omaha Storm Chasers squad earning top honors. Infielder Nicky Lopez was named the recipient of the George Brett Hitter of the Year, while left-handed pitcher Richard Lovelady was tabbed the recipient of the Paul Splittorff Award.
Lopez split 2018 between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha, combining for a .308 average (155-504), adding 75 runs, 14 doubles, seven triples, nine homers and 53 RBI, adding 15 steals in 130 contests. The Creighton alum paced all Royals minor league players in hits and walks (60), in addition to ranking third in runs scored (75) and tied for fourth in triples (seven).
Lopez was promoted to Omaha from Northwest Arkansas on June 28, collecting four hits, including a home run, in his Triple-A debut the next day at Werner Park. In 57 contests with the Storm Chasers he compiled a .278 clip (62-223) with 33 runs, six doubles, two triples, seven homers and 26 RBI, in addition to six steals and a .364 on-base percentage. He enters the 2019 season as the fifth-best prospect in the Royals organization per Baseball America, in addition to being tabbed the "Best Hitter of Average" and "Best Defensive Infielder" in the system, in addition to possessing the "Best Strike-Zone Discipline". The 24-year-old was selected by the Royals in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Creighton University in Omaha.
Lovelady receives the 2018 Paul Splittorff Award as the Royals organization's top minor league pitcher after earning 2018 Omaha Pitcher of the Year honors. The southpaw accumulated a 3-3 record and 2.47 ERA (20 ER/73.0 IP) in 46 appearances, adding 71 punchouts. He paced qualified Pacific Coast League relief pitchers in baserunners per nine innings (9.37), in addition to ranking second in batting average against (.204) and walks per nine innings (2.22).
The 22-year-old led all Storm Chasers relievers in saves (nine) and appearances while not yielding a home run over his final 24 outings, a span of 41.0 innings and 150 batters faced. He enters the 2019 campaign rated as the 17th-best prospect in the Royals organization. Lovelady was selected by Kansas City in the tenth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Kennesaw State University.
Below is the full list of 2018 Royals Organizatoin Awards recipients:
- Carlos Fortuna Award (player who is dedicated to improving his English, work ethic & conduct): C Sebastian Rivero
- Paul Splittorff Award (top minor league pitcher in the organization): LHP Richard Lovelady
- Mike Sweeney Award (player who best represents the organization on & off the field): C MJ Melendez
- Frank White Defensive Player of the Year (organization's top defensive player): INF Nick Pratto
- Willie Wilson Baserunner of the Year (top baserunner in the organization): OF Nick Heath
- George Brett Hitter of the Year (top position player in the organization): INF Nicky Lopez
- Dick Howser Award (organization's most outstanding player development person): current Wilmington Blue Rocks Manager Scott Thorman
- Matt Minker Award (outstanding minor league affiliate employee): Burlington Royals vice president Dan Moushon
- Art Stewart Award (organization's most outstanding scout): area scout Jim Buckley
Following the Royals Exhibition Game presented by Cobalt Credit Union on March 25 at 6:05pm CT, the Storm Chasers begin their 2019 home slate on Tuesday, April 9 at 6:35pm CT versus the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
Tickets are available for all 2019 Storm Chasers contests and may be purchased online at www.omahastormchasers.com/tickets. Fans may also call the Werner Park Ticket Office at (402) 738-5100 or visit the ticket office at Werner Park during open hours. Werner Park Ticket Office hours may be viewed by clicking here.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.