After an 0-for-4 performance today in the final game of the 2020 season against the first-place Minnesota Twins, Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is currently sitting at a .220/.243/.290 slash with a wRC+ of 43 for the year in 28 games and 103 plate appearances. Considering he’s in his fifth season at the Major League level, and has 277 games and 1,046 plate appearances under his belt, it may be safe to say that this start to the 2020 season has been the toughest stretch of his baseball career. After recently turning 25-years-old almost a month ago, there were high hopes among Royals fans that Mondesi, a former top prospect in the Royals system, and the son of former Major Leaguer Raul Mondesi, would finally take the leap this year and become one of the Royals’ best overall players, and perhaps become one of the better shortstops in the American League. Unfortunately, that has been far from the case, as Mondesi’s .239 wOBA is not only the fifth-worst on the team and ranks in the bottom 9 percent of the league, but his -0.1 WAR is also fourth-worst of all Royals with 10 or more plate appearances.
And if that is not bad enough, Mondesi has failed to make a dent in the rankings of the top shortstops in the American League. He currently ranks 13th of 14 AL shortstops who have accumulated 70 or more plate appearances this season in terms of WAR (he is only above Elvis Andrus of the Rangers, who is posting a -0.5 WAR). His wRC+ is also second-worst of AL shortstops, nearly 14 points behind the third-worst shortstop in terms of wRC+, Detroit’s Niko Goodrum. In fact, if Royals fans look at other shortstops in the AL Central, here’s what other rivals are producing at the shortstop position:
- Tim Anderson of the White Sox: 200 wRC+, 1.3 WAR in 80 plate appearances.
- Jorge Polanco of the Twins: 91 wRC+, 0.5 WAR in 112 plate appearances.
- Francisco Lindor of the Indians: 91 wRC+, 0.4 WAR in 120 plate appearances.
- Niko Goodrum of the Tigers: 61 wRC+, 0.0 WAR in 96 plate appearances.
As evidenced in the list above, Mondesi has been the AL Central’s worst shortstop and by a considerable margin. And that’s a shame, considering Mondesi’s glove and speed have been among MLB’s elite since 2018, as his 81 stolen bases since 2018 lead all AL shortstops over that span. However, Mondesi’s lackluster plate discipline and inability to make consistent contact at the plate, have only amplified his struggles from last season. All this also has Royals fans concerned, as well as frustrated in some circles, about his projection beyond this season. After all, with Bobby Witt, Jr. waiting in the wings and becoming a folk legend of sorts at the alternate site in Wyandotte County, it seems like the pressure to perform for Mondesi is only heightening.
At the beginning of the season, it seemed like the Royals and Dayton Moore would be talking about an extension by the conclusion of the 2020 campaign. Now, it seems like his future may be in doubt, especially if he does not turn it around at the plate in some way, shape, or form over the second half of this 60-game slate.
And thus…Royals fans are probably asking themselves this question:
What should we think about the outlook for Adalberto Mondesi in Kansas City beyond this year?
For Royals fans, Mondesi and his struggles present a difficult dilemma. Yes, Royals are frustrated by Mondesi’s lack of production, which was on full display in Sunday’s contest, as he struck out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a close game. However, it is easy to forget that Mondesi has been through a lot, not just on the field, but off the diamond as well over the past couple of seasons, as highlighted in this Tweet below:
After reading the shared Bleacher Report article, it’s easy to feel pretty lousy in retrospect when seeing all the Mondesi vitriol that circulates on social media, especially after games like today. Not only did Mondesi struggle through various injuries that cut his season short a year ago, but he has also experienced the loss of his close friend, Yordano Ventura, and the legal issues of his former MLB player father. Trying to adjust to the grind of being a Major League players at one of baseball’s most important positions is one thing. However, to do it with all that other stuff going on, while still being a young player, is a whole different feat all together.
In addition, the Royals did no favors with Mondesi in terms of his player development in the Minors. The Royals promoted him as a 19-year-old to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2014 even though he only hit .211 with a .610 OPS in 472 plate appearances in High-A Wilmington in 2013. As expected, Mondesi struggled with the Naturals that season, as he posted a .243 average and .651 OPS in only 81 games and 338 plate appearances. Despite those struggles, that did not prevent the Royals from promoting him to their postseason roster in 2015, and eventually to the Royals active roster in 2016. And while he improved in repeating in Double-A (.779 OPS) and in a short stint in Omaha (.863 OPS in 14 games) in 2016, he failed to do much with the Royals that season (.512 OPS in 47 games).
After 2016, Mondesi only played in 85 games in Omaha in 2017 (where he posted a .305 average and .879 OPS) and 29 games in 2018 with the Storm Chasers in an abbreviated stint (29 games; .786 OPS). And that has been the course of Mondesi’ “Minor League” development: a .713 OPS in 543 games and 2,345 plate appearances over eight seasons (remember, he debuted in Idaho Falls as a 16-year-old).
Not exactly “superstar” Minor League metrics by any measure, and his 0.24 Minor League BB/K ratio isn’t exactly a shining star on his Minor League record either.
Clint Scoles of “Royals Academy” summed up Mondesi’s uneven development as a key contributor to his inconsistency at the Major League level, as evidenced by this segment below:
…Mondesi is easily the best athlete that this organization has had since Carlos Beltran. He is blazing fast, his arm can produce rockets as can his bat despite a frame that carries just 200 lbs. Unfortunately, we are now in year nine since he joined the organization, and the Royals are still seeing the same mistakes that he was making in year one. Allowing him to move up level to level without adjustments has left them with a player that has struckout nearly 7.5 times greater than the amount he has walked. Is walking the end all be all? No, of course not, but it provides evidence of a plan at the plate. Currently, Mondesi has no plan, shows little ability to adjust game to game, let alone at bat to at bat or during plate appearances. This is direct evidence that not forcing him to make adjustments at lower levels has continued to haunt him at the highest level of the game. This season he’s made uncharacteristic mistakes on the bases. This could be due to playing within restraint after an injury-riddled 2018 and 2019 seasons. At least that’s an excuse, but when do the excuses stop for Mondesi?“Learning From Mondesi” by Clint Scoles; Royals Academy
To make matters worse, Mondesi is out of Minor League options, and thus, cannot go back to the Alternate Site to perhaps work on some things on an individual basis, especially in regard to plate discipline. And thus, the Royals and Mike Matheny are in a dilemma: do they bench Mondesi for an extended period of time and risk shattering his already damaged confidence? Or do they keep trotting him out for at-bats, hoping he can get out of his funk, even though he is posting a strikeout rate of 31.1 percent this season and swinging strike and contact rates of 19.4 percent and 65.1 percent over his career?
Unfortunately for Royals fans frustrated with Mondesi, there aren’t a lot of options available for the Royals with him, and not just for 2020, but even for 2021 and beyond.
Scoles posted an interesting player comparison to Mondesi on Sunday evening on Twitter:
The Royals shortstop? None other than Alcides Escobar.
Now, Mondesi has more value than Escobar. Escobar never stole more than 35 bases in a season, and Mondesi stole 43 in only 102 games in 2019. Mondesi’ speed tool is a lot more advanced than Escobar’s and his glove may be slightly above as well (I think Mondesi’s range may be slightly better). However, Escobar posted a career OPS of .636 in 5,012 plate appearances with the Royals over eight seasons. He also posted a career slash of .259/.292/.344 with the Royals as well. If Mondesi posted perhaps a .260/.300/.390 slash with the Royals over his career, would that be such a bad thing, especially when combined with Mondesi’s elite base running and highly above average defense?
As of now, that may be the “outlook” that Royals fans should expect when it comes to Mondesi. Maybe Mondesi won’t be the Royals equivalent of “Patrick Mahomes”. Honestly, that comparison may haunt Mondesi more than help him, for even if Mondesi did live up to his prospect hype, it’s unlikely that he could reach that kind of “superstar” status in Kansas City. However, if Mondesi could give the Royals a 10-12 WAR career over eight-plus seasons (he’s already around 4.3 for his career), that could help the Royals immensely, and give them a player who would be worth pairing with Witt, Jr., either on the left side of the infield or up the middle, should Nicky Lopez not pan out over the long term. Those kinds of WAR numbers are not sexy, and certainly would be a disappointment considering his once promising hype when he was a 16-year-old playing int he Pioneer League. That being said, it’s about time Royals fans temper their expectations on Mondesi, not just for their sake, but perhaps even for Mondesi, who seems to be shouldering these massive expectations and is struggling to handle it.
It hasn’t been an easy season for Mondesi. Furthermore, Moore and Matheny are in a tough situation in terms of what to do with him as he continues to struggle at the plate. That being said, while I even at times want him benched (I tweeted so today), at the end of the day, the Royals have to keep the course with Mondesi and keep giving him at-bats, even if it may not produce much fruit this season. Without any options, the Royals hands are tied, and Mondesi certainly won’t benefit from a long stint on the bench, even if “Old School” fans think that’s the solution.
The Royals were patient with Mike Moustakas‘ struggles early on from 2012-2014, and it paid off. The Royals trusted Escobar, even though he looked like a questionable acquisition from Milwaukee, and he turned into a key member of the 2014 and 2015 AL Pennant squads.
It is time for Royals fans to be patient with Mondesi this year, with the hope that he not only develops at the plate with more at-bats (even it is incrementally), but also stays healthy for a full season. A healthy full year from Mondesi could bode good things for 2021, especially if he can get a complete Spring Training campaign in Surprise next February.
That being said, patience with Mondesi won’t be easy to watch.
Especially if he has more days at the plate like Sunday’s game.