Mondesi at third base makes sense for the Royals in 2022…if they supplement their roster correctly

One of the positive stories for the Royals this September has been seeing Adalberto Mondesi play for an extended period of time without injury. After only playing 10 games in the first half of the season due to various ailments and stints on the Injured List, Mondesi has played in 20 games this September and has accumulated 78 plate appearances, nearly double the amount from April through August.

Granted, the results haven’t been great: Mondesi is posting a triple slash of .197/.250/.324 with an OPS of .574 and has struck out 26 times while walking only four times (a 0.15 BB/K ratio). However, considering that most Royals fans thought we wouldn’t see him for the remainder of 2021 at one point in the Summer, to see Mondesi playing most days in a Royals uniform is a sign of encouragement for 2022.

Because let’s be honest, Royals fans: if Mondesi is fully healthy, he could be a weapon that could make the Royals a sneaky contender in the AL Central, especially considering the gains Nicky Lopez made in 2021, and with Bobby Witt, Jr. set to make his Royals debut at some point in 2022.

Mondesi could be a valuable piece to this Royals squad next year (if healthy of course), though the days of him being seen as the “shortstop of the future” may be over, especially with Nicky and Witt Jr. able to handle the position defensively and offensively in both the short and long term, respectively. That being said, the 26-year-old infielder out of the Dominican Republic has demonstrated an ability to handle the “hot corner” this September, and his one out above average mark at the position, according to Baseball Savant, in limited time further proves that defensive capability. Additionally, having him at third in Kansas City full time in 2022 could be the right fit, especially with a dearth of elite third base prospects available in the upper minors (I am not sure if Emmanuel Rivera will offer much more than what Cheslor Cuthbert or Kelvin Gutierrez did at third base in Kansas City).

However, if the Royals are ready to give Mondesi a shot at third base next Spring (if he stays healthy, of course), then new general manager JJ Picollo will need to solidify the lineup around Mondesi.

And that could mean a creative offseason on a “transactional” end from Picollo and the Royals front office.

While Mondesi’s stat line hasn’t looked good during the month of September, his overall line doesn’t look bad for a guy who most likely will be somewhere in the No. 6 to 9 spot in the batting order. The Royals do not need him to be a leadoff hitter or even a “power” threat in the middle of the lineup. Mondesi can be a wild card in the bottom of the lineup who can not only burn on the basepaths, but also provide additional pop, even if it comes at the expense of a lot of swings and misses.

For the year, Mondesi is posting a .787 OPS, and according to Fangraphs, is posting a 112 wRC+, which is still a pretty solid mark despite the rough last month of play at the plate. The fact of the matter is that Mondesi is a streaky hitter, and for every bad month of play he’ll have, he will bounce back and be unstoppable at times offensively. That has been particularly evident in his expected wOBA trends the past two years, according to Savant.

Here is his rolling expected wOBA chart from 2020:

And now let’s take a look at his expected wOBA chart from this season for comparison:

They are pretty similar charts, but are just flipped in terms of the peaks and lows. In 2020, he got off to a slow start and finished strong. This year, he started off hot, and then tailed off a bit once he returned to Kansas City.

For fun, let’s take a look at what his career rolling expected wOBA chart looks like:

Mondesi is going to be a rollercoaster at the plate, and at 26-years-old, he probably is what he is in terms of projection. And that’s not a bad thing. Mondesi’s kind of skill set can be incredibly valuable, especially for a team that needs that upside at the bottom of the lineup. Yes, Mondesi will have at-bats when he produces results like this (which he has done often in his return this September):

But on the other hand, he can also produce hits like this, which the Royals could have used a lot more of this season, especially in the No. 6-9 spots in the batting order:

The Royals need players with this kind of dynamic upside, and if healthy, a .260/.300/.440 season with about 15 home runs and 35-40 stolen bases could make the Royals an interesting foe in the American League Central in 2022. And if Witt, Jr. gets a call up, which moves Nicky to second and Whit to right field? Then the Royals could not only be a more dynamic club not just in 2022, but in the next few seasons as well, which should make Royals fans feel more hopeful that better days are ahead at Kauffman Stadium.

That being said, if there is one drawback to Mondesi, it’s that his “free-swinging” approach will make him susceptible to wild swings month-by-month, as we have seen at various points throughout his career.

Here’s a look at the plate discipline metrics of Royals hitters with 50 or more plate appearances this year, according to Fangraphs. Notice how Mondesi ranks near the bottom in categories such as contact rate (which I highlight) and swinging strike percentage.

Yes, a 64.3 percent contact rate and a swinging strike rate over 20 percent isn’t good. However, the Royals can live with that with Mondesi’s defense, power potential, and ability on the bases. It’s okay for a team to have a couple of free-swingers in a lineup, and the Royals certainly will hit that quota with Mondesi as well as Salvador Perez, who has the second-lowest contact rate of Royals hitters with 50 or more plate appearances this year.

However, Picollo and Dayton Moore will need to minimize those kinds of hitters around Mondesi, especially at the bottom of the lineup, if they want to improve in the standings in 2022.

That makes the future of hitters like Michael A. Taylor (70.7 percent contact rate), Ryan O’Hearn (73.7 percent), and even Hunter Dozier (70.1 percent) a lot more dubious for 2022.

Granted, Dozier will probably be around, mostly due to his contractual obligations over the next few seasons (the Royals are not just going to cut him). But if the Royals are serious about giving Mondesi a chance at the hot corner, then they need to part ways with Taylor, despite the center fielder’s defensive prowess. The Royals can’t have two low-contact high-strikeout guys in the bottom of the lineup, and Mondesi offers a lot more upside on the basepaths and power-wise than the 30-year-old Taylor.

If the Royals are going to utilize Mondesi in a serious way in 2022, and if Mondesi can stay healthy (always have to mention this), then Picollo and the Royals need to find either low-strikeout hitters (who most likely have less power upside) or high OBP guys who can draw walks (but may hit for low average). That is not exactly the easiest task, especially since hitters with those skill sets are so valued on the free agent market.

On the other hand, the Royals do have outfielders in Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares who could fit that bill, though it’s more likely that the former will get a chance to prove himself in center field long-term in 2022 than the latter (especially considering how much Olivares has gotten demoted, as evidenced in the Tweet below):

However, both outfielders are internal options who will come cheaply, and though John Sherman seems to be the owner who won’t be shy to spend to build a winner, he most likely will not be ready to go “all-in” next year. Sherman comes from a Cleveland organization that was known for winning on a budget, and it’s likely that the Royals will embrace that, especially under this new change in front office leadership. As a small market club, the Royals need to depend on guys like Isbel and Olivares to provide value on the cheap and for a decent period of time as well.

And if they can’t get it within their system? Then the Royals need to find a player looking to bounce back and can offer a complementary skill set to Mondesi. The Reds found that in Tyler Naquin this year, and the Red Sox also stumbled upon their own success story in Hunter Renfroe.

Perhaps the Royals can find that kind of player this offseason, if they are not willing to trust Isbel or Olivares for extended plate appearances at the bottom of the lineup.

Nonetheless, the Royals will need to supplement the lineup with very “different” hitters to Mondesi, if they plan on moving up in the division in 2022.

If they continue to trot out Taylor, O’Hearn, and similar “high-strikeout, low-walk” kind of hitters around their former top prospect in the batting order?

Well, it’ll be hard to see the 2022 Kansas City Royals do much better than the 2021 version at the end of the day.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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