clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

It's time for Whit Merrifield to make his return

Raul Mondesi might one day be great, but it is not this year.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Raul Mondesi, brother of Raul Mondesi and son of Raul Mondesi, made his Major League debut in the 2015 World Series on October 30 at the tender age of 20 years old. In doing so, he became the first player in Major League history to make his big league debut in the World Series. Mondesi was added to the roster, as you may recall, to add middle infield depth in case of Ben Zobrist needing paternal leave in case his wife went into labor during the Series.

Zobrist's daughter, who he and his wife Julianna named Blaise Royal, was born after the World Series, thus meaning that Mondesi's inclusion on the World Series roster was ultimately unnecessary; Mondesi spent no time at second base and did not pinch run. However, Mondesi did make his debut as a pinch hitter. Against ace Noah Syndergaard, the plate appearance ended predictably (aka: strikeout).

Mondesi has been on multiple top 100 prospect lists in his career. He is an athletic switch hitter with surprising power, and his defensive play at the premium position of shortstop, combined with his elite speed and excellent baserunning ability, mean that Mondesi's ceiling as an MLB player is very high. And, of course, Mondesi was only a teenager as he was developing this reputation. On July 26, one day before Mondesi's 21st birthday, the Royals called up Mondesi to the big leagues for his regular season debut to play everyday at second base.

The man Mondesi took over for was his minor league teammate Whit Merrifield. Merrifield, along with now ex-Royal Brett Eibner, made a quick reputation for himself as an exciting player after being a longtime minor leaguer. He became a fan favorite, and everyone went insane comparing Merrifield to Zobrist. Merrifield is obviously not Zobrist; a more apt comparison would be to say that Merrifield is a rich man's Willie Bloomquist, a utility guy with good versatility and a collection of nice complimentary skills.

In late July, Kansas City sent Merrifield, the low-ceiling but versatile and serviceable pla yer for Mondesi, the high-ceiling but raw prospect seven years Merrifield's younger.

It is now late August. It's time for Merrifield to come back to Kansas City, and for Mondesi to go back to Omaha.

Almost two weeks ago, Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger Tweeted this about Mondesi:

Look: Mondesi is extremely young and extremely talented. He is the youngest Royal in history to record his first home run. Not even including his debut in the World Series last year, Mondesi was three months younger than Salvador Perez when he made his respective regular season debut and six and a half months younger than Eric Hosmer.

But Mondesi is way, way overmatched. Before yesterday's game, take a look at Mondesi's stats:

Raul Mondesi 23 79 1 7 4 2.5% 30.4% 0.113 0.304 0.211 0.243 0.324 45 -0.1

That's...really bad.

But it's bad for a number of reasons. Mondesi's not hitting for power - a .113 ISO isn't terrible, but it's not good. His .211 average is terrible, though. As is his .242 on base percentage. However, the worst part, is that Mondesi is walking at a 2.5% clip but is striking out at a huge 30.4%, meaning that he strikes out 12 times as often as he walks. This is a bad ratio. If you threw up 12 times as often as you successfully digested Taco Bell, you would stop going to Taco Bell. Granted, if you threw up every other time you went to Taco Bell, you probably wouldn't go to Taco Bell anymore either (this metaphor is getting away from me). A 12:1 strikeout to walk ratio is bad, and that more than anything signifies that Mondesi is just plain overmatched.

Furthermore, the Royals are willingly using Mondesi out of position. Out of Mondesi's 3310 innings in the minor leagues, he played 3084.2 of them at shortstop, and only 225.1 at second base, zero of which were before 2015. The Royals have been trusting Mondesi to seamlessly transition with very little preparation, trusting his overall defensive aptitude moreso than technical skill. Mondesi's defensive numbers (small sample size alert, of course) are perfectly average, as his three errors in only 22 games has negatively impacted whatever range and athleticism he brings.

It's not all a sadness brigade for Mondesi, though. When he makes contact, he makes very good contact. According to Fangraphs, when he does make contact it is only soft contact 13.5% of the time; among all Royals this year, that's second-best only to Kendrys Morales. Mondesi is also just barely 21, and he certainly looks the part of a good shortstop. His defensive numbers should improve drastically as he makes fewer technical errors, too.

But you know who's better at just about every single facet of the game than Mondesi? Two hit Whit.

Whit Merrifield 53 220 2 17 5 4.50% 22.70% 0.110 0.348 0.271 0.305 0.381 81 1.1

Offensively, Merrifield makes better contact, walks more, and strikes out less. He doesn't have the power upside that Mondesi does, but since Mondesi isn't making contact at all right now that doesn't matter. Defensively, as a native second baseman, Merrifield has been making the routine plays that Mondesi isn't quite making in addition to making the flashy, difficult defensive plays.

Merrifield is not a silver bullet. He's not really a shortstop (though he could probably fake it alright in a pinch), and his ceiling is basically 'league average utility guy,' which is not a particularly high bar.

But what Merrifield gives the Royals is a legitimate option at second base, which Mondesi is not. When the Royals called Mondesi to the big leagues, the Royals were 49-51, a squad slowly being lapped by rival teams. Calling up Mondesi gives him valuable big league experience, and helps inform the Royals if Mondesi is a candidate for next year's second base spot or a candidate for next year's shortstop spot.

Things have changed. Mondesi struck out three times yesterday afternoon in a 2-1 game, a game in which the Royals climbed to 64-60. Miraculously, the Royals are in the playoff race again.

As Mellinger said, there are reasons to believe Mondesi has MLB success in his future, but also reasons to recognize that Mondesi just needs more time to develop. In the meantime, the Royals have an in-house replacement, one that they are familiar with and know can help the team.