On Sunday, Raul Mondesi, son of Raul Mondesi, Sr. and brother of Raul Mondesi, Jr., crushed his second home run of the year. Anibal Sanchez tossed him a straight fastball up and in. Mondesi did not miss. The 6'1", 185 lb switch hitter pulled it into right field for an easy home run. Then, in the ninth inning, Mondesi cracked a hard-hit grounder for his second hit of the day, an RBI single.
Those were his fifth and sixth hits of his previous 36 plate appearances, the home run only his second extra base hit since August 18th.
Mondesi is full of potential. Mondesi, Sr. had a 13-year career in the Major Leagues, with 271 home runs to his name. Mondesi the son entered this season so young he was unable to legally partake in alcohol, only turning 21 in late July, and has been on the Top 100 prospect lists by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America every year since 2014. We can already see flashes of greatness; Mondesi has all the physical tools necessary to succeed at the Major League level, and might just be the second-best base stealer on a team that features Terrance Gore, Jarrod Dyson, and Alcides Escobar; if Mondesi had played a full season, he would be on pace for between 30 and 40 stolen bases at a 90% success rate.
But that time is not now. Mondesi has been a wreck in his rookie season. This is hardly the first time a great prospect has struggled at the highest level of professional baseball in the world. Even so, Mondesi has been really quite awful. For reference, here's a list of Mondesi's offensive stats compared to the rookie years of a collection of his Royals farm system peers over the years:
First off: the best rookie years of the entire Best Farm System in the History of Whatever by Wins Above Replacement were Mike Aviles and David Lough. Baseball, man.
Anyway, Mondesi. If you saw the chart and your eyes glazed over from too many numbers, here's the tl;dr. Mondesi's rookie year this year has yielded the worst numbers out of this entire 13-player group in
- Strikeout Rate
- Isolated Slugging Percentage
- Batting Average
- On Base Percentage
- Slugging Percentage
- On Base Plus Slugging Percentage
- Weighted Runs Created Plus
- Wins Above Replacement
Remember, this is a group that features everywhere from top of the top prospects Moustakas and Hosmer to late 20s nobodies Lough, Orlando, and Merrifield, and Mondesi singlehandedly has grabbed the worst numbers in eight separate categories. That's quite a feat, but more along the lines of a 'vomited violently on a stranger after a ride on a rollercoaster' feat than, say, 'managed to catch a foul ball with a bare hand whilst eating a hot dog' feat.
Of course, Mondesi has plenty of time to turn the symbolic vomit into hot dogs, so to speak, but at the moment it's very much vomit central.
Part of that isn't Mondesi's fault. A natural shortstop with a build and physical skillset very similar to Alcides Escobar, Mondesi was immediately installed at second base when he was called up. Second base is the easier position to play; over the course of a season, a perfectly average second baseman will be worth between three and five runs less valuable than a perfectly average shortstop, and is often the eventual destination for older shortstops who can't quite physically handle that position.
But sabermetricians tend to also forget that even a less difficult, different position, especially in the infield, is indeed a different position that takes time and effort to learn. The Royals didn't just throw Alex Gordon in left field immediately when they were moving him from third base in 2010. They have been reluctant to use Hunter Dozier this year in part because his 'outfield ability is still raw', as he's only truly branched out to the outfield this year. The 'Eric Hosmer as right fielder in national league parks' is very much dead.
Mondesi did not play one inning of second base in 2012. Or in 2013. Or in 2014. Or in 2015. In 2016, when Whit Merrifield made Omar Infante obsolete, Mondesi played eight games--69 innings worth--of second base.
Then, the Royals immediately installed Mondesi at second base in the Majors, and he's played 41 games and counting. Mondesi, predictably, has not been good at it, like any human experiencing a new thing for the first time. Defensive Runs Saved has Mondesi's defensive value at two runs below average, and Ultimate Zone Rating has Mondesi's value at one run below average. For comparison, Merrifield's second base DRS is at +4, his UZR at +4.7.
If Mondesi was providing excellent defensive value, he wouldn't be so bad. But he's not. He's playing a less valuable defensive position and doing it poorly while also hitting like a pitcher.
This season is almost over, so at the moment it's pretty moot. But what does it mean for next year?
Well, it should mean that Mondesi ought not to be in the Majors next year. He's clearly overmatched by big league pitching. While it seems like Mondesi isn't the favorite to play at second next year, he's in the mix:
In the span of four months, he had opened his career with a .339 batting average in his first 27 games, survived a nasty slump and weathered a demotion to the minors while the Royals took at look at Raul Mondesi at second base. In September, Merrifield returned to Kansas City and started hitting again.
And so, as the club opens its final home stand with a game against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, Merrifield has resurfaced as a possible option at second base, a position that, barring an offseason acquisition, will likely remain muddled entering spring training in 2017.
"It’s wide open," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Leaving the door 'wide open' for Mondesi seems like a stretch.
Look: I like Mondesi. When he makes contact, it's good contact. He's fun. He's a hilarious bunter who causes all kinds of defensive panic. He's a speedster on the basepaths on par with the best we've seen over the last few years. And if he turns it on, it won't really surprise me. He's talented and bursting with potential.
But he's not ready. He wasn't ready in July, and he's still not ready now. He won't be ready next April.