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Raúl Mondesí’s spring has been a mirage

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The spring has been great for his confidence, but he shouldn't be starting.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Raúl Mondesí has gotten a lot of buzz this spring with some national sportswriters already strongly hinting that the young switch-hitter will be tabbed the Opening Day second baseman. The young phenom is hitting .378 this spring which has opened some eyes and caused some to call for him to start on Opening Day over other candidates like Whit Merrifield, Christian Colón, and Cheslor Cuthbert. Manager Ned Yost has remarked that the 21-year old infielder is "a different guy" than the one that hit just .185/.231/.281 in 47 games with the Royals last year.

There is just one problem - Raúl Mondesí’s spring has been a mirage.

Here is a log of all of Raúl Mondesí’s hits this spring and who they have come against.

Date Hit Team Pitcher
26-Feb Bunt single Rangers Dillon Gee
28-Feb Single Brewers Carlos Torres
2-Mar Single Rockies Carlos Estevez
3-Mar Single Dodgers Alex Hermeling
3-Mar Home Run Dodgers Josh Fields
4-Mar Single Giants Chase Blackburn
4-Mar Single Giants David Hernandez
5-Mar Bunt single Giants Mark Melancon
5-Mar Double Giants Cody Gearrin
13-Mar Bunt single Rockies Jordan Lyles
14-Mar Double Angels Keynan Middleton
15-Mar Home run White Sox Reynaldo Lopez
16-Mar Bunt single Mariners Chase DeJong
19-Mar Single Cubs Mike Montgomery
20-Mar Bunt single Reds Rookie Davis
25-Mar Home run Brewers Rob Scahill
26-Mar Bunt single Angels Jose Valdez

The first thing you’ll notice is that 6 of his 17 hits are bunt singles. He has amazing speed, and this can be a useful weapon, but it seems unlikely he can continue to get 30% of hits hits via bunting at the big league level. The other thing you'll notice is that aside from Melancon, Montgomery and maybe Carlos Torres, these pitchers will all either be one of the last relievers out of the bullpen or pitching in AAA.

So Mondesí has done pretty well against AAA pitching - that's good! Because he probably should be in AAA. The Royals really rushed Mondesí up, giving him just 14 games in Omaha last year before calling him up to Kansas City. Learning to hit AAA-quality pitchers is an important step to Mondesí's development. He has done well so far in what would be about two week's worth of plate appearances. I would like to see him get some more success against them.

But as for big leaguers - he does not seem to be ready. Here is how Mondesí has fared against pitchers either projected to be in a Major League starting rotation, or one of the top three relievers out of the bullpen, according to depth charts at Roster Resource.

Date
Outcome Team Pitcher
26-Feb Ground out Rangers Yu Darvish
28-Feb Ground out Brewers Zach Davies
28-Feb Single Brewers Carlos Torres
5-Mar Strikeout Giants Madison Bumgarner
5-Mar Strikeout Giants Madison Bumgarner
5-Mar Bunt single Giants Mark Melancon
7-Mar Ground out Reds Michael Lorenzen
14-Mar Ground out Angels Matt Shoemaker
16-Mar Ground out Mariners Marc Rzepczynski
19-Mar Ground out Cubs Mike Montgomery
19-Mar Single Cubs Mike Montgomery
19-Mar Ground out Cubs Brett Anderson
21-Mar Strikeout D-Backs Robbie Ray
21-Mar Strikeout D-Backs Robbie Ray
21-Mar Strikeout D-Backs Robbie Ray
24-Mar Strikeout Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma
24-Mar Ground out Mariners Hisashi Iwakuma
25-Mar Strikeout Brewers Neftali Feliz

That's 3-for-18 with a bunt single and seven strikeouts. Even that is too small a sample size to conclude anything. More telling are his numbers in 47 big league games last year, in which he looked lost at the plate. But even this spring, there certainly does not seem to be evidence that Mondesí is ready to hit Major League-quality pitchers.

Even looking at his overall statistics, the biggest red flag to Mondesí’s game remains - his plate discipline. We all know he can flash good power, and his walk-off home run on Saturday is further evidence of that. We know he has great speed, and his six bunt singles this spring are evidence of that. But what he has struggled with throughout his career - especially in his audition in the big leagues last season - is recognizing good pitches to hit.

Mondesí has struck out 25% of the time in his minor league career, while walking just 6% of the time. In his Major League stint, he was obviously overmatched, striking out 32% of the time, while walking just 4% of the time. That hasn't changed in the Arizona sun this spring. Mondesí has drawn just one walk in 47 plate appearances, while striking out 12 times - 26% of the time.

I suspect the Royals are protecting Mondesí a bit - having him enter games against AAA pitchers, or starting him against pitchers he might have more success against. He needs some confidence-boosting after what may have been a dizzying big league experience last year. Having a strong spring can help him go to Omaha and develop his bat, perhaps ready to come up in June or July if the second base situation has not been solidified.

But a strong spring is not any kind of evidence Mondesí is ready for the big leagues. There are many reasons why spring training stats should be discounted. It wasn't that long ago the Royals had another top prospect many said was ready, who posted a spring training OPS of .974. And by mid-June, he was hitting under the Mendoza Line, drowning under the weight of expectations.

That player was Alex Gordon, and even a second-half comeback couldn't help him avoid what was considered a bust of a rookie season that may have set back his development. Raúl Mondesí is still a very young hitter, with a lot of upside. The Royals need to do what is best for his long-term development and best for their team, and have Mondesí start in Omaha. Don't let the desert mirage of Arizona fool you into thinking he's ready.