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.
|26-Feb||Bunt single||Rangers||Dillon Gee|
|3-Mar||Home Run||Dodgers||Josh Fields|
|5-Mar||Bunt single||Giants||Mark Melancon|
|13-Mar||Bunt single||Rockies||Jordan Lyles|
|15-Mar||Home run||White Sox||Reynaldo Lopez|
|16-Mar||Bunt single||Mariners||Chase DeJong|
|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.
|26-Feb||Ground out||Rangers||Yu Darvish|
|28-Feb||Ground out||Brewers||Zach Davies|
|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||Ground out||Cubs||Brett Anderson|
|24-Mar||Ground out||Mariners||Hisashi Iwakuma|
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.