Unless you happen to be a möbius strip, in which case you probably aren’t much of a baseball person anyway, you have to start somewhere with every baseball discussion. For the Kansas City Royals in regards to the second base position, that place is this: the Royals do not employ Jose Altuve. They do not employ Robinson Cano, either, or Ian Kinsler or Jason Kipnis or Ben Zobrist. Heck, they don’t even employ a Jonathan Schoop, someone so boringly average he needs an uncommon and oft-mispronounced last name to convince everyone he exists (it’s just like ‘scope’, if you are interested).
Going into this 2016/2017 offseason, the Royals had finally sloughed off the dead baseball carcass of Omar Infante and were free of that itchy, disappointing performance for the first time since the 2013/2014 offseason. Excepting Zobrist’s blinding brilliance in the second half of 2015, the Kansas City Royals have struggled with second base as a productive position. In the 21st Century, by Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, the most productive Royals second base season was Mark Grudzielanek’s 2006 campaign where he was worth 2.7 WAR. That is tied for the 180th-best second base season in the MLB during that time frame (this is bad).
The Royals are a perfectly capable Major League team run by smart people and, obviously, know this. But in an attempt to make the position a positive rather than a negative, they’ve made a poor decision. Raul Mondesi, their choice of starting second baseman, has no business being on a Major League roster, let alone as a starter.
It’s important to note that there’s a reason why the Royals did this. One of the big reasons, and one that can’t be emphasized enough, is that second base this year was a no-win situation. None of the Royals’ options were particularly good. Just take a look at their options:
- Christian Colón
A former first round draft pick and top prospect out of Cal State-Fullerton, Colón only has a career 118 Major League games to his name, those games sprinkled over the last three seasons by Yost and Co. like a lazy Domino’s worker who can’t be bothered to get more pepperoni.
Colón’s ceiling as a player would probably only be cozy for Peter Dinklage, but Colón has been surprisingly adept at three infield positions and is inexpensive. He was also out of options, meaning he cannot be sent to the minor leagues without passing through waivers, a process in which he could be claimed by another team.
- Whit Merrifield
Everyone’s favorite gritty utility player, I’m not entirely convinced Merrifield isn’t just a slightly altered clone of David Lough. Both were middling draft picks without a history of being on top prospect lists, and both had surprisingly productive rookie seasons in their late 20s based largely on good defense.
We know what happened with Lough—the good luck he had in his rookie season caught up with him and mugged him, nuking his batting average from the high .200s to the low .200s and effectively rendering his offense unfit for the Major Leagues. We don’t know if that will happen with Merrifield, but the same signs loom for him. Unlike Lough, though, Merrifield is a true utility player and can play all non-shortstop or catcher positions, most of them pretty well.
- Cheslor Cuthbert
Cuthbert is not here because of his second base prowess. Cuthbert is here because the Royals have no idea what to do with him. He’s like a kitten you found outside your house. He’s pretty nice and is pretty good at being a kitten, but you already have a kitten already, multiple kittens, and you don’t have another spot for a third kitten in your home but, gee, he’s so nice and you don’t want to lose him to another family (which is what would happen because he’s a nice kitten). So you decide to keep him as an ‘outside kitten’ despite him being declawed and really not terribly fit for that kind of position, but it’s the only thing that works and ehhhhh why not, you know?
Cuthbert is the square peg and second base is the round hole. Kansas City is hoping to Apollo 13 that crap and make it work. He’s on the roster as a right-handed platoon bat, but it’s unclear that he’ll ever actually play second base because of the square peg-round hole thing.
Again, none of these players are any bet to be good. Neither ZiPS nor Steamer, well-respected projection systems, think any of those four will be worth more than 1 WAR (Win Above Replacement) this season. However you shuffle it around, the Royals don’t have any other options, and there’s no Top Prospect Savior coming up from the minors that is Heir Apparent to the throne.
The Royals know this. That’s why they were sniffing about the disgusting bro stench that wafts around Brett Lawrie like a thick fog when Lawrie was cut from the White Sox in early March. They know that their second base choices aren’t a quality bunch.
The Royals eventually landed on Raúl Mondesí as the starter, and you can clearly see their reasoning. With no heir apparent to second base, the Royals decided to go with their consensus top prospect—the prince to the shortstop kingdom—hastily promoting him and swapping his position in the hope that talent and ducktape will be enough to hold the position better until Mondesí fully acclimatizes to the big league. Mondesí has more raw talent than any of the other three options, and the Royals placed their bet on that.
It did not work. It’s very clearly not worked, and it’s deeply unfair to Mondesí to continue insisting that he should be the second baseman when he arguably shouldn’t even be in AAA. He is so thoroughly unprepared for the job, and that’s clear both offensively and defensively. That’s not a knock on Mondesí —he’s just not ready. He’s clearly talented, and has the highest upside of any individual employed by the Kansas City Royals on the 40-man roster.
But...geez, Mondesí hasn’t been bad. He’s been apocalyptically bad. There have been 392 batters who have accrued over 160 plate appearances since the start of 2016, of which one is Mondesi. Here are some of his rankings for a few key statistics:
- Batting Average - .181, 390th
- On Base Percentage - .222, 391st
- Slugging Percentage - .267, 391st
- Walk Rate - 3.7%, 377th
- Strikeout Rate - 32.3%, 374th
- wRC+ - 25, 392nd
Look: there’s a big difference between a player that’s struggling and a player who is more than that. Since making his MLB debut, Mondesí has basically been the worst hitter in all of baseball. His numbers are worse than Chris Getz, worse than Yuniesky Betancourt, worse than Omar Infante, worse than every single Kansas City Royal with 160 plate appearances in the history of the franchise excepting a measly five players.
Furthermore, it’s obvious that Mondesí isn’t even performing well on defense, and that’s the place where he supposedly has value (though he has executed a few nifty plays, his overall defense is lacking). Ned Yost even talked about this, it’s serious enough of an issue:
"He's going through some things," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "The ground-ball double play, he just got too quick. He miscovered a base, stuff like that. He's just getting comfortable."
Thankfully for Ned Yost and Dayton Moore, there is a place where Mondesí can ‘get comfortable.’ That place is the minor leagues, where he can work on defense and offense without the pressure that comes with being a total sinkhole on a Major League team. Raúl Mondesí is not the answer. He might be someday, but he’s not right now.