Raúl Mondesí has undeniable tools with blinding speed, a tremendous glove, and good pop for a middle infielder. However his Major League career got off to an inauspicious start last year, when he hit just .185 in 47 games, and he continued to struggle this year before he was demoted to Omaha. Since then, he has dominated the Pacific Coast League, hitting .316/.346/.544 with 10 home runs in 62 games.
Although Mondesí began the year as the Royals’ starting second baseman, he has the tools to play shortstop, and most Royals fans have assumed he will take over as starting shortstop in 2018, allowing the Royals to walk away from impending free agent Alcides Escobar. But on an appearance on 810 WHB’s Between the Lines with Kevin Kietzman, Dayton Moore threw some doubt on that assumption.
Moore asserted that Mondesí is expected to be on next year’s club - but maybe not at shortstop.
“He’s such a good athlete. We’ve even talked about his ability to play the outfield - centerfield specifically - not that we’re necessarily moving on that right now.”
Mondesí certainly has the speed to play centerfield. He wouldn’t be the first shortstop to make such a transition either - Adam Jones was a minor league shortstop who became a Gold Glove centerfielder, although he began his transition in the upper minors. But Mondesí has zero experience in affiliated minor league ball at any position so far.
The Royals currently have impending free agent Lorenzo Cain in centerfield, but no obvious heir apparent to replace him. Billy Burns looks more like a reserve player, Bubba Starling has hit better in the last month but still has a very shaky minor league track record, and Donnie Dewees is probably another year away. Perhaps the Royals feel like moving Mondesí to centerfield could address a glaring hole in the organization should Cain depart.
But what about shortstop? Escobar is also a free agent that many expect to depart. However there have been reports that the Royals would like to bring Escobar back, which made little sense at the time. But if Escobar comes back at a cheap price - Sam Mellinger at the Kansas City Star once speculated it would take a two-year, $7 million deal or so - that would be much cheaper than replacing Lorenzo Cain in centerfield.
In the same interview on 810, Dayton Moore was quick to praise the defense of Escobar.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen a more consistent, athletic shortstop than Alcides Escobar.”
That is not to say the Royals don’t believe in Mondesí’s defense. Moore obviously likes his glove, and he recounted how he asked his advisers if Mondesí was capable of making a sensational play that they had just witnessed Alcides Escobar make.
Bringing back Escobar instead of Cain could save them a lot of money, but it also makes the offense significantly worse. Mondesí certainly has some pop in his bat, but he also has major plate discipline issues and has struck out 25% of the time in the minor leagues, and seems unlikely to make up the loss of Cain on his own.
Dayton Moore may simply be thinking outside the box and keeping all options on the table in thinking about next year’s team. We also shouldn’t discount the fact the Royals may be having trade talks with teams about Mondesí and are making him seem more versatile to fit other teams’ needs. But if they are serious about doing this for the Royals next year, moving Mondesí to centerfield seems like an ill-advised idea that will make the team worse. The Royals have an offense that still struggles to score runs, and keeping Escobar and Mondesí in the lineup will make it all the more difficult.