Baseball has finally, mercifully kicked into gear. Pitchers and catchers have already reported and completed their first workout, and position players officially report to spring training on February 18, though many are already at the Kansas City Royals facility in Surprise, Arizona.
That also means that reporters are congregating, asking questions, and breaking some news. Just this week we’ve got some of the first reports from the Royals 2018 campaign, and there has been a bit of a doozy already.
Ned also says that Raul Mondesi could still bump Whit Merrifield off the 2B job with a terrific spring. "We can move Whit around," Ned said. "Whit can play first or third or center field or right field -- a lot of different places."— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) February 15, 2018
In looking at camp competitions, Ned Yost said LF (Gordon), catcher (Perez), shortstop (Escobar) and second base (Merrifield) were the only ones that are fairly firm. Yet he also said Mondesi could play his way into second and turn Merrifield into an every-day utility type.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) February 15, 2018
And, for a little context, here’s this nugget from the Kansas City Star specifically about Raul Mondesi after the Royals re-signed Alcides Escobar:
The Royals are still impressed by Mondesi’s defensive prowess at shortstop. The chance they move him to center field, where Lorenzo Cain’s departure leaves a gaping hole, is slim. Moore expects an internal battle among the organization’s outfielders to determine who gets that starting job come the end of March.
Rather than rush a prospect who won’t turn 23 years old until late July, the Royals have opted to take a patient approach with Mondesi and bring back Escobar, a proven major-league shortstop who has played 162 regular season games three of the last four years.
Let’s try to piece this together. The Royals like Mondesi’s athleticism and see him as a possible fit in the middle infield, but they don’t like his athleticism enough to move him to where there’s an open spot in the outfield. At the same time, they trusted Mondesi’s abilities at his native position of shortstop so little that they re-signed Escobar and gifted him the starting role before spring training started. However, with a strong spring training Mondesi could unseat Whit Merrifield at second base, forcing perhaps the Royals’ best position player at his most comfortable position into a Ben Zobrist-esque superutility role.
Keep in mind that it is February and lots of things can change. Also keep in mind that players, coaches, and front office staff will sometimes say things in interviews that are nonsensical and never come to pass.
But still, read the paragraph above the previous one and try to come to a conclusion about how the Royals view Mondesi right now. Then, consider that the Royals once viewed Mondesi so highly that they added him to their World Series roster at the age of 20, where he made his big league debut in the most hilarious way possible. Then, consider that in 2016 and the beginning of 2017 the Royals repeatedly gave Mondesi multiple chances over the actually good Merrifield before stashing him in the minors and refusing to give him a lengthy look last September when the Royals were truly out of the postseason race.
Also, consider that this autumn will represent three years since Mondesi first stepped into a big league batter’s box and that the Royals still don’t have a position for him. It’s apparently not shortstop. It’s not outfield. And it’s not second base either, probably, but maybe.
The Royals have reasons for yanking Mondesi around like a baseball-shaped marionette. There is not a button on the corner of Ned Yost’s desk that says ‘do something random to a prospect.’ But sometimes specific reasons for doing something doesn’t mean that they are good reasons that are easily defended.
Disconcertingly, this isn’t the first time the Royals have handled their prospects in a bizarre manner. There was Hunter Dozier in 2016...
The most frustrating thing about this isn’t that Dozier deserves to play, but that it’s just such a boneheaded thing to refuse to play him. The Royals are five teams behind the second Wild Card spot, trailing by four games. The Royals haven’t held one of the playoff spots since June 3. This team as it is currently constructed is not a Wild Card team. Reliance on Dyson, Orlando, Merrifield, Cuthbert, and Colon as core cogs in this team is part of why this team is worse than last year and likely won’t make the playoffs.
And so Dozier offers a cheap in-house option that doesn’t cost the Royals anything. Maybe he’s better than Cuthbert. Maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s better than Colon or Orlando. Maybe he’s not. And it would be different if the Royals were trying to hang on to a hard-fought Wild Card spot. But they aren’t. If the season ended today, the Royals would miss the playoffs. There is nothing to lose by playing Dozier, and lots to gain.
...and Hunter Dozier in 2018...
When it comes down to it, Dozier likely has the higher ceiling and is the better defender at 3B. He should be the everyday third baseman next year. Moving him to first just puts too much pressure on his bat and there is no real reason to put him there anyways. If I held the lineup card pencil, I’d roll with Dozier at third and O’Hearn at first for all of 2018, regardless of any bumps along the way. We know what Cuthbert is, a replacement level-ish player whose main contribution just comes from not being truly bad at everything and not being hurt.
Dozier may not bring superstar level upside, but he’s the better long term piece than Cuthbert and should be given priority at the higher position, not being wasted at first (though he could also play the outfield - which is still better than first).
...and Brandon Finnegan in 2015...
“The Royals kind of screwed me over this year,” Finnegan said. “I wouldn’t have done what I did if it wasn’t for them last year. But you could tell they just didn’t have a clue what to do with me.”
You get the point.
Mondesi used to be one of baseball’s top prospects, and he made it in the top 50 prospects of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’ lists for three consecutive seasons. Even now, he remains one of the Royals’ biggest trade assets.
Again: things can change. Mondesi could win the starting shortstop job; you never know. But it sure seems like the Royals have no idea what to do with Mondesi, and their public answers to how they are approaching him sure seem like they are intent on mishandling his value for a long time.