There’s an unofficial term in baseball evaluation circles called “prospect fatigue.” It’s a tendency of sports writers and talent evaluators alike to overlook or underrate a specific player because said player has simply been around for a while. Sometimes, a player that remains a prospect for a long time is indicative of some significant flaw or flaws in their game that ultimately prevent them from big league productivity—Bubba Starling comes to mind—but that’s not always the case. Hype can begin early and burn brightly, and after a while it’s natural to simply move on to the next great prospect sans disappointment.
Adalberto Mondesi is perhaps the living embodiment of prospect fatigue. He was a top-50 prospect in baseball for three years, from his age-18 season through his age-20 season. Famously, Mondesi became the first player to make his big league debut in the World Series. But after poor performance in the big leagues in Mondesi’s age-21 and age-22 seasons, prospect fatigue set in.
That may have been a mistake.
That particular home run went 458 feet and was hammered off the bat at 109 MPH, per Statcast. Oh, and did you hear—Mondesi also just happens to be one of the 10 fastest players in Major League Baseball? Mondesi stole his 100th career bag in the same game.
To look back on Mondesi’s 2020 is to focus on three things. First, that he is still young. Mondesi just turned 25 when the season started in July. Barely a week later, Brady Singer, hyped rookie and potential future face of the pitching staff for years to come, turned 24. Coming into this season, Mondesi had accrued 4.4 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs, in 249 career games.
Second, that Mondesi possesses perhaps the greatest blend of power and speed in Major League Baseball, and with that talent his ceiling is immense. From September 3 through the end of the year, Mondesi played like every fiber of his being was on fire. During that period, he hit .368/.421/.690—good for a wRC+ of 197—and was the most valuable player in baseball. He also stole 16 games during that time period. The guy with the second-most stolen bases in baseball, Jonathan Villar, also stole 16—just, you know, over the entire season, not just in 23 games.
Third, that Mondesi has significant flaws that have thus far held him back from being a star, and those flaws probably will hold him back from ever being a star. To be succinct: Mondesi swings and misses at pitches at an extremely high rate, and he does not walk enough or hit for enough average to have a high enough on base percentage to develop any sort of consistent production.
And we all saw that: from the beginning of the year through September 2, a period of 136 plate appearances, Mondesi hit .182/.206/.235, with a strikeout rate of 31.6% and a walk rate of only 2.2%. That combined for a wRC+ of 14—no, seriously, fourteen—and he was the third least valuable qualified player in baseball.
How does that make sense when Mondesi can also crush home runs from the other side of the plate, because oh yeah he’s a switch hitter, too? I do not know. No one does, really.
You could say an almost infinite amount of things about Mondesi’s season. You could speculate why he was so bad. You could speculate if he really turned a corner. You could speculate whether or not Mondesi will ever reach his potential. All are valid questions, and his Jekyll and Hyde performance in 2020 yields as many answers or as few as you really want.
However, the true takeaway from Mondesi’s 2020 season is rather boring, despite the radically different halves Mondesi had. The fact of the matter is that pretty much every player goes through weeks of slumps and weeks of hot hitting to some degree. Baseball isn’t just played over 20- or even 40-game stretches; they’re judged in aggregate over dozens and hundreds of games. And, ultimately, Mondesi has been the same guy since the start of 2018. He’s hit roughly the same the same (89 wRC+ in 2020 and 82 wRC+ in 2019) and generally produced the same value (about at a 3.5 WAR pace in both seasons, if you prorate his stats out to 150 games).
If Mondesi never improves, he’ll likely be a great player for the Royals. An elite shortstop glove and elite baserunner that can hit near league average is very valuable. But if Mondesi does improve on the hitting front, well, watch out. Frustratingly, 2020 tells us nothing about the latter.
What grade would you give Adalberto Mondesi for his 2020 season?
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