Nicky Lopez has been on fire this summer, hitting .332/.382/.408 over his last 54 games since mid-June with solid defense and a spurt of stolen bases. He has been worth 3.1 WAR, according to Fangraphs, more valuable than Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and everyone on the Royals roster.
In Omaha, top prospect Bobby Witt, Jr. continues to rake. He has shown no signs of slowing down following his promotion to Triple-A, batting .293/.363/.575 with 25 home runs and 21 steals in 90 games overall this season. He has spent 76 games at shortstop and has provided the exemplary defense with good range and a strong arm.
Meanwhile, Adalberto Mondesi has missed all but ten games this season with two separate oblique injuries. It is just another setback in what has been an injury-filled career for the promising young shortstop and it puts his future at the position into doubt. As Dayton Moore put it a few weeks ago, the Royals “can’t count on him as an everyday player.”
Between Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, Bobby Witt, Jr., Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi, the Royals have five solid infield candidates for three infield positions - second base, shortstop, and third base. Dozier and Merrifield are both capable of playing in the outfield, but perhaps Mondesi could be the one to move there?
Several middle infielders have made the transition to the outfield, including Dozier, Merrifield, and perhaps most notably Alex Gordon. Moore has remarked on Mondesi’s ability to play centerfield before, although he has never played the position in professional baseball. What are the pros and cons to moving Mondesi to the outfield?
Why Mondesi should move to centerfield
The first big advantage to moving Mondesi to centerfield is to open up a spot on the infield. Nicky Lopez has gone from being a Gold Glove finalist to second base to being second among all shortstops in Defense Runs Above Average. The knock on him as a minor leaguer was that while he was sure-handed, he wouldn’t have the range to play shortstop on a regular basis. But he is second in UZR despite playing 100-200 fewer innings at shortstop than other regulars.
Additionally, the Royals have Bobby Witt, Jr., who many evaluators think has the range and arm to play shortstop at an above-average to even elite level. Royals Assistant General Manager J.J. Picollo has said that Witt is a “left-side guy” meaning he will likely play third base or shortstop at the big league level. So the Royals seem pretty well stocked on shortstops capable of playing plus defense.
Meanwhile, there is a large hole in the organization in centerfield. The team has struggled to fill the position since the departure of Lorenzo Cain, and even now there is no long-term answer. Current starter Michael Taylor is a free agent, and despite being a fine defender, is a below-average hitter on the wrong side of 30. This year’s free agent centerfield class is very thin, so Mondesi could open up a spot and fill another need at the same time.
One of the other big reasons some have proposed moving Mondesi to centerfield is to keep him healthier. The Padres moved shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. to the outfield recently in an effort to keep him on the field. Mondesi did miss the final six weeks of the 2019 season with a shoulder injury after diving for a ball, so perhaps he will have less strain on his body in the outfield.
Why Mondesi should not move to centerfield
If the Royals want to keep Mondesi healthy moving the outfield is no guarantee. After all, he injured himself in 2019 diving for a ball, the kind of play that outfielders frequently take. There are also walls and other outfielders to run into, which could be an issue for an inexperienced outfielder. And this year’s injuries didn’t even result from any on-field action - Mondesi hurt himself swinging a bat on the on-deck circle. If the Royals want to keep him healthy, it seems the only way is to keep him enveloped in bubblewrap.
We also don’t know how Mondesi will transition to the outfield. It seems like it would be an easy transition, but tell ‘em Wash.
Alex Gordon had to work his butt off taking “power shags” to become a Gold Glover. And centerfield is a more demanding position than left, particularly in Kauffman Stadium. Mondesi certainly has the speed and athleticism to pull it off, but he still needs to learn the position.
And defense would be hugely important for Mondesi, since most of his value is wrapped up in his ability to convert outs. Over the past three seasons, he is eighth among all shortstops in Defensive Runs Above Average, despite playing in about two-thirds of the games the other leaders have. If you’re moving a Gold Glove-caliber defender off the most important defensive position, you had better not turn him into a liability. And since his bat has not really taken off as an elite bat yet, much of his value is still wrapped in his ability to continue to be a plus defender.
Having too many good players for not enough positions is a pretty nice problem to have. The Royals have traditionally had a lot of trouble finding any shortstop capable of doing anything with the bat, and now they potentially have three solid options. It’s a nice hedge to have in case Lopez regresses next season, Witt is not quite ready, and/or Mondesi is once again hurt. Ultimately, we could see Mondesi becoming more of a utility player, capable of filling in at shortstop on some days, and centerfield on others, particularly if the Royals no longer see him as an everyday regular.
Should Adalberto Mondesi move to centerfield?
This poll is closed
Yes, as the regular centerfielder
Yes, but splitting time between short and center
No, keep him at shortstop