Adalberto Mondesi’s 2021 season and sadly, most of his career, can be summed up by one word - injured. The enigmatic shortstop suffered a right oblique injury on the eve of Opening Day, then returned in May only to hurt his hamstring and land on the Injured List a week later. He returned in June, but it only took three games for him to injure his left oblique, keeping him out of action until September. He would appear in just 35 games, hitting .230/.271/.452 with six home runs and 15 steals.
Even when he stays healthy, as he did during the entire pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he can be a very enigmatic player. That year, he hit .179/.209/.231 with a 30.7 percent strikeout rate in his first 37 games, then hit .368/.421/.690 with six home runs and 16 steals in the last 23 games.
Mondesi has shown tantalizing power and speed as a ballplayer, but also a complete inability to distinguish good pitches from bad. Since he made his debut in 2016, he has the 12th-worst walk rate in baseball at 4.3 percent and the 18th-highest strikeout rate at 29.9 percent. Only five hitters in baseball have made less contact on pitches than Mondesi over that time, and only Jorge Alfaro has a higher swinging strike rate than Mondesi.
Now 26 years old with 1,312 Major League plate appearances under his belt, it would seem unlikely that Mondesi could change his approach to make significant improvement in plate discipline. Yet despite his awful walk numbers, streaky bat, and numerous injuries, Mondesi has been a decent offensive player. Since he became a regular in 2018, he has a 95 OPS+, ranking 14th out of 25 shortstops with at least 1,000 plate appearances. That may not sound like much, but when you add a slightly-below average bat with great speed on the bases and a plus defender at shortstop, you get a pretty valuable player. Since 2018, Mondesi is fourth among all players in stolen bases, eighth in Baserunning Runs (in half the plate appearances as leader Jose Ramirez), and leads all players in Speed Score.
Then there is his defense. Since 2018, he has been 11th among all shortstops in Defensive Runs Above Average, despite significantly less playing time. Combine a slightly-below average bat at shortstop with the best speed in baseball and a very good glove, and you get a pretty valuable player. Over the last four seasons, Mondesi has been worth 5.9 WAR, which pro-rated to a 162-game season would be worth 3.5 rWAR.
But as he enters the 2021 season, just two years away from free agency, he finds his career at a crossroads. With the emergency of Nicky Lopez, and the expected arrival of phenom Bobby Witt Jr., Mondesi finds himself without a guaranteed spot in the lineup. Dayton Moore said in an interview that the team can’t count on him as an everyday player anymore, and while he later walked those comments back, it is hard to see Mondesi as anything other than a semi-regular player in this lineup.
Perhaps Mondesi has learned to take better care of his body. Perhaps his plate discipline has matured - not enough to be great, or even decent - but enough to make him a league-average hitter. Perhaps having his career hanging in the balance between a big payday and a potential non-tender will spur him to his best season yet.
The Royals can’t count on Mondesi to become the star some projected when he was a top prospect. But it sure would be nice to see him reach his full potential.
What grade would you give Adalberto Mondesi for the 2021 season?
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