A year and a half ago, I wrote an article about Adalberto Mondesi where I stated that it was time to lower expectations around him. I published it on August 24, 2020, when Mondesi was triple slashing a cool .212/.234/.279 and was striking out in about a third of his plate appearances. This, after a down year filled with injuries and subpar offensive production. I closed it out with this paragraph:
In other words, for Mondesi to be a star, he needs to exhibit skills he never has in his professional baseball career, skills that cannot be helped by his athleticism or a determined work ethic. Mondesi needs to not be a little better, but hugely better, at nearly every level of hitting competency. It is simply unfair to still expect or demand stardom from Mondesi at this point. That, ironically, may be the only thing to unlocking his true potential.
Of course, if you’ll remember, Mondesi’s September was one of the greatest months of baseball performance that I’ve ever seen out of any Royals player, ever. Out of the blue, Mondesi had three hits on September 4. From that day through the end of the year, he hit .377/.424/.706, where he walloped 14 extra base hits and simply destroyed the baseball. That alone would have been absolutely nuts, save for his base stealing. Mondesi attempted 19 stolen bases and swiped 16 of them, a pace that would have seen him successfully steal nearly 100 over a whole season. He was the most valuable position player in baseball over that stretch.
A year and a half later, the playbook on Mondesi is even more set. First, Mondesi has an injury problem. His high water mark in games played came in 2019, when he played 102 games in the big leagues and another 11 in the minor leagues, for an overall total of 113. He played professional totals of 54 games in 2021, 59 in 2020, 104 in 2018, 110 in 2017, and 99 in 2016.
Second is his inconsistency problem. Now, all baseball players go through hot and cold streaks to an extent. But Mondesi is particularly extreme. In any given month, he can be, quite literally, the worst baseball player in Major League Baseball—or he can be the most productive hitter in the league. We saw this last year, too. Mondesi had an .889 OPS in his first 72 MLB PAs of the season. In his last 64 PAs of the season, his OPS was .530.
One of the first things I wrote for Royals Review eight years ago was a piece about Alex Gordon and about how the commonly accepted narrative around him was wrong, or at least incomplete. It’s a fascinating time capsule, as I wrote it after Mike Moustakas had been demoted, and at the time it sure seemed like Moose wasn’t going to be any good. Of course, Moustakas turned his career around in 2015 and hasn’t looked back.
I bring it up because it seems to me that Mondesi is at a similar kind of inflection point in his career that Gordon was before 2011 and Moose was before 2015. The narrative that Mondesi is a failure just isn’t correct. After his first two seasons in which he was clearly out of his league, Mondesi has put up 7.2 WAR. That’s good enough to be the second best Royals position player over that time, a factoid that sounds completely made up but is, in fact, a true statement (per Fangraphs’ version of WAR).
The star expectations for Mondesi were probably not realistic considering his lack of on base skills and proven health issues. Expectations aside, Mondesi has been a perfectly productive, cheap player that every team in baseball would snap at a chance to be on their team. However, if Mondesi is to be more, if he is to be an All-Star level player, it needs to be now. And if he can’t stay on the field or can’t be semi productive at the plate, he’ll stick around in the league for a long time, a la the likes of Billy Hamilton and Jarrod Dyson. But if that happens, the sun will set on him as an everyday player.
Gordon did it. Moose did it. Mondesi, despite seemingly being around forever, is only entering his age-26 season. Could he do it? We’ll have to watch and see.