In this week’s Hok Talk we discuss the fact that the Royals clearly understood that Adalberto Mondesí was not likely to play well for the entire season and then highlight the silver linings around the clouds that have surrounded the Royals’ early season play.
This is usually the part where I’d go over the whole sordid history of Adalberto Mondesí. That’s been done to death, I think. The tl;dr version is that for the Royals he was Bobby Witt Jr. before any of us had ever heard of Bobby Witt Jr but injuries and ineffectiveness prevented him from ever reaching the hype the Royals promoted about him. The history that’s relevant now is that last year Dayton Moore went on the record after another of Mondesí’s unfortunate injuries as saying that the team knew they could no longer rely on Mondesí as an everyday player. During the off-season, Moore walked those comments back and Mondesí ended up starting every game this year until the season-ending ACL injury. This led to a lot of people assuming the Royals were relying on him, but that simply was not the case.
You don’t rely on your number seven hitter
Adalberto Mondesí has started more games as the number-two hitter in the lineup than at any other spot in the order. The number-two spot in the order is a vital spot in the lineup; only one other hitter will come to bat more often. However, this season Mondesí has batted no higher than sixth with most of his started in the seventh spot and even a couple in the eighth and one in the ninth spot. As with any spot in the order, a team would rather have a good hitter in the seventh spot than a bad one, but by the time you get that low in the order a player is more likely to be known for something else - defense or baserunning - or for being inconsistent. In other words, a player that is nice to have, hopefully, but not one that has to perform at the plate in order for the team to win.
The Royals knew they had replacements ready to go
Dayton Moore is well-known for seeking out every win he can find, even when it makes little to no sense. Had the Royals really been relying on Adalberto Mondesí it would have made more sense for them to deal someone like Nicky Lopez or Whit Merrifield during the off-season in order to fill in holes elsewhere. As fun as it was to watch three shortstops patrol the infield, it wasn’t the best use of resources. But the Royals kept both players. That means that with Mondesí out, the team just slides Lopez back to short and moves Whit back in from the outfield. Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbel play a part here, too, because both were in need of playing time and neither could find it. Now that Mondesí is out, one of them has gotten a start in every game since.
The Royals were still trying to find the Mondesí they thought they had seven years ago
So why not just trade or cut Mondesí, if they really weren’t counting on him? Because if they could find the version of Mondesí that they hoped or expected to find when he debuted with the big league club during the 2015 World Series it would provide a huge boost to this team. None of Isbel, Merrifield, Lopez, or Olivares are likely to turn into superstars going forward. They can all play their positions competently or better, but none had the ceiling of Mondesí. It only made sense for the Royals to keep giving Mondesí chances so long as no one else was forcing their hand. Unfortunately, as has often been the case, it ended up being Mondesí’s health that forced them to stop giving him chances in 2022 and let the other guys show their stuff at their best positions.
Finding some silver linings
The Royals’ season is barely 10% complete and yet they’ve already suffered two losing streaks, seen a lot of failure from the young players they’re relying on, and generally been frustrating to watch. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything good happening, though.
Playing time is coming available
As noted previously, Mondesí’s injury moves Lopez and Merrifield back to positions where their bats play better. It also gives opportunities to Isbel and Olivares to prove that they are starting-caliber outfielders. Kris Bubic’s failures on the mound have forced the Royals to give up the Brady Singer bullpen experiment and give him another try in the rotation after he spends a period at AAA stretching back out. The Royals also benched Carlos Santana in back-to-back games while Salvador Perez was dealing with a blurred vision issue that forced him to DH; that indicates the team won’t provide Santana with endless rope if his struggles continue.
Some players are coming around
Brad Keller and Hunter Dozier were not good for the 2021 Kansas City Royals but they’ve both rebounded so far, this season. The best part is that since we’ve seen them execute at a high level in the past, it’s becoming more and more reasonable to think that 2021 was the outlier for them rather than their earlier, more successful campaigns.
Bobby Witt Jr. was the hero in the first two Royals wins of the season but then went into a bit of a slump. As many pointed out, he has struggled upon first introduction to a new level at every step of his professional career but always quickly turned things around. He could very well be turning things around already; he’s put up a 111 wRC+ over the last week and hit the ball particularly hard six times during the White Sox series. Perhaps even more encouraging is that while he struck out 13 times in his first 10 games, he’s struck out only five times in his last seven.
The Royals are not nearly eliminated, yet
It’s probably a bit early to be talking about post-season chances but I’ve seen a lot of chatter - and had thoughts - about the Royals being eliminated from post-season consideration already. The reality doesn’t quite bear that out, however. Following their series victory over the White Sox the Royals are only three games under .500 and in second place in the AL Central, three games back of the Twins - the only team with a winning record in the division. The Royals will obviously need to play better if they want to begin to be perceived as “good” but their struggles thus far have not come close to burying them. A short hot streak and they could easily take the division lead.