The KC Royals have an injury-prone shortstop. An offseason signee could give the club some valuable insurance at the position.
In Fall 2015, a minor leaguer best known for his ability to play just about anywhere on a baseball field made a bit of history and seemed close to making more. The Mets were crafting their roster for a World Series with the KC Royals and Matt Reynolds was a candidate — he was the first player with no major league experience to make a postseason roster as a mid-series injury replacement when he took Ruben Tejada‘s place during the NLDS but, because he didn’t play, he’d be the first rookie to make his big league debut in a World Series if he made the Series roster and saw action.
While New York pondered its options, the Royals were finalizing a Fall Classic roster which certainly didn’t figure to include Raul Mondesi Jr., a 20-year old can’t miss, all tools prospect. Mondesi (now known at his own insistence as Adalberto Mondesi) was an unlikely choice for any postseason spot, much less one on a World Series roster. He’d just completed his fourth pro season and first in Double-A — the Royals were being so careful with his development that a rush to the World Series seemed out of the question.
The Royals, though, surprised everyone by naming Mondesi to their Series roster; the Mets, on the other hand, bypassed Reynolds, clearing the way for Mondesi to become the first player to make his major league debut in a World Series when he pinch-hit in Game Three.
Their careers diverged even more after the Series — Mondesi is an established everyday big league shortstop, Reynolds a former bit player for the Mets and Nationals who hasn’t been in a major league game since 2018. He signed a Royals minor league deal in November and was fighting for a big league roster spot with when baseball stopped in March.
Without a turnaround at the plate when the game resumes, Reynolds’ weak Cactus League hitting (.211 in 35 at-bats) and career major league average (.223) won’t help him make the KC Royals’ Opening Day roster. It’s not his bat, though, that attracted the Royals…it’s his versatility.
Reynolds’ major league experience covers every infield position and two in the outfield and he’s pitched twice in the minors. Although his two-game 9.00 ERA probably disqualifies him from ever pitching for the Royals (or any team, for that matter), his defense elsewhere is sufficient.
He gives manager Mike Matheny the luxury of a player he can plug into almost any position at a moment’s notice, an important commodity considering KC’s plan to make uniquely versatile Whit Merrifield a full-time center fielder. The shift in Merrifield’s responsibilities complicates the Royals’ ability to immediately replace injured players if they remain committed to playing Merrifield in center.
The negative impact of leaving Merrifield in the outfield hits hardest at shortstop. Injury to Mondesi is always a concern — he was still recovering from two 2019 shoulder injuries and surgery when baseball suspended spring training and, although he should be ready when the suspension ends, he’s been injury-prone throughout his career. Worries about Mondesi rose so high late last season that the club imposed fielding and baserunning restrictions upon him that were nearly impossible to comply with and the “violation” of which contributed to his season-ending injury.
Another serious Mondesi injury means a probable shift to shortstop for Nicky Lopez, who’s played 178 more games there than at second in his pro career. (Only Mondesi’s present hold on short blocks Lopez from the position). In past seasons, Merrifield would move to second, but the Royals will be reluctant to move him out of the outfield.
And that’s where Reynolds, despite his soft bat, can help. He’s shortstop insurance. Thirty-four of his 89 major league defensive appearances have been at short (he’s played third 34 times) and shortstop was his primary minor league position. Subbing Reynolds for Mondesi would keep Lopez at second and Merrifield in center; Reynolds could also play second, allowing Lopez to play short (his natural position) and Merrifield to stay in center. And keeping Reynolds on the big league roster will be easier if clubs are, as expected, allowed 29 players when baseball returns.
Should Mondesi suffer an injury requiring a lengthy IL stay, however, Reynolds’ hitting deficiencies might force the KC Royals to play Lopez at short and Merrifield at second, although the big league offensive credentials of presumed backup outfielders — and probable Merrifield replacements — Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips are inferior to Reynolds’. Alex Gordon can play center but probably won’t on any extended basis; Hunter Dozier and Ryan McBroom haven’t spent time in center at any level.
(And if youngsters Nick Heath, Kyle Isbel or Khalil Lee aren’t ready for major league pitching, an extended Mondesi absence requiring Merrifield to play second could compel the club to search elsewhere for a center field solution).
All of this assumes, of course, that injury may again befall Mondesi, a foreseeable occurrence considering his history. But that’s what insurance like Matt Reynolds is for.
Adalberto Mondesi will hopefully have an injury-free season. The KC Royals should keep Matt Reynolds around in case he doesn’t.