KC Royals should try this short-term shortstop solution
The suspicions triggered by Adalberto Mondesi’s early departure from Sunday’s game were unfortunately confirmed Monday. After he’d played just three games since spending almost three weeks on the Injured List with a hamstring problem, the KC Royals returned Mondesi to the List Monday, this time for a left oblique strain.
The Royals will miss Mondesi’s bat. He’s slashing .361/.378/.833 with four homers and nine RBIs in 10 games, all welcome contributions to the club’s troublesome offense.
Mondesi’s third trip to the IL of the season—he opened the campaign there with a right oblique strain—means Nicky Lopez will move from second base to short until Mondesi returns. And that might be awhile considering the almost two months his first oblique issue cost him.
Lopez is, of course, a gifted defender, and with his vastly improved hitting (.260) and OBP (.350), a sufficient temporary substitute for Mondesi.
But the Royals have another option, one capable of bringing a bit of much-needed stability to a shifting lineup. It’s only a short-term answer, but one Kansas City should consider.
Escobar is playing well at Triple-A Omaha. The Royals brought him back into the organization’s fold earlier this season for a reason, and filling in for Mondesi is as good as any, especially when the club isn’t inclined to interrupt Bobby Witt Jr.’s natural progression.
Escobar is experienced, knows the Royal ropes, and is a proven defender. He’s hitting well, too, with a .302 average, five home runs and 14 RBIs in 27 games.
And installing the veteran at short has its benefits.
Lopez and Whit Merrifield can move where the KC Royals prefer they play.
Bringing up Escobar means Manager Mike Matheny could put two important players where the club wants them—Lopez at second base and Whit Merrifield in right field. The Royals know Lopez is a more than capable shortstop, but having him at second, paired with a skilled defensive shortstop, gives the club a superb double play combo and strengthens it up the middle. Escobar at shortstop and Lopez at second checks both those boxes.
Adding Escobar also allows Merrifield to play right field instead of second, and right is clearly where the Royals want him to be. That was their plan heading into this season, but Mondesi’s right oblique injury scuttled it and forced Merrifield back to second, where he’s remained for much of the time; he played in the outfield in each of Mondesi’s three appearances before the second oblique injury landed him back on the IL.
Recently-extended Hunter Dozier can move back to third for the KC Royals.
If one thing is certain about Hunter Dozier’s miserable .157/.226/.335 line, it’s that he’s going to keep playing. The Royals aren’t about to bench a player with a fresh contract extension reportedly worth at least $25 million, at least not for long. The club is firmly committed to Dozier through thick and thin.
So, the Royals will play him somewhere, and third is the logical spot if Escobar fills in for Mondesi and Merrifield moves to right where Dozier has been appearing more often. Dozier’s hot corner glove appears to occasionally concern the Royal brass, but third base seems comfortable to him.
Playing Escobar is consistent with the KC Royals’ plan for Bobby Witt Jr.
The Royals had their chance to promote Bobby Witt Jr. to the majors when Mondesi’s right oblique injury forced him off the active roster, their second came when Mondesi returned to the IL with his hamstring issue, and their third arose Monday when Mondesi found himself back on the List. And they could have displaced the slumping Lopez with him in May.
Instead, KC stuck to its plan with Witt, which is to avoid rushing him to the big leagues at all costs.
Much clamor for Witt’s promotion arose during spring training and, fueled by Mondesi’s latest injuries and judging from even a cursory look at Internet chatter, is increasing. But although he’s slashing .280/.352/.561 with 11 home runs and 24 RBIs at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the club won’t let fan sentiment prevail.
Leaving Witt where he is and calling up Escobar actually fits the apparent Witt Master Plan, which is to allow him to progress through the system on merit, presumably through Omaha without making the big leap from Double-A ball to the majors. Although Escobar divides his Omaha time between shortstop, second, third and DH, he’s spent most of his time at short; promoting him to KC could give the organization some wiggle room to test Witt at Triple-A, especially considering Mondesi may be sidelined for some time.
How could the KC Royals make room for Escobar on the 26 and 40-man rosters?
Bringing Escobar back to Kansas City poses complications. The 26-man active roster and 40-man roster are both full, so space on each must be created.
The Royals recalled Ryan O’Hearn to replace Mondesi on the active roster (why isn’t completely clear, although his hot Triple-A bat may get a tryout at DH when he isn’t sitting on the bench), so he’s not a candidate to be sent out to accommodate Escobar.
The easiest solution is to drop a player presently occupying space on both rosters. Coupled with his 0-2 record and 8.34 ERA, Wade Davis’ most recent performance—the five runs and five hits he gave up at Oakland 10 days ago—render him a suitable choice.
Or, the club could explore trading Hanser Alberto to free up space for Escobar. Alberto’s versatility and one-year contract, the fact KC appears increasingly comfortable with Kelvin Gutierrez in a backup infield role, and Lopez’s progress at the plate, mean Alberto’s a probable trade deadline option anyway, so moving him soon wouldn’t be illogical.
Having Alcides Escobar fill in for Adalberto Mondesi might help the KC Royals. They won’t know until they try.