The burden of the ugly MLB lockout now removed, the KC Royals are back in Arizona preparing for Friday’s Cactus League opener with Texas and 2022 Opening Day against Cleveland.
And there, under the sun at the club’s Surprise spring training complex, works Adalberto Mondesi, the talent-rich infielder trying hard to put his troublesome injury history behind him.
The front office’s hope for any future injury-free seasons from Mondesi is, however, something the club seemed to have abandoned last season, and not without reason considering his continuing inability to avoid harm. Indeed, then-General Manager Dayton Moore signaled the Royals had probably resigned themselves to Mondesi being just a part-time player.
Moore’s words were strong and direct, his message clear. He left little room—if any—for interpretation.
But Manager Mike Matheny, presumably not talking out of school or without significant foundation, recently told mlb.com KC beat writer Anne Rogers this:
"“For our team to be as good as we can possibly be, right now, it’s with Mondesi at shortstop,” Matheny said on Tuesday. “Right now, it’s early enough in spring, everybody’s talking best-case scenario. And we want Mondesi at shortstop. How often, we’ll see. We’re going to watch.”"
And as Rogers pointed out, Mondesi returning to short would put Nicky Lopez back at second, Whit Merrifield in right field, and probably young phenom Bobby Witt Jr. at third.
Planning a KC Royals infield with Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop is right.
Although the Internet was alive Tuesday and Wednesday with criticism of Kansas City’s infield design generally, and the plan to reinstall Mondesi at second specifically, the Royals are correct. At least for now.
Kansas City has long considered Mondesi its shortstop of the future, a view his defense, hitting and speed justify. He’ll win a Gold Glove if he plays often enough and long enough; his solid 2018 season (.276 with 14 homers in 75 games), torrid September two seasons ago (.356 with a .408 OBP and 1.075 OPS), and penchant for stealing bases (43 in 2019, 32 the year before and a major league-leading 24 in the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 campaign) prove he can be superb offensively.
So, Mondesi deserves the chance to reclaim the job he lost to injuries last season; had it not been for the quad strains and hamstring trouble, there wouldn’t have been any reason to replace him with Lopez. And the possibility of injury shouldn’t whisk players of Mondesi’s caliber and potential away to the bench.
That isn’t, of course, what we said late last season in this space—then, it made sense to give Lopez the shortstop job for 2022, but time can change a lot, including opinions. That Mondesi may be a better defensive shortstop than Lopez over the long haul, and is accustomed to the position, isn’t a knock on Lopez, especially because Lopez is, in his own right, so good defensively.
No, keeping Mondesi at short and shifting Lopez back to second should give Kansas City an even better double play combination than last season’s and allow both to play where they’re eminently qualified and perhaps most comfortable. And the move, if it works and lasts, permits the Royals to do precisely what they’ve wanted to do for quite some time: move Merrifield to right, a spot he’s played well before and which carries with it less injury risk to the club’s most versatile player.
And what of third base? Bobby Witt Jr., of course, MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 Kansas City prospect whose amazing 2021 minor league season all but proves he has nothing left to accomplish by staying on the farm, and is good enough to play just about anywhere on the field. Enough said.
What if Adalberto Mondesi can’t avoid injuries this season for the KC Royals?
Kansas City’s current infield plan is the epitome of betting on the come. It will succeed only if Mondesi stays healthy or suffers nothing more than the common aches and pains of ballplayers required to endure the rigors of a 162-game season.
So it is that any serious injury to Mondesi will scuttle the Royals’ plans.
What then? Simple. The club reverts to what we proposed last year—Lopez moves to short and Merrifield to second, Witt plays third, and Mondesi plays where he can, when he can.
And that wouldn’t be terrible.
But for now, the Royals have it right. The plan to play Mondesi at short may not be the most popular idea, but the club needs to try it.
Kansas City is planning on Adalberto Mondesi returning to shortstop.