Much of the KC Royals fanbase has been divided on shortstop Adalberto Mondesi for many seasons now.
His potential is out of this world, but his performance on the field has been up and down, with the “down” more common lately than the “up.” For awhile, Mondesi kept his shortstop position because of potential, otherworldly defense, and because he was the best option for the Royals.
As Manager Ned Yost once said, referring to Mike Moustakas and his struggles at the plate in 2013, “Maybe when we get home, I can go to the third base tree and pick another third baseman.” The Royals didn’t have a third base tree then and don’t have a shortstop tree now; sticking with Moustakas worked, so why couldn’t sticking with Mondesi work, too? The Royals have done the right thing by letting their shortstop work through his own plate struggles.
After all, if Mondesi could stay healthy, he could become a superstar—a switch-hitting, five-tool shortstop like Mondesi is rare in baseball. The Royals have been right to stand by the oft-injured Mondesi, and rightfully so—his speed, range and defense are off the charts, and he can hit for power, as evidenced by his 2018 season when he hit 14 home runs in just 75 games, slugged .498, and hit .276.
The KC Royals can’t afford to keep waiting on Adalberto Mondesi’s potential.
The potential has always been there, but doesn’t win games. Without a doubt, Mondesi doesn’t want to be injured. No one wants him to keep missing games and no one should blame him for the terrible injury luck he’d already had before tearing his left ACL last week.
Hopefully, he’ll make a full recovery and one day return to major league baseball. But the Royals can no longer wait, not only because of his injury troubles, but because he has a proven inability to produce consistently at the plate.
Throughout much of Mondesi’s career, he’s struggled with strikeouts. He doesn’t walk often and strikes out far too much to be able to work into his outstanding tools at the plate. But the end of 2020 provided new hope to the Royals when, in his final 24 games, he slashed .356/.408/.667. He walked 8% of the time, well above his career mark of 4.4%. After a long recovery from shoulder surgery, it seemed Mondesi had finally found his health and put things together at the plate.
But Mondesi suffered three injuries and played only 35 games last season. Just as worrisome, he was back to his career average 4.4% walk rate and was striking out 31% of the time (the most since 2017). Thus far in 2022, Mondesi has walked more (7.4 BB%) but struck out a career-high 37% of the time. His strikeout rate has increased every season since 2018. And his batting average and fWAR have decreased every season in that span.
What would the future look like for the KC Royals without Adalberto Mondesi?
The Royals’ organizational depth is strong at shortstop, second base, and right field. Following the latest injury to Mondesi, Kansas City has moved Nicky Lopez to shortstop and Whit Merrifield to second, allowing Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbel more playing time in right field.
Bobby Witt Jr. could always move back to his natural shortstop position. Assuming he sticks at third base for the foreseeable future, though, Kansas City still has excellent minor league options behind Lopez and Merrifield.
Clay Dungan, 25 and a ninth-round amateur draft choice of the Royals in 2019, can play both shortstop and second base. In 108 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2021, Dungan slashed .288/.357/.405. He has good speed and a good eye at the plate (28 stolen bases and an 8 BB% last year) which should intrigue the Royals. Despite the slump he’s now in at Triple-A Omaha (he’s hitting .207), he could, if his bat improves and considering his 2021 numbers and the .318 he hit in the Cactus League this spring, see the major leagues this season.
Michael Massey is a year younger than Dungan but comes from the same 2019 draft class. Like Dungan, he has a good eye (7.5 BB% in 2021) and above-average speed, but boasts more power than Dungan. At High-A Quad Cities last season, Massey slashed .289/.351/.531 with 21 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 99 games and is slashing .298/.333/.560 with five home runs at Northwest Arkansas this year.
Moving on from Mondesi would allow the Royals to open the door for more of their young prospects. This could pay big dividends for a Kansas City team looking to compete in 2023 but already struggling offensively in 2022. There will always be a major “What if?” next to Mondesi’s name, but that is exactly where our memories of him should stay.
It’s time for the Royals and their fans to move on from Adalberto Mondesi.