KC Royals: Why it’s time to let Adalberto Mondesi go

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Almost seven long years have passed since the KC Royals pushed promising young prospect Adalberto Mondesi into the major leagues when the club surprisingly named him to its 2015 World Series roster, and he became the first big league player to debut in a Fall Classic game when he pinch hit in Game 3.

Mondesi seemed destined for a long, productive, stellar career. The “can’t miss” and “five-tool” tags were there. His bat needed refinement, but bulged with potential. He was already an accomplished base stealer. And he was (and is) a major league legacy—his father Raúl hit .273, clubbed 271 homers, won two Gold Gloves and earned an All-Star Game berth in a 13-year big league career.

Potential, though, doesn’t necessarily beget sustained success in the majors. Such success can be elusive, and has been in Mondesi’s case. He won a 2015 World Series ring, but didn’t see Kansas City again until the second half of the 2016 season was already underway. The .185 he hit in 47 games, and a .103 average over his first 14 games of the 2017 campaign, bought him a trip back to Triple-A Omaha, where his 13 homers, 21 steals and .305 average in 85 games put him back at Kauffman Stadium on a September callup. He went 5-for-11.

Hampered early the next year by shoulder impingement, Mondesi didn’t play in the majors again until mid-June of 2018; this time he stuck by hitting a career high 14 homers, stealing 32 bases and batting .276.

Then injuries began striking Mondesi in earnest.

Injuries have frequently kept Adalberto Mondesi out of the KC Royals’ lineup.

A groin and two shoulder injuries cost Mondesi 60 games in 2019.

More. KC's biggest mistakes of 2019. light

Free of injuries, he played all but one game in the pandemic-truncated 2020 campaign and stole more bases than anyone in the majors.

But he missed all of April and most of May last season after suffering a late spring training oblique injury. He returned hot and was hitting .360 before suffering a hamstring injury, then was 4-for-11 in three games when a second oblique injury cut him down in late June. He came back Sept. 1 but struggled to hit .178 down the stretch.

And this season? Same story, unfortunately—Mondesi tore an ACL in late April and hasn’t played since.

What should now be infielder Adalberto Mondesi’s future with the KC Royals?

This is one of the biggest questions looming over the Kansas City franchise. Answering it isn’t easy.

No one disputes Mondesi’s offensive and defensive skills, or how good he might be if he played regularly. He can hit, he can field, he can run, he can throw. Healthy for a sustained period, he could be great.

Much, though, has happened since he last played.

Most importantly, the infield may have passed him by. Other than first base, which Mondesi doesn’t play, it now belongs to Bobby Witt Jr., Michael Massey and Nicky Lopez. Manager Mike Matheny is deploying Witt more frequently at third base, where he makes plays like this one from Monday night:

The hot corner is Witt’s for the taking … unless, of course, he plays shortstop and Lopez—or Maikel Garcia, who MLB Pipeline rates as KC’s sixth-best prospect—plays third. Garcia, who began this season in Double-A and slashed .291/.369/.409 before moving up to Triple-A where he’s hitting .276 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 24 games, also has a shot at shortstop next year. And Massey has all but won the second base job for 2023. If Lopez, who can play second, third and short, doesn’t start, he’ll make a suitable and reliable backup infielder.

Trending. Massey is KC's second-best rookie. light

What’s the answer to the Mondesi question?

The KC Royals should not consider Adalberto Mondesi part of their future.

Presuming he’s fully recovered from ACL surgery and ready to play when spring training opens in mid-February, the Royals could give Mondesi another shot. Some may argue he has too much talent for the club to walk away from; he deserves one more shot, they’ll say, and the Royals can afford to give it to him.

Mondesi’s raw talent certainly complicates the situation and provides some reason to keep him, to try him one more time.

But these Royals have a wealth of talented infielders capable of playing together for several years. They’re showing strong signs of gelling and should be even better next season. All but Lopez are younger than Mondesi, and none carry the unfortunate baggage of his injury history and the uncertainty it creates. And returning to Mondesi next season, hoping he can avoid injury, regain the form he showed in 2018, and perhaps increase his trade value, moves a present infielder aside. That may not be a risk worth taking.

It’s time for the club to stick with the excellent and improving infield it has.

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The Royals shouldn’t figure Adalberto Mondesi into their future plans.