Projecting Raul Mondesi

In something of a surprise move, the Kansas City Royals added 20-year-old Raul Mondesi — the son of the former Dodgers outfielder — to their World Series roster to replace pinch-runner Terrance Gore. Since Mondesi can play shortstop and second base, he gives the team a bit more roster flexibility, especially for the games that will be played under NL rules. Interestingly, Mondesi has never played in a major league game, or even a Triple-A game for that matter. So if Ned Yost decides to use him off the bench this series, he’ll make his big league debut in the World Series — something no one’s done before. As I noted in my write-up of Matt Reynolds, who was on the Mets’ NLDS and NLCS rosters despite having zero big league experience, this sort of thing is super unusual.

Mondesi’s most notable attribute is his infield defense. Kiley McDaniel, our erstwhile lead prospect analyst, gave his fielding and throwing tools future grades of 60. Yet, despite his defensive savvy, Mondesi’s hitting — or lack thereof — makes him a something of a polarizing prospect. Baseball Prospectus ranked him 12th on their mid-season list, while Keith Law had him down at 38th. Others put him somewhere in-between. There’s not a ton of consensus on Mondesi’s future.

The questions regarding Mondesi’s bat are obvious. He hit .243/.279/.372 in his age-19 season this year, and put up a similar .246/.293/.361 batting line over his previous three years in the minors. For a point of comparison, Alexei Ramirez essentially had Mondesi’s season in the majors this year, and was worth all of -0.5 WAR despite being a non-terrible defensive shortstop.

Yet, as bad as Mondesi’s hitting has been, he’s also been very young for his level at every stop along the way. Although he’s yet to master a minor league level, he’s always been exceptionally young for those same levels. He was 19 when he was in Double-A, 18 in High-A and 17 in Low-A. Players who are that much younger than their competition are few and far between.

So how do we weigh all of these pluses and minuses?

Well, that’s what KATOH’s for. Plugging Mondesi’s numbers into the KATOH machine yields a projection of 9.1 WAR through age 28. That’s pretty good! In my in-season prospect update, KATOH ranked Mondesi 17th overall, ahead of guys like Corey Seager and Joey Gallo. Yes, Mondesi’s raw offensive numbers have been terrible, but he’s also faced off against many pitchers four or five years his senior. In fact, in four years in the minors, Mondesi’s faced just one pitcher younger than him: Julio Urias. If Mondesi had spent 2015 in, say, Low-A, he almost certainly would have hit for a passable triple slash line.

Let’s get to the comps. Using Mondesi’s league-adjusted stats and his age, I calculated the Mahalanobis distance between his 2015 season, and every Double-A  season since 1990 in which a player recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest and dearest to Mondesi’s, ranked from most to least similar.

Raul Mondesi’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Mah Dist Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 2.23 Nathan Haynes 95 0.0
2 2.66 Mike Hardge 0 0.0
3 2.72 Luis Rivas 2,290 0.0
4 3.08 Hiram Bocachica 461 0.0
5 3.17 Yamil Benitez 481 0.0
6 3.25 Willie Romero 0 0.0
7 3.35 Jose Tabata* 1,765 2.0
8 3.42 Alex Gonzalez^ 3,634 8.0
9 3.54 Cristian Guerrero 0 0.0
10 3.63 Brian Specht 0 0.0
11 3.79 Hugh Walker 0 0.0
12 3.80 Edwin Diaz 15 0.0
13 3.88 Andrew McCutchen 4,504 40.3
14 3.89 Edward Salcedo* 0 0.0
15 3.93 Duane Singleton 93 0.0
16 4.08 Chad Hermansen 541 0.0
17 4.14 Tim Beckham* 231 0.1
18 4.21 Willie Ansley 0 0.0
19 4.21 Brett Lawrie* 2,033 8.8
20 4.26 Ray Durham 3,993 8.0
Middle infielders colored in blue
*Yet to Play age-28 season
^This is the Blue Jays Alex Gonzalez, and not the “Sea Bass” one, if that helps at all.

As always, take these comps with a grain of salt. This is just a smattering of players who happened to perform most similarly to Mondesi. In other words, this is a small sample, and as we all know, strange things can happen in small sample sizes. But this list gives us a general idea of some optimistic yet realistic outcomes for Mondesi. This Alex Gonzalez. Or Luis Rivas, but with (hopefully) much better defense.

Of course, most of that doesn’t much matter right now. Regardless of what his future holds, Mondesi’s role in the World Series is as a pinch-runner and/or defensive replacement. He’s undeniably the 25th man on the roster, and is almost certainly the last pinch-hitter Ned Yost would use off the bench. In other words, it’s unlikely he’ll touch a bat this series. Nonetheless, Mondesi’s on a World Series roster, and that means he could play a pivotal role in deciding this year’s champion on any given night.

Mondesi’s just a baby, who lacks big league experience and can’t hit a lick at this stage of his career.  If he gets into a game, he’ll usurp Roberto Osuna as the youngest player to play in the big leagues this year. Heck, Bartolo Colon was already a 22-year-old pitcher when Mondesi was born. But despite his greenness, Mondesi’s plus speed and defense make him a potential asset off the bench. It’s all hands on deck in Kansas City, and the Royals are choosing to carry the player who adds the most to their roster, regardless of his age and experience.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Shirtless Bartolo Colon
8 years ago

Putting on 160 lbs. over the last 20 years – looks like the kid and I do have something in common.