The free agencies and likely departures of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas led most to believe that Kansas City was in for some kind of rebuild. It seemed likely than any such attempt at a rebuild would lead to major-league opportunities for upper-level prospects like Hunter Dozier, Samir Duenez, and Ryan O’Hearn and/or post-prospects like Cheslor Cuthbert and Raul Adalberto Mondesi to pass or fail the big-league test and establish themselves as Royals of the future.
For most of those players, such an opportunity is still likely to emerge. With the announcement on Friday, however, that Alcides Escobar would be returning to the Royals, the future for one of them has become less certain. The presence of Escobar and 2017 breakout Whit Merrifield raises immediate questions about Raul Mondesi’s prospects in Kansas City, as it appears his path to regular big-league playing time is once again blocked.
Mondesi exists in limbo between prospectdom and big-league relevance. He exceeded rookie-eligibility requirements in 2016 and isn’t covered as a prospect anymore. Because he has spent much of the last two years in the minors, though — and on suspension for performance enhancing drugs — he also isn’t covered as a major leaguer. But Mondesi has had on-paper success in the upper levels. He hit .305/.340/.539 last year for Triple-A Omaha and he’s a plus-plus runner with the physical tools to remain at shortstop long-term. That reads like a potential star upon initial examination, so why won’t a seemingly rebuilding Kansas City give Mondesi an extended look to find out what he really has to offer?
I elicited opinions from several scouts and executives this morning regarding Mondesi, and their responses have made the picture a little more complex, one of a talented but erratic performer with makeup issues. They agree Mondesi has premium physical ability. He’s a 70-grade runner who goes from base to base with breathtaking explosion and has the range to play in the middle of the diamond. He also has plus bat speed and puts a surprising charge into the ball despite his size.
But Mondesi is an aggressive free-swinger who doesn’t take great at-bats, and scouts have mixed opinions about his bat control and the way he incorporates the rest of his body into his swing. There’s concern about his bat translating to the majors at all, let alone in a way that compares to what Mondesi has done at Triple-A.
The term “makeup” might have different meanings from scout to scout. In Mondesi’s case, evaluators are concerned about his defensive consistency, especially as it pertains to throwing accuracy, and have seen him fail to execute routine plays. Others were not thrilled with what they saw from Mondesi as he worked back into playing shape following his PED suspension in Arizona, citing poor effort and on-field focus which they particularly disliked in an environment laden with young, impressionable teenagers.
Kansas City’s Mondesi situation is further complicated by the emergence of SS Nicky Lopez, who, after a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, many scouts have projected as an eventual everyday shortstop. He’s probably two years away from reaching the majors, and it looks to me like the Escobar deal is a bridge to Lopez rather than Mondesi. Perhaps the solution here is a move to center field for Mondesi. His speed is more than sufficient there, but that would require a crash course in the minors, and Mondesi’s infield play doesn’t inspire confidence in his ability to learn and execute that quickly.
As a change-of-scenery reclamation project — which is an odd sentence fragment to write about a 22-year old — I think Mondesi is pretty interesting. The situation needs to be right, one where a rebuilding big-league team with reps to spare at shortstop is confident in their coaching staff and/or rostered veterans’ ability to help manicure Mondesi’s wholly untamed physical abilities. But if I’m running a team in that situation, I’m calling the Royals today to find out what it might take to acquire a rare talent who seems to have fallen out of favor with his parent org, even if that talent has some clear issues.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.