The Royals’ Raul Mondesi became the first player ever to make his MLB debut in the World Series when he pinch-hit for pitcher Yordan Ventura
Twenty years old is a little on the younger side to make one‘s major-league debut, but not remarkably so. Debuting as a pinch-hitter is not unexpected either, nor is striking in out in that first at-bat. No, what makes Raul Adalberto Mondesi’s Friday night debut unique in the annals of Major League Baseball is the setting: He is the first player ever to make his first big-league appearance in the World Series. The Royals lost Game 3 at Citi Field, 9–3, but they did make history.
Mondesi is the son of 13-year MLB outfielder Raul Mondesi, who played for the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Yankees, among other teams, and retired after the 2005 season. He is now the mayor of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, and before the game, he told his son over the phone to get ready.
“He said, ‘Be prepared, it’s something big,’” Mondesi said of his conversation with his father. “He didn’t have a chance to play in a World Series, and I did. He was laughing about that—it’s incredible. And tonight I got a chance to get an at-bat in a World Series.”
“I’ll never forget my first time in the big leagues,” said d’Arnaud. “Everyone congratulated me, so I like to keep that tradition going. It's pretty crazy to do it in the World Series, though."
Mondesi laid off Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard’s first pitch, a high and hard slider, for ball one, foul-tipped a 96-mph fastball in the zone, looked at another, lower version of the pitch for strike two and swung and missed at an even lower 98-mph heater to strike out. As if making his MLB debut wasn’t enough of a first, Mondesi said after the game that it was also his first time pinch-hitting—ever.
But he had a plan: “I’ve been ready from the first hitter. They said I could hit for a pitcher, so I just got ready and I got my chance.... When you’re a pinch-hitter you’ve got to be ready because you’re not going up there to take a walk or something.... You gotta be ready to hit.”
The younger Mondesi is a shortstop and second baseman who spent the 2015 season in Double A with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, and he is a legitimate prospect. Baseball America ranked him No. 28 in the game on its preseason list. Still, most prospect evaluators believe he is a year or two away from being ready for The Show. This year he hit .243/.279/.372 for the Naturals in 81 games. Mondesi, at 6'1", is two inches taller than his father but a good 20 pounds lighter than Raul Sr. was in his playing days.
To be eligible to be added to the World Series roster, a player has to have been in the organization as of Aug. 31, which Mondesi was. The Roayls then added Mondesi to the 40-man on Tuesday when they DFA'd Joba Chamberlain. Manager Ned Yost said Mondesi was added to the Royals’ World Series roster in part for insurance in case infielder Ben Zobrist needed to leave for the impending birth of his third child with his wife Julianna, who is due any day now. But Zobrist played all nine innings, and Mondesi got his shot anyway.
Considering that most debuts are engineered to be relatively low-pressure, it’s no wonder that Mondesi’s at-bat was a first. Only one other player, second baseman Mark Kiger, had ever made his major-league debut in the playoffs, and that was the 2006 American League Division Series, when he entered the game as a defensive replacement for the Oakland Athletics and never got an actual at-bat. Indeed, after that series, Kiger never made it back to the big leagues at all.
Mondesi is not likely to suffer that fate.
“It was pretty fast,” he said of his first taste of the majors. “But I’ll just be ready. Tomorrow is another chance.”