Adalberto Mondesi’s 2021 Left the Royals With More Questions Than Answers

It's nice to have a plan, but do the Royals have a firm one in place?
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Despite all the talent Adalberto Mondesi possesses — and it's a lot — his numbers have been less than stellar in recent years. Regardless of potential or injury, that's a fact.

Mondesi's "breakout" 2018 campaign, a season that saw him play in 75 games, served as an introduction to what could be in regards to the now 26-year-old infielder. He flashed impressive power. His speed was evident. He played great defense at shortstop. He was also inconsistent. It left the Royals with optimism, but cautious optimism at that.

Fast-forward three years, and many are still clinging to what could be for Mondesi. Recency bias is a real thing, and wanting a player to succeed is also a legitimate reason to form narratives or shift preexisting ones. Mondesi has had stretches of play that flash his amazing potential, even in limited action this year. Among them were:

  • A seven-game stretch in May, in which Mondesi hit .360 with a .720 SLG, good for an insane 1.080 OPS.
  • A three-game stretch in June, when Mondesi collected four hits (two home runs) in 11 at-bats and drove in four runs. 
  • A three-game stretch to begin September that saw Mondesi drive in three runs and steal four bases.

There's no denying what Mondesi can do when he's at his best. In a 22-game sample size last September (excluding his first two games, when he went hitless), he may have been the best player in baseball. In 93 plate appearances, he clobbered six home runs, drove in 19 runs and swiped 16 bags. He even walked seven times. His OPS was 1.130. No matter how you slice it, what could be was present right then and there.

Then, 2021 happened. Mondesi battled injuries and rehab all season long. He never got off on the right foot — his year appeared to be doomed from the start. On the season, Mondesi's slash line (.230/.271/.452) and OPS+ (90) were mediocre. His wRC+ (91) presented more of the same. 35 games isn't much to form a conclusion on, but is that 22-game span last year worth buying all the way into, either?

While this (abbreviated) season was one of Mondesi's best displays of power and speed, his defense wasn't able to be flashed nearly as much. He was relegated to third base and designated hitter. Could he play some right field in 2022? Sure, he's got the profile to do so. But until it happens, it's merely a possibility.

Mondesi's approach at the plate has always been an issue, and his plate discipline remains very poor. A 4.4% walk rate is minuscule and when combined with a 31.6% strikeout rate, the totality is near-catastrophic. He's struck out below 30% before, but that came in 2018 (26.5%) and 2019 (29.8%). His career-high walk rate is 5.0%, which came in Mondesi's 25-game 2017 season.  

A combination of power, speed and defense can get players by but if they aren't on the field daily to display the power, it's a suppressed point. Mondesi doesn't get on base nearly as often as he should, so the eliteness of the speed could be significantly greater in volume. He's been bumped away from shortstop and is discouraged from diving after balls, so is his defense as impactful as it can be? Almost surely not. 

Now, taking a look at the grand scheme of things, Mondesi's 2021 leaves the Royals with the same what could be floating around in their heads. They must also figure out exactly how frequently Mondesi can play in 2022 and beyond, as well as where he should be doing so on that part-time basis. Additionally, a change in his training regimen may be on the horizon. Should a contract extension be in the works? All of these questions are pressing for answers.

Mondesi is one of the most talented players in all of baseball. He's also perhaps MLB's most frustrating enigma. He's too good to not play, but he hasn't played often enough to instill complete and utter confidence. When he has played, his inconsistency renders his final numbers limited. Is there a happy medium somewhere? That's another question the Royals' front office and coaching staff must consider as the 2021-22 offseason rolls on. 

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