After a breakout second half for the Royals in 2018, the Royals are ready to anoint Adalberto Mondesi the next big thing in Kansas City, and with good reason. His combination of power and speed (especially speed) are reminiscent of another gifted shortstop—Jose Reyes.
The two are on similar career trajectories thus far, with Reyes having played in parts of two seasons before his first full year, at age 22, in 2005. Mondesi, after debuting in the 2015 World Series, has now played in parts of three seasons (with a very short stint in 2017) with his break through in 2018 coming at age 22.
In 2005, Reyes had 733 plate appearances with 17 triples, 7 home runs, and 60 steals. Mondesi only managed 291 plate appearances in 2018, but in that brief time he hit three triples and 14 homers while reeking havoc on the bases to the tune of 32 steals.
Projecting Mondesi out to 600 plate appearances (still 133 shy of Reyes’ 2005), he was on pace for six triples, 28 home runs and 66 steals.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The big difference between these two players, and what might keep Mondesi from reaching some of the same heights as Reyes, could be Mondesi’s ability (or lack thereof) to get on base. Reyes has a career OBP of .334, and at his peak, which I’ll say was from 2005-2014, he slashed .292/.344/.437 with an OPS+ of 109.
Mondesi has shown a lack of discipline at the plate so far in his career, though to be fair, he is just entering his age 23 season. In 2005 (his age 22 season), Reyes posted an OBP of just .300 versus .306 for Mondesi (again, also at age 22).
However, the concern for Mondesi’s continued development comes with his lack of contact. In 2005, Reyes was swinging at 46 percent of pitches and had a contact rate of 87.6 percent. Mondesi swung at 54.9 percent of pitches in 2018, making contact just 67 percent of the time. Reyes would go on making contact, and has a career mark of 86.2 percent while swinging just 45.1 percent of the time.
On the plus side, Mondesi has shown a glimmer of hope each time he’s been called up to the big leagues. His chase rate has declined each year from 2016-2018. His swing rate at balls outside the strike zone has dropped from 42.9 percent in 2016 to 37.1 percent in 2018. Not quite on par with Reyes’ 28.8 percent career rate, but moving in the right direction.
Reyes versus Mondesi—age 22 seasons
As you can see, in roughly half the playing time, Mondesi was worth 1.1 more wins than Reyes in his age 22 season, with a large lead in offensive value. He’s not likely ever going to have Reyes’ discipline at the plate, then again, that might not matter.
While their speed and defensive values appear to project very similarly, Mondesi’s seemingly superior power gives him a dimension that was absent from Reyes’ arsenal. While 2018’s .222 ISO may not be sustainable, Mondesi certainly seems to have more pop in his bat than Reyes, who saw his power peak in 2006 with an ISO of .187 and 19 home runs. Mondesi can sacrifice some OBP for SLG and still be as valuable as Reyes was for the Mets in his prime.
At Royals FanFest this weekend, team officials compared Mondesi’s electric play to another young Kansas City star—Patrick Mahomes. While it’s early to compare their on-field success, the preseason anticipation for Mondesi’s 2019 season is similar to the buzz that surrounded Mahomes prior to his first full year. Mondesi has a lot to prove, but could be one of the most exciting players in baseball this year, and the Royals might just have a centerpiece to build around as they climb back to contention.