The Kansas City Royals are in a rebuild, of that there is no doubt. Now that their one recognizable face is out for the year in Salvador Perez, you’re going to be hard pressed to even hear much about them at all this year. but just because a team is rebuilding, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have talent. Sometimes, like in Adalberto Mondesi’s case, it takes the form of a semi-forgotten former top prospect. Mondesi hit the majors in a big way in 2018, and this year could be when he becomes the cornerstone of a new Royals era.
His 2018 was very good, if rather flawed. It was the kind of season you expect from a rookie, even if he’s already played in parts of three MLB seasons. He stole 32 bases in just 75 games and blasted 14 home runs. He eschewed walks in favor of taking his swings - his 3.8 percent walk rate was 9th lowest among those with at least 250 plate appearances - and with his 9th fastest in baseball sprint speed, he showed us what speed do. You can run and crush dingers all day and be a pretty solid player, but drawing a walk is pretty key to the next level the Royals need Mondesi to reach, especially with his middling contact rates (high 60’s or low 70’s so far).
The Royals were not good at drawing walks last year, with their 28th ranked 7 percent walk rate. This spring, during pointless baseball, they’re second in overall on-base percentage and 15th in walks. It’s not incredible, and it’s not meaningful baseball, but it’s something. Within that is Mondesi, who has walked four times at this writing. Not a stunning number, but he only walked 11 times in 276 plate appearances last year. In an interview with the Kansas City Star, he noted that breaking pitches were his Achilles heel, and how his hitting coach told him that, to paraphrase, superstars drive Mercedes Benzes because they don’t swing at those pitches.
Mondesi needed to adjust, and our first glimpse of that would be this spring if he did. This past Wednesday against the Indians he went 0-for-2 wiht 2 walks and 2 runs scored. While he wasn’t facing one of the Indians’ many aces, he did work some solid counts against Cody Anderson, a once highly thought of young pitcher and fringe major leaguer. In his first at-bat, he went down 0-2, both fastballs he swung at. In the past that might be a death knell. Instead he got to work:
That’s three breaking balls or off-speed pitches, and a bad fastball. The pitch recognition in that at-bat was top flight, and the kind of eye Mondesi needs to tap into his incredible athleticism. That, and simply spitting on breaking pitches like Mike Trout does high fastballs. This resulted in a walk, and ultimately a run. What’s impressive here too, all last year he drew a walk just once after being down 0-2, out of 69 chances.
The second at-bat ended the same, but Mondesi worked it differently. He’d seen Anderson was wild early, so the patience was on display, even from the outset:
I like this because he did lay off the fastball to open the at-bat. Anderson was all over the place in this start. Granted, it wasn’t thrown well, likely an easy take for Mondesi. It was a pretty good at-bat, but even more interesting was that he was swinging 3-0. That is a rarity across the game, even if it shouldn’t be. He got a cookie of a pitch and just barely missed annihilating it.
He had two other at-bats, one of which’s video is ruined by an in-game interview of Bill Hamilton. It’s like the announcers don’t understand this meaningless game means something to someone. but his next at-bat, this time facing Chih-Wei Hu, was impressive as well. Again, not a top flight pitcher, in fact he’s since been optioned to Triple-A, but Mondesi did everything perfect:
From swinging at the fastball first and pitch, to battling back down 0-2 to another full count, to the fly ball out, that’s an excellent at-bat. The result wasn’t there, but for the third time in a row his process was top flight.
Demonstrating that excellence in spring counts for a little, but obviously carrying it over to April and the regular season is what really matters. If this is the player that Mondesi is now, or what he’s turning himself into, the rebuild should be surprisingly quicker for the Royals. He just has to stick with this process.
Merritt Rohlfing writes about baseball at Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score, and talks about it on Let’s Talk Tribe. Also sometimes on the radio. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.