Describing Adalberto Mondesi as a rising star might cause a few eyebrows to raise. After all, hasn’t he been around since 2015? That was the season when, as a 19-year-old, he made his debut in the World Series, the first player ever to make his MLB debut in that way.
Although he has been around for a while, he is actually a longer-tenured player at Kansas City than Whit Merrifield, there is strong reason to believe that there is more to come and that his strong early performances in the major leagues were just an indication of potential.
His first couple of seasons with the Royals were difficult. He was used mainly as a base runner, where his elite-level speed made him a natural. That changed in 2018 when he played a 75-game season and returned impressive figures of .276/.306/.804 including 32 stolen bases, 14 homers, and three triples. His dominance wasn’t quite as apparent in 2019, but in 102 games he stole an impressive 43 bases and also led the league in triples, registering a season tally of 10.
In the interrupted 2020 season, he continued to shine as a base stealer, leading the leagues with 24 in 59 games. However, 2021 has been a frustrating season as injuries have conspired to limit him to 31 appearances at the time of writing; injuries that have led to some speculation about his future. Mondesi’s class has not been in doubt. His figures are strong, despite his injury issues, and his variety of talents and attributes — range, speed, anticipation, power, and baseball IQ — have been in evidence whenever he takes the field.
Oblique and hamstring issues have largely been to blame for his absences this season, as each injury has required a lengthy period of rest and rehabilitation and has led to suggestions that he is a player who cannot be relied upon due to his physical fragility. However, time is clearly on his side, and it is worth remembering that he played 59 out of 60 games during the truncated 2020 season.
With the playoffs out of the question for the Royals this time around, they are already planning for 2022. Kansas doesn’t represent one of the best MLB bets today, but they have the potential to improve and Mondesi will surely be a major part of those plans
There have been some suggestions that the Royals should move on from their brilliant but injury-affected young star. With Nicky Lopez emerging as a top-class shortstop and Whit Merrifield slotting into the second base position, there are also questions about where Mondesi fits into the team. Does he play center field? Does he return to shortstop? Giving him the designated hitter role has enabled the Royals to push these questions back, but they will need to be addressed at some point.
To even consider moving on from Mondesi would be a huge mistake. The prospect of a fit and healthy Mondesi demonstrating his jaw-dropping skills and electrifying pace for another franchise must give Royal’s management nightmares. One of the most gifted players ever to enter MLB, who has already amassed a wealth of experience, will surely fulfill that potential at some point.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the extent of that potential. Mondesi has been compared — and favorably — with Francisco Lindor, the four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger winner, who came close to helping the Cleveland Indians land the 2016 World Series. According to some judges, Mondesi has the potential to surpass Lindor, given his tools. He is faster, with the ability to hit the ball further, and few players of his age can pull off the spectacular quite like Mondesi. Finding how to get the best out of him will involve some tricky decisions, the most pressing of which is where should he play?
Moving him to the center-field has plenty of advantages. The Royals have struggled to fill that part of the field since Lorenzo Cain left the franchise and no other option on their roster or available through free trades can match Mondesi’s hitting power even if they can come close to his defensive ability. The flip side of that decision will be how well he can adapt. Learning a new position will involve a learning curve and the risk of further injury as he figures it out.
The Royals have plenty of work to do if they are to get the best out of their star. Regardless, he remains one of the most exciting players in MLB: a glittering talent that is just waiting to be unlocked.