Why KC chose Mondesi for World Series roster
Club's versatile top prospect may come in handy for double switch
It should surprise no one to see the Kansas City Royals make an "out of the box" roster move in the postseason. After all, this is the organization that brought everyone pinch-runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore in 2014.
That said, adding Raul Mondesi to the World Series roster, replacing the aforementioned Gore, is definitely out there. It's also historic: If Mondesi appears in a game, he'll be the first player to make his Major League debut in the World Series.
So how did a player with no experience above Double-A make the World Series roster? Let's break it down.
For starters, an extra infielder would be more useful in a National League ballpark in case of a double switch. Gore is an outfielder, as are Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, so subbing Mondesi for Gore gives the Royals more options on their bench.
Mondesi, the Royals' top prospect and No. 33 overall, didn't turn 20 until late July. But the Royals felt there were several things he brought to the table.
The first, obviously, are Mondesi's physical gifts. The 2015 SiriusXM Futures Gamer is a premium defender, one who gets a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale for both his arm and his fielding. He's largely been a shortstop, but he did play 18 games at second during the 2015 season in the Texas League. Mondesi also has plus speed (70 on that scouting scale), a tool he's still learning to use effectively on the basepaths. Think of him as Gore, but with defensive ability and versatility.
"People know that he can run, he's a defender and he's a switch-hitter," said Royals vice president and assistant general manager of Major League and international operations Rene Francisco. "If he needs to pinch-run, or go in for defense, he can do that. He probably won't be used much as a pinch-hitter, but his all-around ability helps us. Our coaching staff that had him during Spring Training, our scouts and player development people, they all think he can contribute to our team during the World Series."
Mondesi last played an official game on Sept. 18, in the Texas League championship series, but he's been staying sharp in instructional league play, facing decent competition in the advanced instructional league the Royals helped create.
It also might seem curious to add such a young player, one who has yet to play an inning of big league baseball to a World Series roster. Perhaps it's even odder given that the son of former big league outfielder Raul Mondesi hasn't exactly lit the world on fire offensively. With all of his upside, Mondesi has a career OPS of just .658 and is coming off of a .243/.279/.372 year in 81 Double-A games.
"I know the numbers are not eye-popping, but he's always been one of the youngest kids in the league he's been in," Francisco said. "As an organization, we all feel he's in the right place and he's moving forward. We're going to challenge him, because he's very talented. We all love the kid. Off the field, and his work ethic and his instincts, that's what we like about him. His feel for the game , we feel he's where he should be."
Those instincts, his feel for the game, are a big reason why Mondesi is suiting up for the World Series. The Royals saw it back when Mondesi was an amateur, when Dominican area scout Edis Perez was hounding Francisco to keep returning to see him play. It's why they felt comfortable giving Mondesi $2 million to sign back in 2011 and why, as Francisco said, they've pushed him aggressively up the ladder.
"He's one of those guys that rises to the level he's playing," Royals vice president and assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Picollo said. "In other words, if you put him in a big game in the big leagues, he would play up to that level. That's just who he is. We saw that in Spring Training -- when he was surrounded by other Major Leaguers, he fit right in and played at that level."
"His instincts are really good for a young player," Francisco added. "I know it's his first time on a Major League field. I can tell you this. I have never been around such a young kid, that he can go 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, and he's the same player. He's an even-keeled kid, I think it's because he grew up in the clubhouse, around the game.
"I don't think he's fazed that it's the big stage, the World Series, 40,000 in the stands. I don't think he's going to be afraid of any of that."
There's no question Mondesi will soak this moment up, with an understanding of how improbable all of this is greater than most his age. It all will add more fuel to what is a particularly strong passion for baseball, one the Royals recognized at the outset.
"One story," Francisco said. "His father told us when he signed that he always slept with his glove under his pillow. He loves the game."
Mondesi's full name is Raul Adalberto Mondesi, but even though his father's name is Raul Ramon Mondesi and he has an older brother named Raul Mondesi Jr. (a former Minor Leaguer in the Rays and Brewers systems), Raul Adalberto is sometimes referred to as Raul Mondesi Jr. In fact, his Twitter handle is @raulmondesijr, while the name displayed on the page is Raul A. Mondesi.