'I just want to play': Healthy Mondesi set to open at shortstop

March 15th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The theme of Royals Spring Training this year seems to be staying ready for anything to happen. That could come from roster moves, adding a player through free agency or trades, or from health issues as players get back on their feet and injuries arise.

But if we look past what could happen and see what’s happening now, it seems as though the Royals have one piece of their infield puzzle figured out, at least for the time being.

Manager Mike Matheny acknowledged that the team is eyeing Adalberto Mondesi as its shortstop to start the regular season.

“For our team to be as good as we can possibly be, right now, it’s with Mondesi at shortstop,” Matheny said on Tuesday. “Right now, it’s early enough in spring, everybody’s talking best-case scenario. And we want Mondesi at shortstop. How often, we’ll see. We’re going to watch.”

The news wasn’t completely unexpected, as the Royals went into the offseason helping Mondesi structure his training in hopes of staying on the field for a full season. The 26-year-old played just 35 games last season after missing time with two oblique strains and a hamstring injury. He returned at the end of the season to play third base because Nicky Lopez was putting together a Gold Glove-caliber season at shortstop, and they became an elite middle-infield combination with second baseman Whit Merrifield, who was a finalist for a Gold Glove at season’s end.

Heading into 2022, the Royals hope to see Mondesi at shortstop, Lopez at second base and Merrifield in right field. That allows top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. an opportunity to make his Major League debut at third base and likely gives the Royals the best defensive infield -- as well as flexibility in case of an injury.

Mondesi said he’s “open” to wherever the Royals want to play him this season.

“I just want to play,” Mondesi said. “I just want to feel good, and I just want to help the team win. Whatever they want to do, I’ll play. I’m working out at short, but things can change. I’m preparing for whatever they want to do. I just want to play. That’s it.”

Injuries have plagued Mondesi every year he’s been in the Majors. When he is on the field, though, he’s shown flashes of being a dynamic player, with a blend of speed, power and elite defense. He just hasn’t been able to let that talent play for extended periods of time.

“It’s like the elephant that lives in the room with him, everywhere he goes, everything is about, ‘How do I stay healthy? How do I manipulate the work that I’m doing to stay healthy?’” Matheny said. “He spent his whole offseason training to play 162. Let’s watch him. But we have to also learn from what we’ve seen. How can we help him? How can we help keep him on the field?”

Prior to the lockout restricting team officials from having communication with anyone on their 40-man roster, the Royals expressed interest in Mondesi spending part of his offseason in Florida. There, he could work with special assignment hitting coach Mike Tosar and implement a training regimen the performance science department built to help Mondesi stay on the field.

Without the hands-on approach available, Mondesi spent his offseason at home in the Dominican Republic, but he found a trainer in the Tampa area to come with him.

“We started studying my body, seeing what’s going to work for me or not,” Mondesi said. “Then go from there. … I focused on things that I’ve never focused on. I feel healthy. I feel good. I’m ready to play.”

Mondesi arrived at the Royals’ complex over the weekend in good shape. He’s using the technology the club supplied to players to monitor workload, including wearing a vest that uses GPS tracking mechanisms to show how much players run throughout the course of the workout, as well as how many swings and ground balls they take. The wearable technology gives data for players’ rotational and explosive movement.

It’s key for workload management, and the Royals have been relying on it to dictate whether a player needs to back off his intensity one day.

Matheny emphasized the Royals aren’t looking to limit Mondesi, but the skipper acknowledged the need to “be smart” about Mondesi’s past -- and about their future. The Royals broke camp last year thinking Mondesi was their shortstop, but he missed Opening Day with his first oblique strain. Merrifield shifted back to second base from right field, and he acknowledged on Monday that it took him a month to really settle into the position again.

That’s why Matheny stressed the Royals’ need for adaptability this spring.

“We almost broke Spring Training last year with one model. … Let’s just stay ready,” Matheny said. “We’re going to try to protect [Mondesi]. He’s a grown man, has aspirations and dreams. It’s his career. Those aren’t things that we take lightly. So we keep them in the conversation, but we’re honest about what we think, and then try to do the right thing, day to day.”