Mondesi appears poised for breakthrough year

Results from 75-game sample in 2018 suggest big things ahead

March 10th, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- has played in only 148 big league games over the past four seasons, a figure he could easily double in 2019, but he can make a legitimate claim of having seen it all.

It’s indicative of the high opinion the Royals have always had of Mondesi that in 2015 he became the first player in Major League history to make his big league debut in the World Series. Mondesi was 20 years old when he pinch-hit in Game 3, striking out against Noah Syndergaard.

“It was incredible,” Mondesi said, beaming as he recalls his first taste of the big leagues – even if it was a strikeout. “The team and the front office and the coaches -- they trusted me and kept me here in [instructional league] in case something happened. The next thing I knew, I was going over there [to Kansas City, on the day the World Series started]. I’m glad. I always thank the front office, the whole team and the organization for the opportunity they gave me.”

The next couple years found Mondesi back on a more traditional track. He earned a July call-up in 2016 and got his first big league hit a day later on his 21st birthday. But he batted .185 in 135 Major League at-bats that season.

In 2017, Mondesi was the starting second baseman on Opening Day but was twice sent down to the Minors. He hit .170 in 53 at-bats with the Royals.

Things finally began to click in 2018, when he became the first Major Leaguer in history to hit at least 14 homers and steal at least 32 stolen bases in 75 games or fewer.

Now 23, Mondesi may be poised for a breakthrough.

“He’s a legit five-tool player,” manager Ned Yost says of his projected starting shortstop. “His ceiling is way above everybody else’s ceiling. He’ll continue to grow and develop in every phase of his game – offensively, his smartness on the bases, his ability to understand the league defensively, how to play different guys in different spots by experience.”

Mondesi isn’t fazed by that kind of talk. As the son of former Major Leaguer Raul Mondesi, he has heard the high expectations for most of his baseball life.

“I have no limit. I just go out and play the game,” Mondesi said. “I know what I can do on the field. I don’t put pressure on myself. I just go out and play the game.”

Even as things were clicking for Mondesi in 2018, his team was battling through a 104-loss season, just three seasons removed from their World Series championship. They finished the year with their only winning month, 15-13 in September, and Mondesi sees the end of the season as a potential turning point for both himself and the team.

“It’s a tough game, and we need to keep our heads up and just keep playing,” Mondesi said. “We just need to learn, stay focused, prepare and play the game. We got a couple new guys. We got more speed. We’re just ready and excited to start the season. Just play the game, play hard. We know things are going to happen.”

For Mondesi, having experienced everything from a big league debut on the World Series stage to a 104-loss campaign, the adage of keeping things in perspective without getting too high or too low rings true.

“I’ve already been to the top of baseball, the World Series,” Mondesi said. “It’s all about work. I just keep working and stay focused and come every day here with a mentality to get better. It’s all going to happen on the field, so I just need to be focused.”

Mondesi’s work ethic has shown itself in his strongest spring to date. He is hitting .364 (8-for-22) after going 2-for-3 in the Royals’ 11-6 loss to the Padres on Sunday. Mondesi singled in the first inning and blasted his second Cactus League homer in the second.

“He’ll continue to grow in every phase of the game,” Yost said. “I don’t see any real glaring holes in his game right now. I just expect him to continue to grow.”