SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If there has been an early surprise in Royals camp so far, look no further than their gifted 21-year-old middle infielder, Raul Mondesi.Mondesi is in a four-way battle for the starting second-base job with Christian Colon, Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert. All have been impressive at times,
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If there has been an early surprise in Royals camp so far, look no further than their gifted 21-year-old middle infielder, Raul Mondesi.
Mondesi is in a four-way battle for the starting second-base job with Christian Colon, Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert. All have been impressive at times, but it's Mondesi's elite skill set that always has intrigued baseball observers. Now that skill set is emerging for all to see.
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Entering Saturday's game action, Mondesi was 5-for-10 this spring, and he hit an impressive line-drive home run on Friday.
"This year he's a different guy," manager Ned Yost said. "[General manager] Dayton [Moore] and I were talking about it today. He's more confident, he's more relaxed. It's like he's just a different guy this spring."
Although Mondesi is vying for the second-base job, he has been viewed by the organization for some time as the shortstop of the future. He even got a taste of the big leagues last season, just a day before his 21st birthday.
Mondesi's introduction to the bright lights came with mixed results. He flashed incredible defensive skills but look overmatched at the plate, hitting just .185 with a .512 OPS over the final two months of the season.
But this spring the Royals are seeing a more confident Mondesi at the plate.
"And this is part of the growing-up process," Yost said. "He was here in camp last year, went through the big leagues last year. He had a winter to digest that mentally. Now he is here and he understands what it is like to play in the big leagues. He is way more confident and relaxed. It's obvious."
Yost also has noticed a difference in Mondesi's personality.
"He's more outgoing," he said. "He's a lot happier, it seems. He's engaging."
The problem for the Royals regarding the second-base competition is their roster construction.
Two of those competing for the job -- Cuthbert and Colon -- are out of options, and therefore seemingly locks to make the 25-man roster. Merrifield, a super utility player, has options but is, at the least, a valuable asset to any manager.
Mondesi has Minor League options, which could work against him.
"The decision will come down [to] what is best for his development," Yost said. "If he's at a point where he can contribute ... Defensively, his range is unbelievable. The coverage is unbelievable in terms of how far he can go side to side, and getting pop flies.
"We'll just let it all play out. There's a lot of time left."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.