Raul Mondesi and Friends

A real chance exists that Raul Mondesi’s hot spring that won him the Royals’ second base job was all just a mirage. After all, if spring stats made for regular season success, Angel Berroa would be revered in Kansas City. One can look into the matchups and the ratios this spring and garner evidence to the opening statement or one could simply point to 149 real life major league plate appearances of awful in 2016.

Let’s face it, you can spit on the ‘old measures’ and dig through all the hip ‘new stats’ and you can’t find anything from Mondesi’s 2016 campaign to explain away a triple slash of .185/.231/.281. There is not enough defense in the world (and the metrics didn’t like Raul’s defense anyway) to make that line palatable. One can cite how inaccurate batting average is when it comes to performance evaluation, how on-base percentage is passe’ and slugging is outdated, but the truth is when those three numbers boil into a line like Mondesi’s, we all know what they mean. It was dismal stretch in which the phrase ‘getting the bat knocked out of his hands’ kept coming to mind.

About all you can say about Raul’s 2016 was he was fast, he flashed a few eye popping plays and he was young: playing at the age of 20 last year. For fun, I delved into the Baseball Reference Play Index and looked for players twenty-two years old or younger who logged at least 100 plate appearances in their debut season and hit .220 or less. Why .220? Because Mike Trout hit .220 in 143 plate appearances in his age-19 season (.220/.281/.390).  So did twenty-two year old Omar Vizquel, who hit .220/.273/.261 in 387 plate appearances.

First off, I doubt any of you are shocked to learn that there are young rookies who struggled early. Without question, I am not representing that Mondesi is about to become Trout-esque (he won’t) or even Vizquel-ish (he could), but this list of 256 young rookies who were not good is a fun one to browse.

I was not surprised to see a fair number of future big-swinging power hitters on the list. It makes sense (to me anyway) that those guys would swing and miss a lot without the corresponding long balls as they learned their trade. So we have Anthony Rizzo, Lance Parrish, Paul Konerko, Andruw Jones, John Mayberry, Carlos Delgado, Willie Aikens, Matt Williams, Gorman Thomas, Jim Thome and Dean Palmer just to name a few. Oh, and a guy named Reggie Jackson who hit one home run in 1967 on his way to a .178/.269/.305 line.

There are also a number of infielder types who never really did hit a ton, but fashioned themselves some okay careers. Dick Schofield is there, along with Lenny Randle, Darnell Coles, Spike Owen, Don Kessinger and Jose Oquendo. Jay Bell is there, who was better than to be lumped in with the previous group.

Former Royals are here as you might imagine. Old friend Emil Brown is on the list as is even older friend Joe Keough, along with Jorge Orta and Angel Salazar. A couple of legends are there, too: Willie Wilson (.217/.280/.278 at age 22) and Amos Otis (.151/.202/.204 also at age 22).

There are players who you might want to envision Mondesi becoming on this list. Guys like Brandon Phillips, Javier Baez, Jose Offerman (don’t grimace, Jose could hit), Jonathan Schoop and the aforementioned Vizquel. There are also some just plain superstars, in addition to those already mentioned, in Craig Biggio and Adrian Beltre.

To be fair, there are also the ‘sure things’ that weren’t or at least haven’t been yet: Joey Gallo, Josh Vitters, Wily Mo Pena and Felix Pie to name a few. So, you know, don’t get carried away with the sunshine and roses and do remember there are plenty of players who ‘didn’t make it’ on our list.

On our list are some fun names too. Chick Gandil, the ringleader of the Black Sox scandal, and another of that group, Swede Risberg who went 2-25 in the series with 8 errors. On a lighter note, Crash Davis is on our list. He hit .230 for his career (148 games), coached baseball and squash at Harvard and inspired the name for the lead character in Bull Durham.

Ed Connolly (1931) had the lowest batting average in our group, hitting just .075. Deion Sanders hit just .158 in his debut season. Dud Lee hit .167 in 1921. In his six-year career Dud collected more errors (88) than runs scored (80) and never hit a home run. Moe Berg hit .186 in 1923 and was never all that good (although he did manage to play 15 seasons), but he served as a spy in World War Two, working at one point on getting information about the Nazi nuclear program. One final fun one is Rabbit Maranville who hit .209/292/233 in 1912.  The 5’5″ Maranville would collect 2,605 hits, play 23 seasons and be elected to the Hall of Fame.

What does this all mean for Raul Mondesi?  Not much, other than you can sort him onto a list with a bunch of interesting names. That and the fact that a really bad debut at the age of twenty is hardly the death knell for a career. For that matter, it tells us almost nothing about who Raul Mondesi will eventually become as a ballplayer and that, my friends, is a good thing.

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