Through the Royals first eight games, starting second baseman Raul Mondesi owns a line of .143/.143/.143. He’s come to the plate 22 times. He’s whiffed in eight of those plate appearances. He’s laid down three bunts. His current line drive rate stands at 11 percent.
He’s overmatched at the plate.
The sooner the Royals come to this realization and act, the better. We are familiar with his story. Mondesi’s defense is ready for the most part. The offense is abysmal. Mondesi needs to be in Omaha, building his confidence and finding his groove.
When the Royals announced Mondesi had won the starting second base job in an upset, you knew we were going to reach this point eventually. You probably aren’t even surprised we’re here just one week into the season. It was obvious to everyone who watched last year that the Royals accelerated his timetable to push him to the majors before he was ready. It was a baffling move after a limited number of Triple-A plate appearances following a 50 game suspension. And it wasn’t surprising that his offense suffered in the major leagues.
Another year and we find ourselves in the same situation. What’s the story this time? Were the Royals blinded by inflated Cactus League numbers? On the surface, that seems absurd. Major league teams are supposed to know better. Whatever the reason, the Royals brain trust decided Mondesi showed something that merited a big league job. It wasn’t the correct decision.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. This isn’t about salvaging a season or turning things around. A full season of Whit Merrifield at second (the Royals best in-house option at the moment) is worth about 1 WARP according to PECOTA. That represents a net of about 2 WARP when exchanged for the -1.1 WARP Mondesi is projected to bring to the team. Two wins is nice and could very well be necessary if you’re of the belief this team has the mettle to contend for the postseason. Yet it’s difficult to imagine a year-end team video where the narrator describes the arrival of Merrifield as the turning point in a championship season.
No, this is about doing the right thing by Mondesi. He’s been rushed through the system, aggressively promoted and playing young for his league at every stop along the minor league chain. He’s never had the chance to stop and take a breath and get comfortable in his surroundings. The hit tool shows, but the results have been behind. Way behind. Mondesi is still finding his way, developing that hit tool and the power. The minor leagues is the place for that to happen. Not the majors.
We also had a decent idea the bottom third of the Royals lineup with Jorge Soler on the DL was going to be a potential black hole of the offense. While there’s plenty of underperformance to go around the current Royals lineup, the seven through nine spots have still managed to underwhelm.
OPS+ certainly isn’t a stat that is in favor at the moment, but something like sOPS+ can be useful given it’s a comparison of the split over the entire league with 100 being average. A negative OPS+? Yikes. The Royals OPS+ for the bottom third of their lineup is 88 percent worse than league average. This isn’t rocket science, you know. (Of course you know that. It’s baseball!) It would make sense for the Royals not necessarily to shuffle their order because the last thing you really want to do is put the worst batters in the lineup in a position to accumulate more plate appearances, but instead maybe remove the player who is the most…removable.
To compound matters, you know Yost doesn’t like to use his bench to pinch hit. Besides, based on his track record, he’s going to let struggling, young offensive players take their hacks. Especially in pressure situations because he doesn’t want to tamper with their domes. You certainly recall Yost making the case on keeping a struggling Alcides Escobar in the lineup a few years ago with the defense that Escobar needed to realize his manager had faith in him because there would be, in the near future, a big opportunity. Sure, we laughed, but who led off the World Series in back to back years? No, if Mondesi is in the lineup, Yost is going to let Mondesi hit.
Perhaps it’s time to ponder the long-term consequences of pushing Mondesi. We’ve heard about his developing power potential, but too often we see a hitter who tries to steal a base hit with a bunt. The temptation to square means his exit velocity is probably a little artificially surpassed. Still, an 80 mph average exit velocity when the league as a whole is posting an 88 mph exit velo is underwhelming. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that his line drive rate is a subpar 11 percent. He can’t consistently catch up to the heat and he can’t recognize the offspeed. He’s lost at the plate and rarely shows a positive sign that he’s figuring things out or developing an approach that works.
At this point, it’s foolish to surrender on the potential, but the Royals need to do what’s right for both their player and the organization in the long term. They certainly aren’t doing anyone any favors in the short term with Mondesi on the big league roster.
The Royals will resist making this move, even in the the face of mounting, early evidence. They don’t want it to appear like they’re panicking. That’s a dirty word in the front office. But optioning Mondesi to the minors isn’t a panic move. It’s the right move. It’s time.