Here in the Omaha Storm Chasers clubhouse, Raul Mondesi is comfortable.
Three months ago, he was scrambling to keep himself from looking out of his element in the Royals lineup, proving his worth with his glove at second base and hoping his bat would catch up. He was demoted to the minor leagues instead.
Look at him now.
Mondesi entered the All-Star break this week near the top of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League with a .316 batting average and in a four-way tie for second place with 18 stolen bases. He was chosen to represent the Storm Chasers at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Tacoma, Wash., but chose to sit out for precautionary reasons, a team representative said.
Last weekend, Mondesi crushed the first grand slam of his career. Then he hit another to win the following game. He’s hit 10 homers so far for Omaha.
Mondesi hasn’t been sitting in the minors licking his wounds or ruing every call from the Royals that isn’t for him. He’s bided his time instead, working on the aspects of his game he’d forgotten to worry about when he earned his first spot on a major-league opening day roster.
“I get it now. The home run game is not my game,” said Mondesi, who’s projected as the Royals’ future shortstop. “(Maybe) in the future … but right now I’m not focusing on that.”
There was a point this season, however, when Mondesi couldn’t step into a batter’s box without thinking about home runs.
“You’re going to hit for power in the future,” a Royals coach said to Mondesi during spring training, telling him to forget about the long ball.
Mondesi tried for a time, and he exceeded the Royals’ expectations during spring training, earning a job as the starting second baseman for the major-league club.
He pushed himself in Arizona, dedicating his journey in a Royals uniform to the memory of close friend and late teammate Yordano Ventura. Mondesi finished the spring with a .333 batting average, three homers, six RBIs and four stolen bases. Mondesi’s turnaround from the end of 2016, when he hit .185 with 13 RBIs and 48 strikeouts in 47 major-league games, to this spring was hard to ignore.
But as he prepared for his first opening day, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound middle infielder went to bat looking for the fences.
He had only hit seven home runs in the minor leagues last year and 31 through five seasons — but he paid neither the stats nor the advice any mind. He believed he could muscle his way into the middle of the order sooner than the murky “later” the Royals promised.
Mondesi didn’t. He batted .103 (4 for 39) with 16 strikeouts through 14 games with the Royals in April.
He showed his defensive prowess, earned support from manager Ned Yost throughout those early days when the Royals could barely win games in April, and put his head down to work. On April 12, he even showed his left-handed power stroke on an 0-2 pitch that he drilled 436 feet over the center-field wall at Kauffman Stadium.
Eventually, Mondesi couldn’t just get by anymore.
“I wanted to do too many things at the same time and, really, that didn’t work,” he said. “You have to learn to separate your game from the game of the your teammates. Everyone plays their own role.”
So Mondesi hit the reset button here, in a town three hours northwest of where he struggled to catch up to major-league pitching. He retooled his approach, striving only to put the ball in play.
He has struck out 55 times in 62 games, but Mondesi owns a .346 on-base percentage — 24 points higher than his average in the minors last year and the best since he had an OBP of .311 in his second professional season in 2013.
Despite focusing on improving contact, he has not experienced a dropoff in power. Mondesi has put up a career-best slugging percentage: .544 in 263 plate appearances. He slugged .469 in 231 trips to the plate last season in the minor leagues.
“Getting to have confidence in his hitting (is a change),” Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg said. “He was thinking almost bunt first and hit second. We talked to him. ‘Hey, we want you to be a hitter here, so we want you to think hit first. If the bunt’s there, depending on the game situation, don’t be afraid to bunt. But we want you to be a hitter first.’ He’s done a great job with that.
“The good players make the best of (getting sent down) and he’s done just that.”
It might be too easy to say things are finally coming together for Mondesi.
But he is making an argument for why the Royals shouldn’t give up on him any time soon. Sure, as long as there’s a block at his preferred position up the left side of the infield and as long as Whit Merrifield continues to hold the starting job at second base, it could be a while before Mondesi is brought up again. It’s unlikely the Royals will recall him to have him ride the bench, like they did with Ramon Torres.
Mondesi is an everyday player, just a few weeks from turning 22 on July 27. He still has time to develop into the powerful switch-hitter the Royals believe he will become.
Going back to Class AAA was just his first step in that direction.
“I have never put any pressure on myself. As soon as the Royals gave me a chance to play professionally, I kept playing my game normally,” Mondesi said. “As I went up, I showed my abilities and, thanks to God, they gave me an opportunity. I took advantage of it. It’s only in the major leagues that I still haven’t been able to develop myself, but I know that moment will come.
“I just have to keep doing my small things and everything will work out.”