Five months ago, the Royals signaled to former top prospect Adalberto Mondesi they weren’t ready to hand him the starting job at shortstop. They signed Alcides Escobar to a one-year contract, assured of the 31-year-old’s durability and Gold Glove-caliber defense.
Plans have changed. The Royals’ offense has underperformed. There’s little point letting Mondesi, who turns 23 next month, continue his development in the minor leagues when he’ll be out of options next year.
As such, Mondesi has made three major-league starts at his natural position — one he handles with dexterity and nimbleness — since being recalled from Class AAA Omaha on June 17. He will continue to get more chances there throughout the second half.
And in the middle of a woeful season, Mondesi’s meager contributions have been significant. In Tuesday’s loss at Miller Park, he kept the Royals from being shut out, and on Wednesday, he sparked a late rally in a 5-4 win over the Brewers.
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“I feel more confident,” Mondesi told The Star. “I’m playing baseball my way.”
There are two people the Royals can thank for the strides in Mondesi’s development: reliever Wily Peralta and late Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura.
Mondesi has honored the latter for more than a year. He has dangled a silver pendant around his neck, a baseball-shaped disc with stitches etched around the outside and Ventura’s number 30 in the center. He’s worn T-shirts sporting images of Ventura and gotten tattoos in Ventura’s memory. Mondesi posts often on his Instagram account photos and videos of the two of them together.
So when Mondesi found out 29-year-old fellow countryman Peralta was born in Ventura’s native province of Samana, Dominican Republic, he gravitated to Peralta.
“When I heard he signed with the Royals, I immediately got close to him, because I knew he was from there,” Mondesi said. “He’s a great person and he’s helped me a lot because he’s been in the big leagues a long time. He’s given me a lot of advice.”
Their blooming friendship is unintentional. The Royals acquired Peralta, who Mondesi said briefly met Ventura, for his lively arm and an arsenal that in his last three major-league outings has played up out of the backend of the bullpen.
They also received a man who had an instant impact on the clubhouse in Omaha, where he accepted an assignment to begin the season in the minor leagues.
“We certainly didn’t sign him to be a tremendous influence in Omaha, but actually both him and Brandon Maurer — the staff spoke extremely well of how they handled young pitchers and helped influence the clubhouse in a positive way,” Royals assistant general manager Scott Sharp said. “Mondi’s kind of glued to his hip, which is a good thing from a veteran leadership role.”
Mondesi has put Peralta’s advice to work.
In the 10 days since he was recalled from Omaha, selected to join the Royals’ 25-man roster when outfielder Jorge Soler fractured the big toe in his right foot, Mondesi has shown the organization he’s different now. Not in terms of talent, as his five tools have always flashed in the minors and simmered below the surface in the majors. But in terms of discipline.
The scene Wednesday was not the best example of that: Mondesi, batting right-handed, hammered the first pitch Milwaukee’s lefty reliever Josh Hader threw him in the seventh inning of a 1-1 ballgame.
Yet it was the result that had manager Ned Yost singing Mondesi’s praises for a second straight game. Mondesi turned a high fastball into a wall-denting, two-run single. The hit further sparked a five-run rally that started when Mike Moustakas led off the frame with a solo homer.
When Lucas Duda came in as a pinch-hitter in the next at-bat, Mondesi swiped second base. He didn’t move on Duda’s sacrifice fly ball to center field, but he was in the perfect position to score the Royals’ fifth run of the inning when Whit Merrifield stroked a single of his own off Hader.
“I’m very happy with what I’m seeing at the plate and in the field,” Yost said. “I’m seeing better swings at secondary pitches, which was an issue last year. That’s going to be huge. When he gets that under his belt, he will take off.”
At Peralta’s behest, Mondesi is surer of his skills; he’s convinced he’s talented enough to remain in the major leagues; and he’s proving so to the Royals by showing off all five of his tools in seven games as a starter in the lineup.
It’s taken Mondesi some time to get to this point. He made the opening day roster last year but was demoted to Omaha after hitting .103 (4 for 39) with 16 strikeouts in 14 games. Mondesi then put together the best minor-league campaign of his career, batting .305 with 20 doubles, eight triples, 13 homers and 52 RBIs. He struck out 86 times in 85 games, but he was able to tap into power from both sides of the plate.
He’s used that power with the Royals in back-to-back games this week. He hit a double up the right-field line when he batted from the left side against Brewers rookie Freddy Peralta on Tuesday night. Turned around two at-bats later to face Brewers left-handed reliever Dan Jennings, Mondesi smoked a solo home run to right-center field for the Royals’ only run in the game.
“I’ve been better (at recognizing secondary pitches), and that’s why I stay short to the ball now,” Mondesi said. “I try to follow more the ball to the strike zone, and it’s getting better.”
Of course, Mondesi’s talent was never in question. Only his health. He hasn’t played more than 125 games in a season since he played for Class A Lexington in 2013.
When he hurt his back playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the Tigres del Licey after the 2017 season, the Royals brought back Escobar.
Even this year, Mondesi has missed playing time because of two injuries: A shoulder impingement in spring training delayed the start of his season until April 30, and a sore hamstring caused him to miss more than a week of action with the Storm Chasers in mid-May.
But the Royals, mired in an offensive slump and on pace for 111 losses, took a leap of faith this month.
The numbers aren’t astounding yet. Mondesi is hitting .214 (6 for 28) with one home run, four RBIs, three stolen bases and five runs scored. He’s struck out eight times in nine games.
But in a season that’s caused even Yost, the patient manager that he is, to become frustrated by the Royals’ lack of production, you can point to Mondesi as an early example of how a rebuild can work.
Members of the front office have explained when signing veterans this season that their presence is crucial to fast-tracking the development of their young players.
In just more than a week at the major-league level, Peralta has proven them right.
“He was one of the people that told me that my game needed to change a little bit,” Mondesi said. “That’s helped me a lot. Not just him — Abraham Almonte and Rosell Herrera have helped me a lot. They’ve talked a lot with me, and things are working out.
“You’ve got to listen to guys like them who’ve played more than you at this level.”