The last two weeks, I have discussed two precocious prospects–Mets shortstop Amed Rosario and Rays righthander German Marquez–who were born in 1995. The idea of professional baseball players born in the middle of the 1990s probably still takes some getting used to for many casual observers, but indeed, we may be less than three years from seeing the first pro baseball player born in the 2000s.
Players like Rosario and Marquez hold a lot of intrigue, but they also are buried in short-season leagues, far from the majors, and thus also below the general prospect mainstream. This week, however, I’m going to examine a player born in 1995 who already has broken through into the mainstream consciousness: Royals shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi.
On paper, the biggest distinction separating Mondesi (who is alternately referred to as Raul and Adalberto) from many of the other high-upside 17 and 18-year-olds is the fact that he has 122 games of full-season ball under his belt. Indeed, he broke camp this year with Low-A Lexington and stayed in the South Atlantic League the whole year despite not turning 18 until there were around six weeks left in the campaign. Mondesi didn’t set the world on fire, but he hit .261/.311/.361, stole 24 bases, and generally impressed viewers defensively. Compare that to, say, Rosario, who hit .241/.279/.358 with two steals and a slightly lower grade of defense at a lower level…and still was named the top prospect in the Appalachian League.
Of course, when dealing with players of such youth, the numbers really aren’t what carry relevance. The one real takeaway from Mondesi’s statline is a positive one–he wasn’t totally overmatched despite being the youngest player in his league. What is more important at this stage is what sort of raw talent Mondesi possesses. How exactly does he look?
There’s plenty to like here. Defensively, Mondesi seems to have soft hands, fluid actions and a nice arm, and I don’t see any reason he can’t be a sound defensive shortstop. He did make 30 errors in 2013, but that’s fairly typical for teenage left-side infielders and is not a long-term concern at this point. His athleticism should also allow him to contribute on the basepaths at higher levels.
With a high likelihood of being valuable in the speed-and-defense game, Mondesi doesn’t need to set the world on fire offensively to become a playable starter. Still, he has a lot of potential on the offensive side of the ball, even if it still hasn’t quite bubbled to the surface yet.
Mondesi is a switch-hitter who hit .262/.315/.373 from the left side and .260/.297/.317 from the right. While he shows potential from both sides of the plate, he clearly is at his best as a lefty at this point, with a short, fluid stroke:
From this side of the plate, Mondesi hits from a slightly open stance with a loose, easy, short swing with good bat speed. He has quick hands and a good feel for hitting. Mondesi packs some punch from this side of the plate, with decent leverage and lower half use that could allow him to hit 10+ homers annually if he fills out and gets stronger; he doesn’t project to be a big over-the-fence threat, however.
One important component of Mondesi’s approach is that he’s capable of making hard contact on pitches in multiple locations, and not just a one-plane hitter. In the above .gif sequence, you can see Mondesi get the barrel of the bat to fastballs away, down the middle, and inside. His quick hands and short, loose stroke allow him to adjust to pitches in different locations, and he does have some rudimentary pitch-recognition skills.
From the right side of the plate, Mondesi closes up his stance and his swing becomes more mechanical; he struggled to drive the ball from that side of the plate and also had a 29/5 K/BB (as opposed to 89/29 as a lefty). That’s not to say he’s totally inept from the right side:
You can have two reactions to Mondesi squaring up this 63-mph quickpitch slidestep lob from Joe Burns. Either you can laud his adjustment ability for staying back on the ball, or you can shout “HEY, I COULD HIT 63 AND UP IN THE ZONE!” Note the more pronounced swing load and less involved lower body, though. They cause most of his problems from the right side, as we can see here:
This is the sort of pitch Mondesi needs to get on top of, but he doesn’t get his lower body through the ball in time, and his hands aren’t able to catch up. In general, Mondesi looks less fluid and coordinated mechanically as a righty.
Mondesi did strike out 22.4% of the time in 2013, which is too often for a player who isn’t going to be a huge power threat and who has yet to establish the ability to take walks consistently. While holding his own against much older players is a good sign in itself for his plate discipline, there are certainly improvements he will need to make on this front in order to acceptably manage at-bats at higher levels. In my viewing, Luis Parra struck him out with the same waste curveball twice:
In both instances, Mondesi clearly fails to recognize the pitch, gets caught way out on his front foot, and again does not incorporate his lower body anywhere near ideally. He’s going to need to learn to lay off pitches like this the majority of the time, as opposed to just some of the time, to manage his at-bats more effectively and start boosting his OBP into the average range.
Still, these are fairly minor flaws to fix for an 18-year-old. Mondesi has years to refine his game, and seeing as he already has polished up his ability in a number of areas, significant improvements are definitely in the forecast. Mondesi projects as an above-average defensive shortstop who can make some noise on the bases and hit .280 with reasonable secondary skills (a league-average walk rate and 8-14 HR), and you don’t need me to tell you that that’s a heck of a player.
In 2014, Mondesi will likely advance to High-A Wilmington of the Carolina League (where I will happily get the chance to see him play some more), and it will be interesting to see how he handles the challenge. Wilmington is one of the minors’ most extreme pitcher’s parks; in contrast, Mondesi’s home park this past season was quite a friendly one. Indeed, he hit just .255/.297/.326 on the road in 2013. Given his struggles with lefthanded pitching, road stadiums, and the strike zone, one might expect Mondesi to go from acceptable to troublesome on the statistical front in 2014, seeing as he’ll be dealing with more advanced pitching in a tougher hitter’s park and league, but don’t underestimate his quick ability to adjust and adapt. Don’t expect Mondesi to suddenly hit .300 or start clearing fences regularly, but don’t be surprised if he posts 2013-esque numbers this coming year and follows that up with a big breakout in Double-A in the following campaign…which he’ll open at age 19. Mondesi’s two-way potential and polish give him a very bright future.
Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.