The Royals reinstated Adalberto Mondesi from the injured list when rosters expanded to 28 yesterday, but he won’t be moving back to his customary spot at shortstop, per Anne Rogers of MLB.com. Instead he’ll split the majority of his time between third base and designated hitter for at least the remainder of the 2021 season.
It’s a decision brought about largely by a strong showing from fellow infielder Nicky Lopez, who has put together a nice season while Mondesi has been limited to just 10 games due to a pair of oblique strains (one on each side of his body) and a hamstring strain. In Mondesi’s absence, Lopez has turned in a .292/.363/.363 batting line and gone 18-for-18 in stolen bases.
The 26-year-old Lopez’s offense is heavily BABIP-dependent thanks to his lack of power, but even if his current .342 mark began to regress, his glovework at shortstop is enough to keep him in the lineup. Lopez has positive marks at shortstop across the board. He’s made just six errors in 979 innings at short and has plus rankings in Defensive Runs Saved (3), Ultimate Zone Rating (5.2) and Statcast’s Outs Above Average (11). That plus-11 mark in OAA is the fourth-highest of any Major League player at any position in 2021.
For the time being, the move to third base likely displaces Hunter Dozier, who’s been struggling to find his form at the plate all season. Dozier looked to perhaps be righting the ship with a strong July performance, but his bat wilted in the month since that hot streak. He’s hitting .203/.272/.351 on the whole as he plays out the first season of a four-year, $25MM contract extension he inked with Kansas City following what looked to be a breakout 2019 showing (.279/.348/.522, 26 home runs, 123 wRC+). Dozier can see some time at first base, at designated hitter and in the outfield corners with Mondesi at third base, and he can of course continue taking reps at the hot corner on days when it’s Monedsi who is tabbed as the designated hitter.
Looking further down the road, an eventual position change for Mondesi has never seemed far-fetched — not with top prospect Bobby Witt Jt. rapidly rising through the system. Witt, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, has split his 2021 season between Double-A and Triple-A, batting a combined .299/.364/.595 with 28 home runs, 28 doubles, four triples and 22 stolen bases. If shortstop is his eventual home on the diamond, it stands to reason that one of Mondesi or Lopez (perhaps even both) would be pushed into a more fluid role, seeing time at multiple positions. The Royals have Whit Merrifield installed at second base this season, but Merrifield can certainly handle the outfield and, speculatively speaking, could be ticketed for more time there in 2022 as the infield picture begins to shift.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore was rather candid when discussing Mondesi’s durability issues earlier this summer, stating publicly that the Royals aren’t able to count on the talented but oft-injured 26-year-old as their everyday option at shortstop. “He may not be a guy that plays more than 100 games a year, best-case scenario,” Moore said at the time. The GM emphasized that the Royals “love Mondi to death” and have no plans to move on from him but simply “can’t, obviously, count on him as an everyday player.”
The Royals control Mondesi for two seasons beyond the current campaign — the same amount of time for which they control the aforementioned Merrifield. Mondesi is making $2.525MM in 2021, and his limited number of games played will keep any raise paid out through arbitration rather minimal. How he handles the move to third base — a position he has not played at all in his professional career — could in some ways influence the Royals’ approach to the 2021-22 offseason. Moore’s prior comments suggest Kansas City won’t count on Mondesi as the regular third baseman even if he wows defensively, but if he looks relatively comfortable there it’s certainly possible that could impact their infield pursuits this winter.