Improved Mondesi making push for starting job

Improved Mondesi making push for starting job

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The plan for Raul Mondesi heading into spring was to give him another good dose of "development" time. He played for four levels a year ago, including 47 games with the Royals, where he hit .185.

"When he came in here, our mindset, especially after last year, is that we need to continue his development," manager Ned Yost on Thursday. "But he's shown that he did a lot of developing over the winter, and the majority of the developing that he'd done was kind of like mental developing."

Mondesi homered to lead off the game against the White Sox on Wednesday, going 1-for-2 with a walk and elevating his Cactus League average to .444, prompting Yost to reiterate what he has said often this spring about Mondesi's realistic shot at the starting second-base job.

Mondesi went 1-for-3 in a 9-2 loss to the Mariners on Thursday, dropping his average to .433 He also made two errors.

"It's going to be a tough decision," Yost said. "He's played great. He's definitely inserted himself into that conversation. We like him for a lot of reasons."

Given Mondesi's underwhelming performance at the plate with the Royals in '16, the easiest aspect of his game for the Royals to like is his sterling defense at both second and shortstop.

"He's never going to look overmatched defensively," Yost said.

Mondesi Jr., Yost on second base

But after becoming the first player in Major League history to make his big league debut in the World Series -- as a pinch-hitter in 2015's Game 3 -- and soaking up the atmosphere as his dad, Raul, played 13 big leagues season, Mondesi seems to have his feet beneath him in the Cactus League.

"I know how the game is right now, so I'll just keep working hard and see what's going to happen," Mondesi said of his increased comfort level after his extended stay in the big leagues in 2016. "I've been working since the offseason, and getting good results. You never know what's going to happen in this game."

The results are evident at the plate, but Yost credits Mondesi's mental development as a key.

"From the first day of Spring Training, he's been a different guy, emotionally and mentally," Yost said. "He's much more mature, he's much more engaging, he's much more confident than he ever was at any point of the season last year."

The perpetual question for the Royals is where a young player like Mondesi has the best chance for an everyday role that keeps him firing on all cylinders. For the 21-year-old Dominican, it's really a question of whether he starts in Kansas City or in Triple-A Omaha.

Mondesi's leaping grab at short

 "We think that he's one of those rare players that has five tools," Yost said. "He can hit, he can hit for power, he can hit from both sides, a tremendous defender, a tremendous arm, tremendous range, he can steal bases, he can run. I think he ran a 3.4 [seconds] down the line the other day. He can do a lot of things. It's important that he's got to be able to play every day."

Ultimately, Kansas City wants to get back to the World Series. If Mondesi can help them get there, Yost is open to saving him a slot on the Opening Day roster.

"Our focus is to put the best team that we can on the field, and he's come in here and has held up really, really well during this competition, so he's definitely right in the middle of it," Yost said.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.