SPECULATOR: The Adalberto Mondesi Path to Stardom

The "A-Rod 10-Step Path to Stardom" has been a longtime staple in the Baseball Forecaster. It's our annual reminder that even the best prospects rarely hit the ground running. A more common path to stardom is filled with highs and lows—from a poor initial MLB cameo to a minor league demotion, to another crack in the majors, rinse and repeat.

A more recent example of someone who rode this path: Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC), who we found at Step 9 in last year's version of this column, two months before his second-half explosion (.288 BA, 13 HR, 29 SB in 240 2H at-bats). At the time, Mondesi's prospect path read like a rollercoaster:

  • January 2015: Ranks 35th overall on our 2015 HQ100 prospect list.
  • September 2015: Makes MLB debut in the World Series. Wins the World Series!
  • April 2016: Starts the season at AAA-Omaha.
  • July 2016: Recalled from Triple-A and makes regular season MLB debut; gets '9C' prospect rating.
  • March 2017: Named Opening Day second baseman for KC, beating out Whit Merrifield(!).
  • April 2017: Optioned to Triple-A, which helps trigger Merrifield's breakout.
  • September 2017: Called back up to KC as rosters expand; hits .170 in 54 AB.
  • April 2018: Placed on DL (shoulder); optioned back to Triple-A.
  • June 2018: Recalled to KC, and the Mondesi madness begins…

A glance back through other names on last year's list—Pete(r) Alonso, Juan Soto, Jack Flaherty, Clint Frazier, Lucas Giolito—suggests this 20-year-old concept is still alive and well. This week, we'll go back to the well with a name or two at each of the 10 steps on the newly updated "Adalberto Mondesi" Path to Stardom for 2019.


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Quick disclaimer: Just because a player currently "fits" at a certain step doesn't mean they'll progress through all ten. This is a snapshot look at where the player currently stands; we'll speculate on where they might go in each write-up.

Step 1. Prospect puts up phenomenal minor league numbers.

Yordan Alvarez (1B, HOU) is tearing through the Pacific Coast League with an absurd .402/.490/.869 slash line and league-leading 15 HR through his first 122 AB. A Top 50 prospect on our 2019 HQ100, Alvarez has shown excellent plate discipline (20/29 BB/K), and with nearly a full calendar year at AAA-Round Rock, he has little left to prove with the bat in the minors. AL West analyst Jock Thompson hinted that a promotion to HOU should happen this summer, as Alvarez could fill a production void at 1B, DH, or OF.

Honorable mention: Zac Gallen (RHP, MIA)

Step 2. The media machine gets oiled up.

Keston Hiura (2B, MIL) was the headliner on Jock's next wave of call-ups in USA Today's Sports Weekly, so we'll credit him with oiling up the media machine. Hiura just slightly trails Alvarez on most PCL leaderboards—he's hitting a cool .333 with 11 HR and 3 SB through 36 games. Hiura garnered rave reviews at First Pitch Arizona and has one of the best hit tools in the minors, which he parlayed into a '9C' prospect rating and #1 ranking in MIL's 2019 Org Report. Hiura is an extended Travis Shaw slump (or Mike Moustakas injury) away from getting the call and could make an immediate impact. [Ed.—Make that a Travis Shaw injury, as Hiura was called up on Tuesday; see more on his call-up report. The media machine carries on.]

Step 3. Prospect gets called up, but struggles, Year 1.

This one's a pretty easy call, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, TOR) hasn't exactly taken the league by storm since his much-hyped debut on April 26. Our own Patrick Davitt dove into Vlad's slow start in this past weekend's Master Notes with evidence that it should have little to no effect on his long-term outlook. If you believed Guerrero was an immediate difference-maker when he was called up—and his call-up report sure makes a convincing case—then you should still believe that now. Vlad's far more likely to turn things around than to proceed further down the 10-step path.

Honorable mention: Cole Tucker (SS, PIT)

Step 4. Prospect gets demoted.

Nathaniel Lowe (1B, TAM) and Carter Kieboom (SS, WAS) stand out as recent examples here. They earned '8C' and '9C' prospect ratings in their respective call-up reports, but burned plenty of holes in owner's FAAB wallets last month.

Kieboom annihilated Triple-A pitching in April (.379 BA, 3 HR in 66 AB), but that success didn't translate against MLB pitching, as he managed just 5 hits in 39 AB and struck out 16 times (59% ct%). Lowe was sent back down after just 35 AB once Austin Meadows returned to TAM's outfield. Neither Lowe nor Kieboom got enough of a look to change their long-term outlooks—Lowe still has 20-30 HR upside with on-base ability, while Kieboom's all-around skill set can still play—so if your keeper league's owner has a bad taste in his/her mouth, feel free to see if a discount presents itself.

Step 5. Prospect tears it up in the minors, Year 2.

"Add a dash of speed to power and batting average and baby, you've got a stew going" — Kyle Tucker's (OF, HOU) write-up in our 2019 HOU Org Report. Tucker has some of those ingredients cooking with an impressive blend of power/speed at AAA-Round Rock (10 HR, 6 SB), though it's come with just a .231 average and marginal plate skills (74% ct%, 0.35 Eye in 121 AB). The cover boy of our 2019 Minor League Baseball Analyst, Tucker's now racked up 500+ AB at Triple-A and already had an MLB cup of coffee last September. He might still be ahead of Alvarez in the pecking order, and has the goods to be an immediate counting stat contributor.

Step 6. Prospect gets called up, but struggles, Year 2.

Second verse, same as the first? Francisco Mejia (C, SD) was our top-ranked catcher prospect for 2019, but currently sits on the IL (knee) with a sub-Mendoza BA for the second year in a row. True to their word, SD has kept Mejia exclusively at catcher this year, where his contact-oriented, line-drive hit tool can be an asset in two-catcher leagues. Mejia's probably not turning things around immediately when he returns in late-May, but his market value has likely never been lower, and the raw skills haven't changed.

Step 7. Prospect gets demoted, AND 
Step 8. The media turns their backs. Fantasy leaguers reduce their expectations.

Alex Reyes (RHP, STL) has the (arguably) dubious honor of being a Top 50 prospect on five straight HQ100 prospects lists from 2015-19, including a Top 10 ranking in three separate years. Obviously, it's a double-edged sword: 1) his plus-plus fastball, plus hammer curveball, and potentially plus change-up form an incredible raw arsenal, but 2) he hasn't stayed healthy enough to graduate from prospect status. Reyes had Tommy John surgery in early 2017, missed all of 2018 with lat surgery, and was optioned to AAA-Memphis after just three innings this April. Reyes has major workload/injury concerns, so we can't speculate on short-term impact, but starters with Reyes-like tools are rare. Don't give up on him.

Step 9. Prospect tears it up in the minors, Year 3. The public shrugs its collective shoulders.

Say what you will about his glove, but Willie Calhoun (OF, TEX) can't stop hitting. The 24-year-old is in familiar territory with a .294 batting average and more walks (21) than strikeouts (18) in 112 AB at AAA-Nashville. Despite two failed stints in the majors, Calhoun has now racked up 1,000+ AB (.297 career BA) at Triple-A and has hit 30 HR in a season as recently as 2017. Calhoun's likely biding his time until a regular DH role opens up with TEX.

Step 10. Prospect is promoted in Year 3 and explodes. Some lucky fantasy leaguer lands a franchise player for under $5.

Yoan Moncada (3B, CHW) reached the prospect mountaintop as our top overall player entering 2017, and despite earning $13 in roto value last season, he hadn't really delivered on the hype in the big leagues until now. That shouldn't come as a complete surprise—expectations were unrealistically high after Moncada was traded for Chris Sale and made his MLB debut at 22 years old. We're finally seeing what the fuss was about, as Moncada's hitting .289 with 9 HR and 4 SB in his third MLB season. For a deeper dive on Moncada's early breakout, check out Stephen Nickrand's Facts/Flukes Spotlight from last week.

 

The Speculator is not designed to make definitive assertions about the future; rather, it is designed solely to open reader's eyes to possibilities they may not have previously entertained, and in doing so, provide a different perspective on the future. Many of the possibilities will be of the "out on a limb" variety. All are founded on SOME element of fact. But none should be considered any more than 20% percentage plays.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.