Rancho Cucamonga, California —— All things being equal, Nate Mondou enjoyed a pretty solid 2017.
The Oakland Athletics infield prospect split the summer between Low-A Beloit and High-A Stockton, slashing a combined .287/.366/.381/.747 over 125 games while exclusively playing second base and earning a Midwest League mid-season All-Star nod with the Snappers. Mondou even acquitted himself well in his second-half promotion to the California League, slashing .278 /362/.377/.739 in 223 at-bats for Stockton down the stretch with 18 extra base hits and 28 walks in 59 games.
To that end, then, perhaps it’d be normal to expect the Wake Forest University product to be down about having to repeat with the Ports to begin his age-23 season here in 2018. But that’s just not the way Nate Mondou rolls.
“I’m trying to build upon what I started last year,” he told me late last week before a Ports game on the road against Rancho Cucamonga. “I don’t have a full year here under my belt yet, so I’m still trying to build and get better every day. I don’t want to say I’m trying to get comfortable here, you never really want to get too comfortable in one spot, but I’m really trying to create something good.”
On the surface, Nate Mondou is about the same guy I saw during last year’s second half: a bit undersized (5’10”) without much raw power but solid line drive feel and good bat speed from the left side, and a decent handle on the weird angles and unique throws that come at second base.
But early returns this time around already have him impacting games differently than a summer ago; he’s notably faster this year, for one, registering sub-4.20 times up the line to first base that are nearly a tenth of a second better than a season ago. That’s manifested itself in better defensive range side to side, as well, immediately making him a stronger second baseman, particularly when going up the middle. And he’s far better equipped to be a top-of-the-order guy this season, talented enough to let the offense here run through him as he beats out hustle plays and produces consistent hard contact in front of Stockton’s imposing power hitters.
“Being the high-energy guy suits me,” he acknowledged. “That’s how I want to play the game, not taking anything for granted. When you play 140 games, you have to be able to go 100% on every play regardless of how you feel, and you control that 100% effort. Knowing that is actually kind of comforting. Sometimes in this game you hit a line drive as hard as you can, and it gets caught. There are things you can’t control. But knowing that no matter what, you can always give 100% and get those extra hustle plays, that works to my advantage.”
Suddenly, you can start to see the path forming ahead for Nate Mondou, too.
He’s been play second base nearly exclusively since his junior year at Wake Forest, and it looks like home at this point. He’s physically stronger than he was a year ago, with better bat speed and a more consistent path to the ball that’ll produce line drives. And he’s settled into a routine to where he’s taking a consistent day-to-day approach in Stockton that’ll serve him well for the rest of his career.
That’s all combined to help Mondou hit the ground running this year — and he may yet have a future with the Oakland Athletics down the path. Of course, he’s quick to admit there’s more on the way, too. When the left-handed hitting second baseman really starts going gap-to-gap, that’s when you’ll know everything is truly falling into place for him with the Ports.
“I really want to produce more extra base hits, and I’m focused on increasing that side of the game, driving the ball with consistent hard contact,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll end up being a big home run guy, but a few home runs will come with that. But just being able to increase my hard contact numbers will be a big thing. And hitting at the top of the lineup, I really want to get on base for these guys, work counts and do my job.”
Another few weeks or months of this, and a new and improved Nate Mondou should be finishing what he started in Stockton a summer ago. No doubt the Oakland Athletics will be taking note along the way.
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