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Yoan Moncada starting a strong finish to rookie season

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Which could also be a start in and of itself if it can hold up against tougher competition

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Not having a whole lot of context for the White Sox promoting a top position propsect to the majors, I adopted a conservative outlook for Yoan Moncada.

I expected a Byron Buxton-ish start to his career, in that he was too talented to meaningfully struggle at the Triple-A level, so the contact issues in his game would have to be spackled in the majors. You’d see flashes of that All-Star talent early on, but you’d also see a frequency of feeble at-bats that makes you squirm a little.

It’s not a perfect comparison, because Buxton is an elite defender in center field, and his career required several promotions and demotions. But Buxton now looks like an above-average 23-year-old starter at an up-the-middle position, and now the Twins’ rebuild makes real sense. I figured Moncada’s career would have at least one false start before taking root, but he’d ultimately be too talented to deny and his ascension would have a similar role in the overall proceedings.

I’m all for Moncada accelerating the process, though, and he’s planting the thought with his last week of action. He extended his hitting streak to six games with some overkill on Thursday — 4-for-5 with a homer, two walks and a franchise-record-tying five runs scored.

Moncada’s sample size is small enough that one big game can make a huge difference.

  • Before Thursday: .207/.331/.370
  • After Thursday: .229/.353/.407

I’d take .2—/.3—/.4— from a 22-year-old at the end of his rookie season, regardless of whether he’s fattening up on a pitching staff that threw Chad Bell and three different relievers with double-digit ERAs against the Sox on Thursday.

There are a few things to point to. He’s hitting .333/.422/.438 with 11 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list -- and that’s with a few games up front that knocked the rust off. His underlying numbers are trending in the correct directions — he went from swinging at nothing to swinging indiscriminately, and now he’s starting to sort good from bad.

FanGraphs.com

And maybe the shaky-at-best Kansas City and Detroit pitching staffs explain that, but if you like a good story — especially one that elevates the Jose Abreu mythology a little more — there’s one that squares up nicely with Moncada’s squaring-up:

Sitting at his locker after the White Sox’ 17-7 rout Thursday of the Tigers, a smiling Jose Abreu raised his arms and yelled in triumph when fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada was asked about the bats. [...]

Moncada went from a 34-inch, 32-ounce bat to a 33½-inch, 31-ounce model, which he said gives him a better feel in his hands.

‘‘My swing is more fluid, and I feel stronger with my swing with these bats,’’ he said through an interpreter. ‘‘It was [Abreu’s] suggestion. He saw me having trouble with the bats I was using. He approached me and said, ‘Why don’t you try this different model to see how you feel?’ He ordered the bats, and I’ve been feeling really good with them.’’

Moncada will face more Quadruple-A talent the rest of the weekend -- the Tigers are starting Myles Jaye — but he’ll have enough tests with the Astros, Angels and Indians providing legit measuring sticks for these bats over the final fortnight. If he can navigate that gauntlet and come out with a .2—/.3—/.4— line and a strikeout rate that starts with a “2,” that’ll be a satisfying start to his career, and one that helps the White Sox front office gain some much-needed evaluation cred.

Those still pragmatic about Moncada’s future will point to Gordon Beckham’s career and say a decent rookie season doesn’t guarantee anything, which is true as a general cautionary tale. Just like a Buxton parallel, though, it can be taken too far. I’d counter that if you’re watching Moncada flash power from both sides of the plate and score from first standing after sliding and stopping at second and Beckham still comes to mind, then you and I are not watching baseball for the same reasons.