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Deep Dive: Second Base Edition, Part 3

Yoán Moncada: His past, present and future with the White Sox

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Faint Praise: Yoán Moncada was among Chicago’s WAR leaders for 2018.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

This article delves into the career of Yoan Moncada through 2018, his struggles with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the Sox organization.

Yoan Moncada — how did he get here?

Yoan Moncada had a ton of expectations piled upon him, dating back to his debut.

Moncada started his professional career with the Elefentes de Cienfuegos in the 2012-13 season, where he teamed with another future White Sox, José Abreu. The Abreus, Cuba native put up decent stats in his two years in the Cuban League by slashing .277/.388/.380, with four homers, 28 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, 40 walks and 69 strikeouts over 367 at-bats. At ages 17-18 in those two seasons, Moncada was nine years younger than league average, so a performance like that made him quite the phenom.

The advanced skills Moncada displayed at such a young age pushed the Boston Red Sox to take a chance, signing him to a record-breaking $31.5 million bonus (the Red Sox ultimately would pay an additional $31.5 million in taxes) on March 12, 2015. Moncada (6´2´´, 205 pounds) was rushed through the Red Sox farm system, but did quite well at every stop — until he was promoted to Boston on September 2, 2016, where he struggled as a third baseman, in limited at-bats. For the Red Sox, he hit just .211/.250/.263 in 19 at-bats, with a double, RBI, walk, and a whopping 12 strikeouts. Later that very year, on December 6, Moncada was traded along with pitcher Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and reliever Victor Diaz to the White Sox for Chris Sale.

Moncada began the 2017 with the Charlotte Knights, where at 22 he was 4.7 years younger than league average. He held his own for the Knights by slashing .282/.377/.447, with 12 homers, 36 RBIs, 17 stolen bases, 49 walks (13.6%) and 102 strikeouts (28.3%) over 361 at-bats. The White Sox called him up on July 19; although he did show flashes of greatness, Moncada struggled, with a .231/.338/.412 slash line and eight homers, 22 RBIs, three stolen bases, 29 walks (12.6%) and 74 strikeouts (32.0%) over 199 at-bats.

Moncada with the White Sox in 2018

Moncada had an up-and-down year in 2018 with the White Sox. Overall, he slashed .235/.315/.400 over 578 at-bats (149 games), with 32 doubles, six triples, 17 homers, 61 RBIs and 67 walks. Other than the low batting average, they were respectable numbers for someone in his first full season in the majors. His patience at the plate was exemplary — perhaps too much so at times. His hard-hit rate was 44.1%, 10% higher than league average. Moncada’s ground ball rate was 38.4%, 7.4% better than league average. Also significantly better than league average was his average exit velocity (90.1 mph) and BABIP .344 (ranking 20th in the majors). Moncada’s bWAR was 2.0; factoring the FanGraphs estimate of $7.7 million for each WAR and his salary of $555,000, Moncada’s actual net value for the White Sox in 2018 was $14.845 million.

Everything wasn’t rosy for Moncada in 2018, as we all know. Obviously, 217 strikeouts won’t get the job done — that’s one-third of all his plate appearances. If he had cut his strikeouts to one per game this year while maintaining his BABIP, Moncada’s batting average would have improved from .235 to .275.

Four issues haunted him, in particular:

  1. Moncada needs to be more aggressive with two strikes — especially with those pitches on the edges of the zone. It’s been well-noted how umpires have been calling non-strikes against him throughout his short career. It would be ideal if Moncada could find a way to foul those pitches off in order to get a better offering; usually, such selectivity is something that improves with experience. And Moncada needs to be more aggressive not just with two strikes but on the first pitch, as the book on him is that he’s an automatic take. In fact, Moncada swung at a first pitch just 24.3% of the time, well below the league average of 28.1%. As a result, pitchers often got ahead of Moncada and made him look foolish on breaking pitches below the zone. Moncada can improve upon this gradually, so as not to change his hitting approach — it’s actually refreshing to see a White Sox hitter want to work the count.
  2. Moncada needs to lay off pitches below the zone. Pitchers threw below the zone 30% of the time to Moncada, and he struck out more than half of the time when they went there with two strikes. One caveat: On the rare times Moncada actually makes contact with a ball below the zone, he is quite proficient. While his batting average was just .173 below the zone, his BABIP was much better than .400. Thus, instead of laying off all pitches below the zone, Moncada simply needs to lay off most of them; experience should dictate which ones he can drive.
  3. Moncada needs to improve significantly on the soft stuff. On fastballs, he slashed .264/.351/.455. Against all other pitches, he slashed just .179/.255/.296. That’s a pretty sizable disparity. The second and third issues can be worked on in the batting cage and will improve with experience.
  4. Finally, Moncada needs to improve his efficiency from the right side. As a lefty, he slashed .244/.324/.435 over 430 at-bats, with 27 doubles, five triples, 15 homers and 51 RBIs. As a righty, Moncada slashed just .209/.287/.297, with five doubles, one triple, two homers and 10 RBIs in 148 at-bats. The issues that plague him, especially pitches below the zone and off-speed pitches, affect him equally on the right side as the left. Moncada is, simply put, raw. He’s also a bit of an aberration, as one of the few switch-hitters who started out as a lefty. As a result, Moncada is still learning how to bat right-handed, and getting less frequent reps from the right side in game action isn’t helping. As with the second and third options above, this issue can be at least partly remedied with experience and continued work at the batting cages.

What does the future have in store for Moncada in a White Sox uniform?

Defensively, Moncada has been a mixed bag. At times, he’s looked like a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman. However, at other times, his defense has been maddening. Too many times, an easy double-play grounder wasn’t so, due to Moncada not taking the time to get in front of the ball. This is an especially difficult habit when fielding behind a young pitching staff that needs defensive stability in the infield. Moncada committed 21 errors, which is quite a lot for a second baseman.

Moncada is the obvious choice at second base for next year, with Jose Rondon, Yolmer Sanchez and Leury Garcia capable of manning the position as well if needed. However, Nick Madrigal may end up being the wild card factor here — even if he doesn’t play in Chicago during the 2019 season. With Madrigal’s steadiness, and readiness for top-of-the-order duties as early as 2020, Moncada would likely take his glove elsewhere on the diamond.

Third base would be the likeliest scenario, as he’s played that position in the Red Sox organization; however, what if the White Sox sign a third baseman via free agency? Moncada would certainly be athletic enough to play all three outfield positions; if I had to choose, he’d make a better left fielder than center fielder. In a best-case scenario for 2020, what if our top minor league outfielders do well in 2019 and make a case to begin 2020 in the South Side? Could he end up playing first base or DH in a couple years, or perhaps play in some around-the-diamond role, like a Marwin Gonzalez?

It’s not likely, but one never knows — a team will always find a way to insert a good bat in its lineup. Moncada is exactly that — an electric talent who pulverizes the ball when contact is made. He’s still a bit rough around the edges, but has the youth (he’ll be 23 to start the 2019 season) to adapt. He’s also got the speed to put pressure on pitchers as well.

With refinement and better pitch recognition, Moncada can eventually become the All-Star we all expected him to be when the White Sox acquired him.

What a lineup we could see, in the best case where everyone meets their expectations:

  1. Madrigal
  2. Zack Collins/Seby Zavala
  3. Eloy Jiménez
  4. top-notch free agent
  5. Abreu
  6. Moncada
  7. Luis Robert
  8. Luis González/Luis Basabe/Blake Rutherford/Micker Adolfo
  9. Tim Anderson

Well, the lineup is yet to be determined, but it’s fun to think of all the possibilities!