Baseball is a game of adjustments.
Coming up to the big leagues for the first time is the adjustment in and of itself — figuring out your role within this new landscape and creating the player that you’re going to become. You’re starting on a somewhat blank canvas.
For some hitters, such as White Sox second baseman Yoán Moncada, those adjustments don’t always produce stunning results right off the bat.
About to enter his second full season in the majors, Moncada put up somewhat of a dismal performance in 2018, which followed up somewhat of a dismal stint of 49 games in 2017.
Of course, people panicked, like they always do. “He’s a bust! He can’t hit the ball! His fielding is subpar!”
Calm down just a second, folks. Remember that Moncada is a former No. 1 top prospect who is only 23 years old, and has just shy of 900 plate appearances under his belt.
What Moncada has done successfully is show that he’s ready for the task at hand — and that he takes initiative for himself.
“About three weeks before the season was over, he was already talking to us about possibly heading over to Arizona to sit down and talk and see what things he could improve upon,” manager Rick Renteria told the media at SoxFest.
Moncada spent time in Arizona in November to work on improving his place discipline. Renteria explained that while they would like to see Moncada expand his zone a little more in certain situations, the staff don’t want to take away from one of Moncada’s main strengths — his impeccable eye.
“I was there for 2-3 weeks,” Moncada says of his time in Arizona. “I worked with Todd Steverson on my offense, my hitting. We watched a lot of videos. I think I identified a lot of things I was doing wrong, and I’ve been working on that since that time.”
One of the main points that Renteria stresses is getting Moncada to make some changes with his hands in order to have more feel for the barrel of the bat, and perhaps better control the outcome of his plate appearances.
“He’s got a really good eye, but you want to be able to expand that barrel awareness to be able to put the bat on the ball a little bit more in certain situations,” Renteria says. “We don’t want him to expand outside the zone. That takes him away from one of the main strengths he has, which is a really good eye.”
“The way he’s gripping the bat limited his coverage of the outer half of both sides of the plate,” Renteria says of Moncada. “We looked a how he was using his physical approach to the baseball and how he managed the barrel on the outer half. You don’t overwrap the bat [with your hands], you end up going knuckle-to-knuckle.”
It’s true, Moncada has an instinctive eye at the plate for a player with such limited major league plate time.
Last season, Moncada’s walk rate fell to 10.3%, keeping in mind that league average in 2018 was 8.4% across baseball. So, despite dropping his walk rate by 2.3 percentage points from 2017 (12.6%, in a small sample size), Moncada still managed to be nearly two whole percentage points better than league average, which is quite a feat.
While Moncada’s numbers and heat maps would show a steady decline over the 2018 season, there are a few factors to take into consideration. One being that this was Moncada’s first season logging 650 plate appearances. While perhaps it’s good for Moncada to dive right into the thick of the learning experience, it’s going to reveal a few ugly things along the way; not every player can start off the way Kris Bryant or Alex Bregman did. But that can be good, because those ugly things are what Moncada and the coaching staff need to see in order to improve in future seasons.
Whatever 2019 has in store for Moncada, it’s clear that he’s giving every effort he can to get better, and the calm and collected face you see on camera every day isn’t just a front — he’s not concerned. Not even Moncada’s pal José Abreu is concerned.
“Sometimes you talk and you create bigger expectations,” Abreu says. “We all know the kind of player that [Moncada] can be, and we’re just excited to see what he can do. He has a lot of potential, and he can help us a lot.”