“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into five parts:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on a White Sox player
- Free agent options
This post goes into detail on Yoán Moncada’s history with the Sox through 2020, a look at his 2021 season, and briefly illumine the other third base options on the White Sox roster.
Yoán Moncada — how did he get here?
Born in Abreus, Cuba, it perhaps was destined that the uber-prospect Moncada would eventually play ball alongside fellow Cuban José Abreu. And it actually did happen, years before the duo teamed up on the White Sox.
In the 2012-13 season for Cienfuegos, the Cuban national team saw Abreu playing the last of his 10 seasons there, while Moncada played the first of his two. In fact, despite being approximately nine years younger than league average, Moncada held his own by slashing a respectable .277/.388/.380 in his two seasons with the club. Thus, it was no surprise that Moncada (who was just 19 at the time) received a whopping $31.5 million signing bonus with the Boston Red Sox on March 12, 2015, due to his combination of youth, athleticism, batting eye and power potential.
It didn’t take long for Moncada to work his way through the Red Sox system, as he made it to the majors for eight games in 2016 but showed he wasn’t quite ready (fanning 12 times in 19 at-bats). Although he seemed destined for greatness with the Red Sox, Moncada was part of a package (along with Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz) sent to the White Sox for perennial All-Star hurler Chris Sale on December 6. After spending more than three months of the 2017 season with Charlotte, Moncada received his promotion to Chicago on July 17 and acquitted himself fairly well by slashing .231/.338/.412 with eight homers in 54 games.
The 2018 season was full of growing pains for Moncada, as it was the first full season in the majors for the former No. 1 MLB prospect. In 149 games totaling 578 at-bats, Moncada slashed .275/.315/.400 with 32 doubles, six triples, 17 homers, 61 RBIs, 67 walks (10.3%) and a whopping 217 strikeouts (33.4%). Where there was plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, umpires seemed willing to punish him for his patience by ringing him up on 35 pitches that were out of the zone (with those strikeouts struck from the record, Yoán ends 2018 with a much-less cringeworthy 182). On the positive side, if Moncada could put up a .715 OPS with that many strikeouts, imagine what he could do if he could reduce them! On the defensive side, Moncada showed plenty of range at second base, but struggled with getting in front of the ball, as he was among the league leaders with 21 errors.
Moncada also spent much focus during the offseason on being more aggressive at the plate and becoming less reliant on umpires deciding his outcome. Defensively, Moncada shifted to third base, his more natural position. As it turned out, he proved at age 24 what kind of impact he could make at the major league level. For the 2019 season, spanning 132 games and 511 at-bats, he slashed .315/.367/.548 with 34 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 79 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 40 walks and 154 strikeouts. Not only that, he posted a very impressive 139 wRC+. Defensively, Moncada made 15 errors, which was a little high; with that said, it wasn’t alarming considering it was his first full season in the majors at third.
During spring training of 2020, Moncada signed a five-year, $70 million extension that secured his services for the Sox through the 2025 season. But it was a bad start to the truncated 2020 season for Moncada, as he tested positive for Covid-19 upon intake to Summer Camp in July and fought through its effects all season. In the 52 games he played during the shortened season, he slashed just .225/.320/.385 with eight doubles, three triples, six homers, 24 RBIs, 28 walks (12.1%), 72 strikeouts (31.2%, 95 wRC+. His bWAR, prorated for a full season, would still have been just 1.6. To his credit, he battled every day and played hard despite not being anywhere close to 100% at any time during the year.
Yoán Moncada’s 2021
Moncada bounded back with a solid, but somewhat under-the-radar season in 2021. Despite not producing any eye-popping stats like he did in 2019, he posted his second-best season in terms of both bWAR (4.0) and wRC+ (122). His wRC+ tied him a tie for seventh with Manny Machado among all third basemen this year— not too shabby for what many people deemed to be an off-year. In 144 games totaling 616 plate appearances, Moncada slashed .263/.375/.412 with 33 doubles, one triple, 14 homers, 61 RBIs, three stolen bases, 84 walks (13.6%) and 157 strikeouts (25.5%). His .350 BABIP, while quite good, was actually a bit lower than his career mark of .359. While his ranking in the 51 percentile in hard-hit rate this year was much higher than his 2020 rank of 23%, it was still much lighter than his 2018 (84%) and 2019 (91%) ranks. In addition, Moncada’s walk and strikeout rates improved significantly this year as his career averages are now 10.8% and 29.7% respectively.
Now, let’s look a little closer at his splits. Moncada unsurprisingly fared better from the left side (.268/.385/.431) than as a righty (.252/.344/.356). Whether hitting with nobody on (.279/.380/.432) or with runners in scoring position (.269/.409/.431), it didn’t really matter, as Yoán performed eerily similar no matter the situation. Moncada did his most damage as a table-setter, as he slashed .394/.413/.590 when hitting with nobody out.
Moncada batted in several different lineup spots all season, a challenge that’s easy to overlook when looking at his overall offensive effectiveness. He seemed to alter his approach depending upon where he was placed in the lineup. His best OBP numbers came in the second (.381) and third spots (.409), while his best slugging numbers came in the fifth (.506) and sixth slots (.500). With that said, Moncada put too much pressure on himself in the cleanup slot, as he hit just .190/.271/.270 in 70 at-bats.
Like much of his team in 2021, Moncada actually performed better under the lights (.275/.380/.446) than during the day (.240/.365/.343). Moncada enjoyed playing at Guaranteed Rate Field this year (.284/.386/.445) but struggled by comparison on the road (.241/.363/.353). While he clearly takes a ton of pitches, he (like most players) is much better when the count is in his favor. When ahead in the count this year, he hit a meager .220/.227/.314 with a .541 OPS. Despite a relatively-low hard-hit percentage, he posted a respectable average in part because he sprayed the ball everywhere (he pulled the ball 35.6% of the time, while hitting t straight and opposite-field 37.5% and 26.8%). Like many hitters on the team, Moncada posted an extremely high ground ball rate (44.1%) as compared to his fly ball (20.3%) and line drive (31%) rates.
Moncada actually fared quite well against breaking pitches this year, by slashing .288/.369/.486 against such offerings. He did well, but without as much power, against fastballs as he slashed .271/.367/.402 against them. Versus off-speed pitches, he struggled to the tune of .227/.271/.346. If there was any one pitched Moncada thrived against, it would be the sinker as he hit .308 with a .523 slugging percentage against them. In contrast, he needs to somehow lay off the splitter, as he hit just .152 and slugged .271 against those offerings.
According to FanGraphs, Moncada ranked second only behind Oakland’s Matt Chapman in the third base defensive rankings — ahead of such guys like Nolan Arenado, José Ramírez and Manny Machado. Moncada’s defensive range factor was graded at 3.7 this year, easily a career-best at third base. Thanks to his offensive and defensive contributions, Moncada attained a 4.0 bWAR, second only to the 5.2 he posted in 2019. Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs on the free agent market, and he only earned $507,500 this this year (his lucrative extension doesn’t kick in until 2022), Moncada provided the White Sox with an incredible $30.29 million value. That’s not even mentioning all the intangibles he brings to the table, like his work ethic, camaraderie with his fellow teammates, etc.
What does the future have in store for Moncada and the White Sox at third base?
Because of the extension he signed prior to the 2020 season, Moncada will be earning $13.8 million in 2022. His salary will increase annually through 2025, when he’ll be earning $25 million. Thus, he should continue to be a fixture (albeit a more expensive one) for the next four years. It is exciting, and yet hard to believe, that Moncada is still only 26 and is just now entering his prime.
If injuries should hit Moncada, however, who’d be available to take his place? The most logical bet will be former first round pick Jake Burger, who acquitted himself fairly well during his four-week stint in the majors this year. Other internal options include Romy González and Danny Mendick — both of whom now have major league experience. Thus, unlike last year, the team may not dig into the free agent vault (like they did last year for Jake Lamb) unless the team decides to re-sign utility man Leury García.
Of course, third base free options may include some possibilities to fill in the roster, and these options will be detailed in the next Deep Dive post.