The Chicago White Sox took their first steps toward rebuilding when they shipped Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox at the Winter Meetings in November. While general manager Rick Hahn wasn’t going to move his homegrown ace for any old package, the decision to move him certainly brought back a desirable haul headlined by top prospects Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada.
While Kopech probably won’t compete for a spot on the pitching staff until at least late 2018, Moncada could be in Chicago sooner rather than later and potentially be the White Sox everyday second baseman by the end of the 2017 season.
He flew through the Red Sox system after signing in 2015 at the age of 19, as many believed he had the potential to become the next in a long line of Cuban stars to succeed in the majors. Moncada held his own during his first season in professional baseball, but it was the 2016 season that had scouts, front office executives, and fans drooling. Last season, between the Red Sox High-A and Double-A affiliates, Moncada carried a .294/.407/.511 slash line with 52 extra base hits (15 home runs), 64 RBI and 94 runs scored to go along with 45 stolen bases. His stellar season earned him several accolades including Baseball America’s 2016 Minor League Player of the Year award.
So what are proper expectations for Moncada, who is easily the most highly touted White Sox position player prospect in recent memory, heading into 2017?
After breaking down tape of Moncada from last season, these are the four areas that stand out the most about the White Sox top prospect.
Driving the ball
Physically, you might think Moncada is better suited to play linebacker than second base, but don’t let the chiseled frame fool you. Moncada is built for baseball, standing 6-foot-2, 205 lbs. When Moncada makes contact, which he often does, he hits the ball with authority. He’s a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate and while he has proven to be a better hitter from the left side, he doesn’t give much up from the right side (career .290 BA vs. RHP; .276 BA vs. LHP). He has loft in his swing from the left side which helped him tap into more power in 2016. His swing from the right side is much flatter, but his strength and bat speed help him generate enough power to compensate. Moncada will grow into more power as his already strong frame matures. He won’t have a problem hitting 25-30 homers at Guaranteed Rate Field in a few years.
He’s an advanced hitter for his age and has terrorized pitching in the lower minor leagues. He’ll have to prove himself against better pitching in Triple-A and the majors before people can start really believing the hype, but if it all clicks, he could produce close to a .300/.400/.500 slash line in the immediate future.
Getting on base
This may be Moncada’s best attribute. While he likes to swing the bat, he is a very patient hitter with good plate discipline. Moncada walked 72 times during the 2016 season and carried a 14.6 percent walk rate to go along with his robust .407 on-base percentage. For comparison, Ben Zobrist, one of the more patient hitters in the league, had a 15.2 percent walk rate in 2016. The best part about Moncada’s knack to get on base is that once he’s on, he can use his plus speed to wreak havoc on the bases. For a White Sox team that hasn’t been better than 20th in team OBP since 2012, Moncada’s ability to get on base will be a welcomed attribute.
Moncada does have swing and miss to his game. The switch-hitter struck out 124 times between High-A and Double-A, a 24 percent strikeout rate. This was also the one part of his game that stood out during his cup of coffee with Boston in September. During his brief stint with the Red Sox, he struck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances, including a stretch of nine straight strikeouts. While this is an alarming rate of strikeouts it should be taken with a grain of salt.
While 12 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances isn’t anything to write home about, there is something to be said for Moncada’s eye at the plate. In the 12 strikeouts, Moncada did manage to see an average of 5.2 pitches in those at-bats, showing that he’s not just flailing recklessly.
There is still room for improvement in pitch recognition. 75 percent of Moncada’s strikeouts during his stint in the big leagues came on off-speed pitches. That will certainly be a point of emphasis the White Sox make during Spring Training and when he starts the year, presumably, in Triple-A Charlotte.
Strikeouts will always be a part of Moncada’s game and depending on your philosophy about strikeouts being another out, it might not be a big deal. As he matures as a major league hitter, he may be able to cut his strikeouts down from the 120s to fewer than 100. When Moncada matures into his body and taps into that 25-homer power many expect, the White Sox will be able to live with the 100-plus strikeouts that come with it, especially if he continues to get on base.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet. He can fly. Moncada has stolen 94 bases in 109 attempts (86 percent) in his first two professional season, which is amazing at his size. His speed also allows him to take the extra base often, turning what are normally singles into doubles. While he is bound to lose a step as his body matures, he will for the immediate future wreak absolute havoc on the base paths. 35-plus stolen bases should be well within his reach.
While the White Sox brass is undoubtedly pleased to have a prospect like Moncada in the fold, a timetable as to when he would arrive in Chicago is not set in stone. Following his acquisition this offseason, Hahn acknowledged that Moncada, while being very close to MLB ready, has development left to do and that he would begin the 2017 season in the minors.
My guess would be that the White Sox follow a similar model that they used with Tim Anderson last season. Moncada would start the season in Triple-A and, depending on how he performs and how the White Sox feel he has adjusted in his development, call him up and let him play every day in the big leagues some point in June.
Moncada is an elite prospect and may be the first of many young, talented players coming to the South Side of Chicago in the upcoming months. While White Sox fans will have a long summer ahead of them in the first year of a rebuild, watching this kid play every day alongside the like of Anderson would definitely make it easier.
Lead Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports