Yoan Moncada and Inconvenient Patience

Written by: Ray Butler

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I have no idea if White Sox 2B Yoan Moncada will ever reach the monumentally-high, hall-of-fame-potential that he possesses.

I don’t know if the cataclysmically-bad strikeout rate thru 308 MLB plate appearances will ever improve enough to truly unleash Moncada’s 60-grade game power, 60-grade raw power, and 70-grade speed. I don’t know if Moncada’s major league .221/.325/.382 triple slash will ever increase enough to reach a threshold that White Sox fans will accept in lieu of watching Chris Sale strikeout 300 batters a season in Boston. I simply don’t know.

But neither do you.

Baseball is perhaps the most fickle of any of the major sports in the United States of America. I am in the process of writing a piece on Shohei Ohtani that dives extensively into that concept, but it bears stating here as well. Things that appear written-in-stone one week become laughable falsehoods the next. It’s not entirely baseball’s fault, but it’s a truth nonetheless. Every pitch and every swing tells a story, but that story (for whatever reason) is often much more definitive and dire than it used to be. It’s obviously silly and ridiculous, but it’s the world that a lot of baseball fans live in.

Yoan Moncada hasn’t been an unproblematic baseball player since 2015, when he finished an 81-game stint in Low-A Greenville with 8 HRs and a mesmerizing 49 stolen bases. He triple slashed .278/.380/.438. He had a universally-accepted 22.9 K%.

The Yoan Moncada hype train was full-steam-ahead. Life was good.

In 2016 (and still with the Red Sox organization), Moncada had a 26.6 K% in stops at High-A, AA, and a 20 PA big league debut. He had 15 HRs and 45 SBs. The increased strikeout rate was a little alarming, but you could live with it thanks to the monstrous counting stats that Moncada had posted. One thing was absolutely certain: It was aggressively ambitious to promote a 21 year old who only had 854 minor league plate appearances to the big leagues. A player with obvious holes in his swing, at that.

Then the 2016-2017 offseason arrived. Moncada was traded to the White Sox alongside Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz in exchange for ace Chris Sale. The White Sox had decided to go into full-blown rebuild mode, and Moncada, ranked as the #1 overall prospect by many publications, had been involuntarily selected to be the cornerstone of Chicago’s future.

Moncada’s first season as a member of the White Sox organization? 20 HRs and 20 SBs between the big leagues and AAA. That’s right. The second baseman posted a 20/20 season as a 22-year-old with 39% of his plate appearances occurring in the White Sox watered-down big league lineup. The problem? Moncada struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances; that number, compared with his .231 AVG (the OBP was .338, but that’s less convenient for the cherry-pickers), apparently didn’t exactly emulate a player designated as the centerpiece of a trade for one of baseball’s best pitchers. Not to some White Sox fans, anyways.

But most White Sox fans understood that patience could be afforded, right? By the end of last regular season, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak, Todd Frazier and Adam Eaton had all been traded. The outlook for the White Sox had been completely altered. Time to settle in for the long haul and trust the process, even through the bumps and bruises.

Not so fast. You see, regardless of the minuscule, basically-impossible chance that the White Sox clinch a playoff birth in the 2018 regular season, former top prospects and ‘generational talents’ apparently aren’t afforded the luxury of patience and ample opportunity.

So far this season, Moncada has stepped into the batter’s box 57 times. He’s struck out in 42% of those plate appearances. He has 1 home run and 0 stolen bases. He’s triple slashing .184/.298/.306. By every account, Moncada has been highly-disappointing throughout the White Sox first 12 regular season games. But what exactly does it mean?

For some, it means incessantly tweeting me questions centered around Moncada being cemented into the role of a bust. “Is Moncada droppable in any format?” “I own Moncada. Time to panic?” “Fair to say Moncada was mis-scouted?”

These are questions I’ve received about a 22-year-old MLB everyday second baseman. Who has 308 MLB plate appearances. Who plays on one of the worst teams in the big leagues.

I don’t pride myself on quoting the hapless ESPN’s Monday Night Football Countdown, but C’MON MAN!

I’m well-aware that a lot of the Moncada-fueled questions I receive are from White Sox fans. I know it must be frustrating to watch Chris Sale overwhelm American League hitters while Moncada, the main piece in the trade that sent Sale to Boston, struggles mightily to solidify his role in the south side of Chicago. It’s wild that it’s been thirteen years since the White Sox appeared in the World Series, and some CHW fans must feel like it’ll be another thirteen years before they reach the Fall Classic again. Currently, Yoan Moncada is doing next-to-nothing to expedite that process.

It stinks. I know it stinks.

So when do we jump ship on Moncada in a keeper league? When is the appropriate time to boot one of the most talented, toolsy players of the 21st century from your fantasy baseball team?

You might roll your eyes at this statement, but I’m advising you to hold onto Moncada until the All Star break. Of the 2019 season. At least.  

Seem arbitrary to you? Here’s my thought process: Unless Moncada gets unexpectedly-demoted to AAA Charlotte at some point this season or next season, or he gets injured, he’ll reach 1000 big league plate appearances sometime next season. If I had to offer an educated guess, I’d guess that 90% of major league scouts estimate that most position players need (at least) 1000 plate appearances against major league pitching to officially acclimate themselves to big leagues. Big league tunneling. Big league sequencing. 1000 plate appearances. Moncada currently sits at 308 major league plate appearances.

Get the picture?

My notion is certainly furthered by the fact that Moncada obviously has troublesome swing-and-miss issues. Jesse Winker? He may not need 1000 PA with the Reds to become comfortable. He also possesses fantastic plate discipline and a 6.3 SwStr% this season. Those tools (which have been fairly uniform throughout Winker’s professional career) certainly promote a speedy acclimation. Moncada, on the other had, has a 14.0 SwStr% (though the other plate discipline analytics are better than you’d think after seeing the unsightly strikeout rate).

Thankfully, Moncada has one of the best mentors possible playing alongside him in Chicago. Jose Abreu, a fellow Cuban who knows a thing or two about lofty expectations. He also knows a thing or two about hitting, and I found his recent interview with James Fegan of The Athletic very, very insightful (especially the conversations Abreu has been having with Moncada about his mental approach and swing thoughts). Side note: Pony up and buy a subscription to The Athletic.

Let’s not fail to mention that the holistic picture of Moncada’s offensive profile (thru a mere 12 games this season. TWELVE!) isn’t without its positives. The Hard% is way up, the Soft% is way down. The FB% is up and the BABIP is .333. If you looked at those numbers alone, you’d think we’re talking about a player who’s absolutely crushing it at the plate this season.

But we’re not.

For Moncada, it begins and ends with the strikeout rate. You know it. I know it. Most of us have known it for more than a year. Take this Boston Globe article from 2016 for example. The title is “Yoan Moncada’s strikeouts come with a warning sign”, for crying out loud. Strikeouts have been Moncada’s problem for two seasons now. He just hasn’t fixed his problem yet.

It’s a tired comparison, but think about what life was like when you were 22 years old. Afford Moncada the same patience you needed when you were 22. He’s the age of a college senior. You turned out okay, right?

The Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant and Cody Bellinger-type players of the world have skewed our expectations of top prospects immediately upon their arrival in the big leagues. What they’ve done early in their careers is absolutely spectacular. It’s also atypical.

Patience is a virtue. It’s not always convenient. It’s not always easy. Heck, it’s not always rewarding. Improvements from Moncada won’t be sudden and acute. Whiff issues aren’t fixed overnight. The second baseman won’t wake up one morning and suddenly strike out only 20-25% of the time. If there are improvements, they’ll be slow and gradual, but very, very worth it.

But I can’t promise you Yoan Moncada will ever overcome his swing-and-miss issues. I can’t promise he’ll ever be anything more than a player that shows flashes of utter brilliance from time to time. There’s a chance that we eventually label Moncada as one of the biggest misses of this century.

But that time is not now. Not while we’re discussing a 22-year-old who, by all accounts, still possesses three elite tools and has fewer than 350 MLB plate appearances. From a fantasy standpoint, am I rushing to buy low on Moncada in a redraft league this season? Probably not. In a deep keeper or dynasty league? You better believe it.

Yoan Moncada’s skills DEMAND our patience. Understanding that now as he fights his way through the valleys will make his possible, hypothetical stardom later even more satisfying.

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Featured image courtesy of ESPN


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