By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 106 G, 405 AB, .294 BA, 15 HR, 62 RBI, 45 SB, .918 OPS
Yoan Moncada has been surrounded by fanfare since he got an enormous $31.5 million signing bonus from the Boston Red Sox when he left Cuba in 2015. Only 21 years old, Moncada garnered attention almost as soon as he started playing baseball at 17 in the Cuban National Series. The grand prize in this winter’s blockbuster Chris Sale trade with Boston, Moncada may not start the year with the White Sox, but it’s only a matter of time before baseball’s No. 2 overall prospect is making an impact in Chicago.
Scouts loved what they saw from a young Moncada in Cuba as he displayed great speed and raw power that was obviously still developing — and still is. The Red Sox won the bidding war and he joined Class A Greenville in ‘15, posting a .278/.380/.438 line with eight home runs and 49 steals in 81 games.
Moncada joined the Red Sox early in Spring Training last year, but with no plans on him making the Opening Day roster the team wasted no time sending him to Class A Advanced Salem. He hit .307 with a .427 OBP and stole 36 bases there, and while he managed just four homers he did hit 25 doubles. After a callup to Double-A, the doubles began to turn into homers. Moncada hit 11 homers in just 45 games with Portland with a .277/.379/.531 line.
The Red Sox called up Moncada in September and he made his much-anticipated Major League debut on Sept. 2, walking and scoring a run. He went 4-for-9 with a double and two runs scored in his next two games, but then went 0-for-9 with nine strikeouts in limited playing time the rest of the way. The strikeouts have been a bit of an issue in the Minors and really came to the surface in his first stint in the bigs. A common issue among young hitters, it shouldn’t cause much of a concern yet, unless it continues deep into this year.
With all the tools in hand, some experience under his belt, and a new start in a new organization, Moncada entered this Spring Training aiming for a spot on the Opening Day roster. In his first 12 games, he drove in six runs but was 0-for-1 on the basepaths and struck out 12 times. He’s spent his time at second base, which is likely where he’ll find a spot on the White Sox when the time comes.
Because of Moncada’s strong arm (60 scouting grade) and speed (65 grade) he has natural ability as a defender, it’s just that many aren’t sure where he fits best. He played some third base and outfield with the Red Sox, but he’ll get the crack at second base in Chicago. Should he falter there, however, there are at least other options. The hope in Chicago is that fellow top prospect Tim Anderson — who is coming off a solid debut year with his rookie status still intact entering this season — can join with Moncada as a dynamic double-play combo for years to come.
ZiPS projections are relatively bullish on Moncada in ‘17. They project him with 17 home runs and 34 steals in 145 games. Others (Depth Charts, Steamer) have him closer to 75-80 games played with 7-8 homers and 15-17 steals. Each projection system expects some struggles at the plate, with ZiPs projections giving him the highest batting average of .236. Given his propensity to swing and miss, it wouldn’t be a surprise is the average takes some time to come along
While it’s unclear when he’ll arrive with the South Siders, he’s expected to begin the year with Triple-A and should make his debut with the White Sox sooner than later.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.