Considering he was the the prized piece of a deal that saw perennial Cy Young contender Chris Sale traded away in the prime of his career, Yoan Moncada and the Chicago White Sox knew that the spotlight would be bright every step of the way.
He was tabbed as the top prospect in baseball by multiple outlets heading into the 2017 season and the 22-year-old showed incredible maturity for three months in Triple-A. Inevitably, he found himself as a fixture in the big league lineup by the end of summer.
But if you expected a Mike Trout-esque ascent into the forefront of opposing pitchers’ consciousness, you were likely disappointed. Moncada flashed as he’s been prone to do since defecting from Cuba, but the reality was always going to be that he was well off from what he projects to be down the road.
The White Sox knew that and you could certainly make the argument that they should have let him continue to fine-tune in the minors because of it. Ultimately, they put confidence in the long-term benefit of him beginning to see major league pitching.
The result was a melodramatic .231/.338/.412 slash line. And, as you might expect, not every peripheral works in his favor but most do seem to indicate that he’ll get better over time.
He’ll likely always be prone to striking out in large numbers, but his strikeout percentage should eventually creep down from 32 percent. Eventually, Moncada will start to generate more lift and take advantage of his natural bat speed. And despite the fact that his .325 babip doesn’t indicate there’s much luck meat left on the bone, he’ll eventually raise that average because of those likelihoods too.
The end result should be an All-Star caliber player. However, as the first piece of a complete franchise rebuild, he’ll have to walk that path under the finest of microscopes.
The naturalized fear that comes with being a Chicago baseball fan of any kind will undoubtedly color every slump and hot streak without regard for the fact that this is a game of averages. While we certainly don’t condone overreactions based on 5, 7, 10 or 14-day sample sizes, it’s easy to understand why he’ll be watched so nervously.
The White Sox aren’t guaranteed to reach their ultimate goals if Moncada turns into the player they expect and they aren’t guaranteed to fail if he doesn’t. They’ve very quickly accumulated talent and depth, and they’re poised to become competitive at some point because of it.
However, the reality is that the chances of winning anything meaningful rises and falls based on Moncada’s success or failure considerably. His potential to be a stalwart in the top half of the lineup, a constant threat on the base paths and a more than capable glove/arm up the middle make him a fulcrum point in their pursuit of sustained competitiveness.
And the most dangerous part about it all is that it creates a sense of urgency. The sooner he’s good, the sooner the White Sox have a chance of being good.
For a franchise that’s averaged 73 wins in the last 5 seasons after averaging 86 in the 13 seasons prior to that, that’s exciting. Moncada’s 89.1 mph average exit velocity (No. 78 in baseball) and his 29.3 ft/sec sprint speed (No. 12 in baseball) as a 22-year-old present the idea of endless potential.
He’ll eventually hit fewer ground balls and those exit velocities will rise with his home run totals. He’ll hit some jaw-dropping bombs and eventually get on base at a higher clip to take advantage of that speed.
But the longer that takes to come to fruition the more panic will begin to set in. “If Rick Hahn got this one wrong, what else did he get wrong?” They’ll begin to wonder.
Of course that isn’t fair, but nothing about this business ever is. So Moncada enters the 2018 season with thousands upon thousands of people eager to judge him in one way or another.
It’s not entirely an unknown feeling to him. People have been rushing to their crystal balls in an effort to see his future since before he signed a record deal out of Cuba.
However, as a permanent fixture in an MLB lineup in 2018, that intensity will be ratcheted up considerably. While the expectation isn’t necessarily that he’s an immediate star, signs of progress will be imperative.
Where and how you choose to see them depends on what kind of baseball fan you are. The analytical among us will be tracking most of the numbers already mentioned closely. They’ll hope to see how larger sample sizes skew the data over time.
The baseball purists among us will be looking for the more frequent flashes of brilliance he’s prone to. The whistlers into the gap he legs out for triples, the backhanded flips and strong-armed double play turns and the rising liners that begin leaving the ballpark altogether.
The good news if you’re a White Sox fan is that there’s a decent chance Moncada will have you covered in both departments. Both the stat nerds and the tools guys seem to think he can be pretty good and that bodes well.
It guarantees him nothing, for sure, but the more patient we are with his potential to realize our collective expectations the better off he’ll be. So keep that in mind during an inevitably rocky season in 2018.