The Chicago White Sox are a sinking ship. They sit at 33-43, the worst record in the American League.
This is nothing new on the South Side. The White Sox haven’t had an 80-win season since 2012, and in response spent the offseason rebuilding a relatively barren farm system.
The White Sox got arguably the best prospect in baseball in doing so. And it’s just about time to let the Yoan Moncada era begin.
If you forgot who Moncada is, shame on you. Moncada has been the most heralded prospect in baseball since 2015. Signed out of Cuba at a record-setting price, Moncada immediately hit the ground running in his South Atlantic League debut. Quite literally, actually, finishing third in stolen bases, successful 49 of 52 times, in just 81 games.
The switch-hitter has had some setbacks along his quick rise. Moncada’s 2016 began in the Carolina League of High-A and ended on the playoff-bound Boston Red Sox’s roster. Brought up near season’s end, he didn’t seem to have a defined role, but his speed was certainly going to be a weapon. His base running gaffe on a two-out fly ball made headlines when manager John Farrell publicly displayed his displeasure, and suddenly questions of Moncada’s maturity arose.
It really wasn’t a fair assessment. The Red Sox have had a let-them-play attitude with some of their prospects — including Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. — who some have felt weren’t necessarily ready. Moncada, then merely 21 years old, with roughly a year of American professional baseball under his belt, never saw a Triple-A pitch. With merely 177 at-bats above the A-ball level, Moncada got thrown into the fire on one of baseball’s biggest stages.
Boston. During a playoff race. The best prospect in baseball, for one of the best teams in the American League.
Struggles were almost a near certainty.
Moncada was also a man without a position. There have always been serious doubts about his play at second base. His speed gives him the range, and his natural strength gives him the arm, but he has struggled to put it together. With Dustin Pedroia set to replace David Ortiz as “The Man” in Boston, the Red Sox experimented with Moncada at third and in the outfield, neither working out the way they hoped.
Enter team president Dave Dombrowski, owner of the quickest trigger-finger in the prospect world. Pedroia is locked in until 2021. Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis are in the pipeline, ready to displace Pablo Sandoval at third in the not-so-distant future. Thus, DD sent Moncada to Chicago as part of the Chris Sale deal.
The White Sox wisely eased up on the reigns. Despite not having a standout second baseman on the Opening Day roster, and the March release of incumbent second baseman Brett Lawrie, some believed the door was open for Moncada. Whether it was due to service time or seasoning, the White Sox decided to leave Moncada in Charlotte.
Moncada has moved back to second base full time, and has shown the same struggles there as he always has. Moncada has already committed 10 errors this season, but he has shown improvements in turning the double play.
He hasn’t changed at all at the plate.
His bat continues to be one of the most exciting that the minors have to offer. He is slashing .282/.382/.449 with a .830 OPS. Nearly thirty percent of Moncada’s hits go for extra bases — eight doubles, three triples, nine home runs — and he is still highly successful on the base paths, going 15-for-18 in stolen bases. He does have the same swing-and-miss issue, striking out 27 percent of the time. Moncada counters it with a high walk rate (14.5 percent of the time), tied for second in the International League with 42 walks.
The May 15th service time deadline has passed. The White Sox have beaten the service clock, yet have not called up Moncada. While it has been suggested that the White Sox have everyone on the trade market, no big pieces have been moved. Yolmer Sanchez has been playing solid enough second base that there is no reason to jump the gun.
It is easy to cash it in. It’s easy to say that the White Sox have nothing to play for, thus the time is right for Moncada. But the other side of the coin presents a more sound argument. This isn’t a Kris Bryant or Carlos Correa situation. Both of those top prospects added a spark to a contender. One could say they were both the key spark needed in highly surprising turnarounds.
Moncada’s time is close. It could be any day. But the White Sox have been wise to showcase their tradable pieces, allowing Moncada to play second every day at in Triple-A. Come August, once the trade deadline passes, Moncada will be a big leaguer for good.
By Wayne Cavadi