Breakout: Moncada, at age 24, is arguably the best player on the current roster. (Tom Borowski/South Side Hit Pen)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
How did he get here?
Born in Abreus, Cuba, it only seemed inevitable that uber-prospect Yoán Moncada would eventually play ball alongside fellow Cuban José Abreu. And it actually did happen, years before the duo teamed up on the Chicago White Sox.
In the 2012-13 season for Cienfuegos, the Cuban national team saw Abreu playing the last of his 10 seasons there, while Moncada played the first of his two. In fact, despite being approximately nine years younger than league average, Moncada held his own by slashing a respectable .277/.388/.380 in his two seasons with the club. Thus, it was no surprise that Moncada (who was just 19 at the time) received a whopping $31.5 million signing bonus with the Boston Red Sox on March 12, 2015, thanks to his combination of youth, athleticism, batting eye and power potential.
It didn’t take long for Moncada to work his way through the Red Sox system, as he made it to the majors for eight games in 2017 but showed he wasn’t quite ready (fanning 12 times in 19 at-bats). Although he seemed destined for greatness with the Red Sox, Moncada was part of a package (along with Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz) sent to the White Sox for perennial All-Star hurler Chris Sale on December 6. After spending more than three months of the 2017 season with Charlotte, Moncada received his promotion to Chicago on July 17 and acquitted himself fairly well by slashing .231/.338/.412 with eight homers in 54 games.
The 2018 season was full of growing pains for Moncada, as it was the first full season in the majors for the former No. 1 MLB prospect. In 149 games totaling 578 at-bats, Moncada slashed .275/.315/.400 with 32 doubles, six triples, 17 homers, 61 RBIs, 67 walks (10.3%) and a whopping 217 strikeouts (33.4%). Where there was plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, umpires seemed willing to punish him for his patience by ringing him up on 35 pitches that were out of the zone. On the positive side, if Moncada could slash .715 with that many strikeouts, imagine what he could do if he could reduce them! On the defensive side, Moncada showed plenty of range at second base but struggled with getting in front of the ball, as he was among the league leaders at second base with 21 errors.
With the White Sox in 2019
The 2019 season featured new beginnings for Moncada, as he switched from second base to the hot corner for multiple reasons: Third base is a more reactive position, as he had less time to think than at second; Yolmer Sánchez’s offense seemed more appropriate for second; and the eventual heir-apparent at second was 2018 first-rounder Nick Madrigal.
Moncada also spent much focus during the offseason on being more aggressive at the plate and becoming less reliant on umpires deciding his outcome. As it turned out, Moncada at age 24 proved what kind of impact he could make at the major league level. For the season, spanning 132 games and 511 at-bats, Moncada slashed .315/.367/.548 with 34 doubles, five triples, 25 homers, 79 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 40 walks and 154 strikeouts. Not only that, he posted a very impressive 141 OPS. Defensively, Moncada made 15 errors, which was a little high; with that said, it wasn’t alarming considering it was his first full season in the majors at that position.
Moncada improved his game significantly while hitting right-handed, as he slashed a solid .299/.345/.500 from that side while still posting a terrific .322/.377/.569 as a lefty. It didn’t matter where he played, as his home OPS (.921) was only slightly higher than his road (.909). Moncada finished the year in awesome fashion, as he slashed .412/.455/.647 in September with 11 doubles, two triples, three homers and 15 RBIs in 26 games. His average exit velocity (92.8 mph) far eclipsed the league average of 87.5, while his BABIP was an incredible .406. Despite hitting rockets throughout the diamond, Moncada didn’t hit too many at-’em balls, as he grounded into just one double play all year.
Craig Edward of FanGraphs did a nice piece on Moncada’s breakout season, relating that his great stats aren’t a fluke despite such a high BABIP. It didn’t matter how many outs there were when Moncada came to the plate, as his OPS was .899, .936 and .911 with no-to-two outs respectively. He improved against all types of pitches this year: In 2018, he slashed .265/.349/.456 against fastballs and .337/.419/.602 against them in 2019. Versus breaking pitches (i.e. slider, curve, knuckler) this year, he slashed .267/.304/.411 compared to last year’s .179/.236/.286. Finally, against off-speed pitches (splitter, change, forkball) this year, he slashed .327/.408/.606 as opposed to the previous year’s .216/.282/.371. It seems that all his adjustments worked out perfectly.
Despite Moncada’s defense being a wash statistically speaking, he still managed to post a terrific bWAR of 4.6 for 2019. With a full season under his belt at the hot corner, it’s easy to imagine that Moncada’s defense will be an asset in the future. It’s easy to forget or take for granted, that Moncada is still just 24. Thus, provided good health, Moncada should seem to be a lock for 5.0-plus bWAR for each of the next few years. Considering that each WAR point is worth approximately $7.7 million on the free agent market per FanGraphs, and he was earning just the league minimum this year, Moncada provided the White Sox with an incredible $34.865 million value.
What does the future have in store?
Moncada will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2020 season. As things stand right now, after three years of arbitration, he will be eligible to become a free agent prior to the 2024 season, as a 28-year-old. It is believed that the White Sox are strongly considering extending him (along with Lucas Giolito) in order for Moncada to stay in the organization and help make the team a long-lasting powerhouse.
If allowed to enter free agency as a 28-year-old, it’s very hard to imaging that the White Sox would pay the salary that the market would demand. As for staying at third base, it seems a virtual lock that Moncada will remain at the hot corner for the long term. Although, in the unlikely scenario that the White Sox pursue third baseman Anthony Rendon, they could make use of Moncada’s athleticism and arm by moving him to right field. To his credit, Moncada has stated that he’d be willing to play anywhere the Sox wish him to. But let’s be honest, it would have to take an MVP talent like Rendon to make that happen.