Yoán Moncada delivering on all that prospect hype with Chicago White Sox
By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Isn’t this what we were all waiting for?
Often in sports, the hype for a player can get so out of control that it becomes nearly impossible to live up to. In Yoán Moncada’s case, the shroud of mystery around his free agency in the winter of 2014-15 helped build him up to a near-mythical status among scouting circles and eager fan bases alike.
There have been several high-profile Cuban free agents over the past decade, but few if any were followed as fervently leading up to their signing as Moncada. A 19-year-old, switch-hitting infielder built like a linebacker with plus speed and power prompting a frantic bidding war between the Red Sox and Yankees? Yeah, that’ll get people excited.
Now six years removed from his $31.5 million deal with the Red Sox and four years removed from the blockbuster trade from Boston, Moncada is finally looking like the superstar he was hyped to be. He might not be the headliner on a star-studded White Sox roster — Moncada may not even be the most popular Y.M. on his own team — but he’s delivering on his sky-high potential and seems like a lock to make his first All-Star Game next month.
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Early in Moncada’s career, everything seemed to be going according to plan. He had a strong pro debut in Low-A before really taking off in 2016, posting a .918 OPS across High-A and Double-A and winning MVP of the Futures Game along the way. By the end of that season, he was considered by many to be the top 1 prospect in baseball.
Then, just as his prospect status was peaking, Moncada was traded to Chicago as a major part of the Chris Sale trade. It’s unlikely that Boston had soured on Moncada’s ability; it’s not like his .211 average in eight big-league games at the end of 2016 made any sort of difference.
Rather, GM Dave Dombrowski had always shown a willingness to pay top prospect dollar for established big-league stars. And hey, it worked out: Sale threw the final pitch of the 2018 World Series.
Suddenly, Moncada was tasked with not only with living up to his uber-prospect status but also being worth trading away a franchise icon such as Sale. His first few seasons in Chicago were tantalizing yet inconsistent. He’d show flashes of world-class physical ability, but his overall production was merely average, with his biggest red flag his outlandish strikeout totals.
Even in an age when the league-wide strikeout rate is higher than ever, Moncada’s 217 strikeouts in 2018 were fourth-most in any single season. The dude was whiffing a lot.
Fortunately, these struggles coincided with the organization’s gradual build toward competing in the AL Central. Chicago lost 100 games in 2018 when Moncada led MLB in strikeouts, but the Sox would’ve lost a bunch of games regardless. Moncada was given the opportunity to figure things out, and now that the White Sox are ready to compete, he is fully prepared to contribute to the best of his ability — right on time.
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Moncada entered Thursday’s action tied for fifth in fWAR among position players and tops among third basemen. This breakout clearly began in 2019, when he cut down on his strikeouts and boosted his power production by 148 points of SLG, garnering some down-ballot MVP votes in the process.
But skeptics fairly looked at his peripherals (a career-low 7.2% walk rate, a league-leading .406 BABIP and a still above-average albeit not historically bad 27.5% strikeout rate) and wondered if he could keep up that level of offensive production moving forward.
Moncada's momentum toward full-blown superstardom was delayed dramatically in 2020 when COVID-19 reportedly severely affected his ability to perform during the 60-game season. Now back at 100 percent, Moncada is back to his 2019 form, this time with a twist: He has more than doubled his walk rate to an exceptional 16.1%, helping to mitigate the whiffs and boost his OBP to an elite .419 clip.
And while he has only five home runs on the season so far, the raw power is clearly still present:
He might still be overshadowed by some of his teammates, but it’s not like Moncada doesn’t have the "it" factor that most superstars possess. Sure, Jose Abreu was the AL MVP and Tim Anderson is one of the most electric players in baseball, but neither of them can claim to have a music video with more than a million views:
His teammates have fully embraced this side of Moncada, recently celebrating his iconic fashion sense by dressing up for a road trip in his trademark flamboyant style:
Of course, it’s much easier to double as a Latin pop star when you’re batting third on one of the best teams in baseball.
Don’t get me wrong: Hyping up young players long before they reach their potential is surely fun. But it’s important for us to continue to appreciate them when they’re doing it on TV every night and not simply mythical figures of the baseball imagination.
Moncada is the star we all hoped he would be, and at just 26 years old, he might just be scratching the surface.
Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He lives in Maryland but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn't get a lot of sleep. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.