Not every highly rated prospect is going to reach the major leagues and become an instant superstar.
And so the mixed bag that was Yoan Moncada’s first full season in the bigs wasn’t necessarily unexpected. There were good moments and bad moments. Clutch hits and base-running mistakes. Grand slams and fielding errors. Hot streaks and slumps.
But one number overshadowed all the rest: 217.
Moncada struck out a major league leading 217 times, a punch-out total eclipsed just three times in a single season in baseball history. (It wasn’t the franchise record thanks to Adam Dunn’s 222 of them in 2012.) And so for all the positives those paying close attention might have been able to pluck out of Moncada’s campaign, it was hard to talk about him at all without discussing that incredible number of strikeouts.
And so, unsurprisingly, the questions involving Moncada lobbed at White Sox brass during SoxFest last weekend had a common theme: How can he cut down on the Ks?
Of course, fans aren’t the only ones noticing that this is a problem. Moncada, Rick Renteria and Rick Hahn all downplayed the importance of a high strikeout total during the season, and they weren’t wrong: Plenty of players have racked up the strikeouts while having All-Star seasons. But Moncada’s eagle eye at the plate was getting him rung up on a far too frequent basis. Add that to a not exactly sterling .235/.315/.400 slash line, and there was obvious work to be done.
The good news for the White Sox was how willing Moncada was to do that work.
“I went to Arizona because I wasn’t completely happy with the results I got during the season,” Moncada said through a team translator during SoxFest. “I knew that I could do better and I asked Rick, Ricky and the team, ‘I want to go to Arizona, can you help me out there? I want to work in the areas I didn’t perform at the level that I know that I can.’ They agreed, and I was there for two to three weeks.
“I worked with Trick (hitting coach Todd Steverson) on my offense, my hitting. We watched a lot of videos, and I think I identified a lot of things I was doing wrong and I’ve been working on that since that time. That’s one of the biggest changes that I’m going to do for the upcoming season. I think I’m in a much better spot with my offense.”
That’s music to the White Sox ears, and it should be to fans’, too. The latter group got incredibly frustrated with Moncada during the 2018 season, watching him rack up the strikeouts, commit 21 errors at second base and fare woefully against left-handed pitching, with a slash line of .209/.287/.297 while batting right-handed.
But this offseason has been one of instruction by the coaching staff, and everyone involved is confident all the work will pay off.
Renteria revealed just how intensive some of the changes have been during a SoxFest seminar, telling fans that not only have White Sox coaches worked with Moncada on his approach at the plate but that they’ve even tinkered with his swing a bit, getting him to change his grip on the bat to better reach pitches on the outer half of the strike zone.
“We ended up attacking the topic of his strike-zone approach. (He has a) great ability to take pitches, obviously. That’s something that’s innate in him. What we’re trying to do is get the aggressiveness in him in more situations of two-strike approaches, for example, and especially when you get something productive out of the out, just putting the ball in play.
“There were two components to the corrections that we’re trying to get. One is the mindset, how he’s going to approach it, without taking him into a situation that expands the strike zone. But that’s mindset and approach.
“The other one was how he’s handling certain zones. The way he’s gripping the bat limited a little bit of coverage on the outer half of both sides of the plate, to be honest. As we looked at how he was using his physical approach to the baseball, we saw that the ability to manage the barrel on the outer half had to make a correction. As all of us who have played the game of baseball know, you don’t overwrap (your hands on) the bat. … When you end up (doing that), you can’t get to those outside pitches as well as you’d like.”
And, of course, all that education will continue during the season, just like it did during last season.
With all the highly rated minor league talent in the White Sox farm system, it’s easy to forget, at times, that Moncada isn’t far removed from being the No. 1 prospect in baseball himself. He was the first of the White Sox prospects to arrive at the big league level during this rebuilding process.
But at the same time, it’s important to remember Hahn’s frequent reminder that these players are not finished products. They’re still young and still developing. Fortunately, the White Sox, not expected to be playoff contenders in 2019, still have the luxury of time to allow that development to continue before the stakes get high on a daily basis at the major league level.
Moncada is certainly in the group of those still developing, but he’s getting tons of help: from White Sox coaches and from the guy whose locker sits right next to his, Jose Abreu.
“He’s always telling me to keep calm, to work hard, don’t put pressure on myself. I’m always taking his advice,” Moncada said of Abreu. “He’s a veteran guy and he knows how to perform and how to be successful at this level and that’s what I’m going to be. I’m just trying to follow his leadership, and I think I’m going to have a very good season. I’ve been working hard for this season.”
“Let’s wait for the season and we’ll see what he can do,” Abreu said when asked how he thinks Moncada will fare in 2019. “Sometimes you talk and you create bigger expectations. We all know the kind of player that he can be and we’re just excited to see what he can do. He has a lot of potential and he can help us a lot.”
If the extremely uncreative Twitter nickname “Bustcada” was any indication during the 2018 season, a number of White Sox fans might have written Moncada off already, a silly thing to do considering his age and his potential. The player and the organization around him certainly don’t believe that, and they’ve worked really hard to show it during the upcoming season.
As much as fans and observers want to experience instant gratification, that’s not always how it happens in the game of baseball, especially during a long-term process like the White Sox rebuild. Things like this can take time. And with the blessing of time, Moncada is out to prove the results from his first season and a half in a White Sox uniform won’t be the ones that define his tenure on the South Side.
“This young man has a chance to be an impactful Major League Baseball player, who we see as a 23-year-old who really doesn’t know yet who he is,” Renteria said. “He’s going to find out who he is. This kid, I believe, because of the season that he had last year, will put together a pretty decent season this year. That’s my hope and my expectation based on how he’s approaching it.”
“I think this year is going to be a much better year,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”