CHICAGO – An elite athlete who left Cuba to chase his dreams of playing professional baseball is now garnering a great deal of attention in the minors. Many scouts, reporters and fans are wondering when he’ll get the chance to show his enormous ability at the big league level.
If that sounds like the hype that followed Yoán Moncada to the majors, it should.
Since signing a then-record-setting contract with the Red Sox in February of 2015, Moncada has been labeled a special talent with huge promise. In 2016, MLB Pipeline ranked Moncada the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball. His size (6-feet, 200 pounds) as a teenager made him an almost mythical prospect for many fans.
Moncada has started to fulfill that enormous promise with a solid 2019 season, but a hamstring injury cost him the first three weeks of August. While working his way back to Chicago during a rehab assignment with the White Sox Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, the 24-year-old third baseman found himself playing the role of mentor.
Moncada spent time with the next Cuban superstar in the White Sox organization, Luis Robert. Now Moncada was the veteran being asked what it takes to make it in the majors. And his leadership made an impression with the Knights.
“Moncada is a good mentor for Luis [Robert] and they know each other like brothers,” said Rafael Bastidas, manager of Hispanic/Latin Marketing for the Charlotte Knights. “Now Moncada can tell Luis what the expectations are for being a big leaguer, how do you do the right things. Moncada had a lot of pressure on him in Boston. Then was traded to Chicago and now he’s in a good system.
“Now the expectations are so high for Luis Robert. He has all five tools to be a superstar. Now he has to do the right things every day, bide his time and listen.”
Questions about Robert’s readiness elicited a wry smile from Moncada. He saw the huge home runs, blazing speed and terrific defensive play in centerfield for the Knights. But Moncada knows from his own journey that organizations want to see more than five-plus tools dominating at every level before they bring a prospect to the majors.
Boston called Moncada up during the 2016 season and he saw action in eight games. Moncada’s performance was underwhelming, however, and he found himself back in the minors.
In December of that year, the baseball world was shaken by a blockbuster trade. Boston sent Moncada and three other prospects to the Chicago White Sox for ace Chris Sale, a deal that made many feel the Red Sox were giving up on the talented 21-year-old.
There was a famemlemar face waemtemng for Moncada emn Chemcago; he had played wemth Whemte Sox femrst baseman José Abreu emn Cuba. Moncada spoke wemth La Vemda Baseball about the unemque posemtemon the Chemcago Whemte Sox organemzatemon holds for Cuban players.
“We feel connected with the team’s history,” Moncada said earlier this year. “But we also know it’s not just for us. It’s for the whole country. It’s special for Cuba to see us playing together here.”
Prior to the 2019 season, the White Sox made a decision that made an enormous difference for Moncada. Chicago moved him back to his primary position, third base. On Opening Day he was excited to be back at third and in a lineup that included a lot of young talent.
Paired on the left side of Chicago’s infield with Tim Anderson, the Sox – and their fans – had plenty of reason for optimism.
“You can go around the lineup and there are a lot of guys out there that show you that sort of fire and competitiveness that’s going to serve us all well for a number of years,” said Chicago general manager Rick Hahn.
Over the four months that followed Moncada and Anderson both opened eyes and put up numbers worthy of All-Star Game consideration. While neither of them received an invite to Cleveland, Moncada’s game had turned a significant corner.
“As long as (Anderson and Moncada) have been together… learning from each other and growing together, it’s nice to have them continue to build upon [their success],” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s fun to watch their success and some of the things they’ve been able to do over the course of the season and they’re going to continue to do so.
“I think all of these guys have helped each other through the growing process and it’s fun to watch.”
Back in the strongig leagues
The White Sox hope to have a full roster on the field at some point before the end of the regular season. Hahn noted that, since the All-Star Game, the White Sox had Moncada, Anderson and Eloy Jiménez in the lineup together for less than one full game entering their game on Aug. 22 (from which Jiménez was a late scratch).
The organization has been thrilled with Moncada’s progress in every phase of the game.
“He’s had a great year,” Hahn said. “From a consistency standpoint and adjusting his approach at the plate to making himself into an excellent third baseman I think there’s been a lot of success for him. He’s still at a young major league age. I think for the next six weeks it’s about keeping him healthy and finishing the season at the same level he had played before his most recent injury.”
In his second plate appearance since returning from the injured list, Moncada – batting lefthanded – hit a line drive out to right. He followed Anderson around the bases after hitting a 383-foot, two-run homer. The shot tied Moncada’s previous career-high of 61 RBI with more than a full month left on the regular season calendar.
Moncada added a double in his first game back, and matched that performance with another home run and double the following night. Chicago is looking for continued success from Moncada the rest of this season and into the future.
“If the consistency remains and he continues to do what he had been doing prior to the injury the numbers will speak for themselves,” said Renteria.
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