White Sox

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

Examining Yoan Moncada, baseball’s No. 1 prospect and the newest member of the White Sox

The White Sox pulled off what may be the biggest deal in team history on Tuesday, dealing ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects. The rebuild is officially underway on 35th and Shields. 

In trading Sale, the White Sox acquired infielder/outfielder Yoan Moncada, outfielder Luis Basabe and right-handers Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz.  Moncada, though, is regarded by some as the best prospect in baseball and is certainly the prize return in the megadeal.

A 21-year-old, 6-foot-2, 205 pound switch hitting native of Cuba, Moncada regarded as baseball’s top prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America. One of the comparisons MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo offered for Moncada was “Robinson Cano with more speed,” referring to the Seattle Mariners All-Star (and possible future Hall of Fame) second baseman who has 278 home runs and a .307/.355/.498 career slash line.

Moncada had a monster season in the minors in 2016, slamming 31 home runs with a 45 stolen bases and a .294/.407/.511 slash line in 491 plate appearances across high Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. In 2015, his first season in the Red Sox farm system, Moncada hit eight home runs with 49 stolen bases a .278/.380/.817 slash line over 81 games with Single-A Greenville. 

[Complete coverage of the White Sox-Red Sox Chris Sale blockbuster trade]

What position Moncada ultimately winds up playing remains to be seen, but he has the flexibility to play second base, third base or center field. He played 163 of his minor league games at second base and has played 15 games at third base between the minors and majors. The White Sox, though, reportedly see Moncada playing his natural position of second base.

From MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo’s analysis of Moncada:

Few middle infielders can match Moncada's huge offensive ceiling, which earns him comparisons to Robinson Cano with more speed. He's a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed who makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. Moncada has added some loft to his swing in 2016 and has the potential for 20-25 home runs per season.
Moncada's best pure tool is his well-above-average speed, which he has put to good use with back-to-back 45-steal seasons and an 86 percent success rate in the Minors. His quickness doesn't translate consistently as well in the field, though he has the range and arm strength to play almost anywhere on the diamond he might be needed. 
The biggest knock on Moncada is his 24.2 percent strikeout rate over his 854 minor league at-bats. That percentage spiked to 30.9 in 207 Double-A plate appearances, though his walk rate remained high there too (13 percent).

And here’s FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who projects Moncada to be worth five-plus WAR per season, on the newest member of the White Sox organization:

A plus-hitting middle infielder with plus raw and game power as well as 70-grade wheels is basically in-his-prime Ian Kinsler, except faster. That’s really good, and Moncada is debuting three years earlier than Kinsler, who is still stroking it at age 34, did. This is the best prospect in baseball, a player I think will be a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP type of talent, with tools so deafeningly loud that it may be a while before we hear the echoes of his historical significance. 

Moncada and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu briefly played together for Cienfuegos in Cuba in 2012, two years before Abreu defected and signed a six-year contract with the White Sox. In his age-17 and age-18 seasons, Moncada hit .277/.388/.380 with four home runs for Cienfuegos in 2012 and 2013. The Red Sox shelled out $63 million to sign Moncada in February of 2015.

If Moncada remains Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect — as he was in their midseason 2016 rankings — he’ll join an illustrious group of players with that designation:

2016: Corey Seager (SS, Dodgers)
2015: Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs)
2014: Byron Buxton (OF, Twins)
2013: Jurickson Profar (IF, Rangers)
2012: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2011: Bryce Harper (OF, Nationals)
2010: Jason Heyward (OF, Braves)
2009: Matt Wieters (C, Orioles)
2008: Jay Bruce (OF, Reds)
2007: Daisuke Matsuzaka (RHP, Red Sox)
2006: Delmon Young (OF, Rays)
2005: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2004: Joe Mauer (C, Twins)
2003: Mark Teixeira (3B, Rangers)
2002: Josh Beckett (RHP, Marlins)
2001: Josh Hamilton (OF, Rays)
2000: Rick Ankiel (RHP, Cardinals)

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”