White Sox

Are you ready for Star Time on the South Side? Just how good can Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson be?

Are you ready for Star Time on the South Side? Just how good can Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson be?

Is it time to get ready for Star Time on the South Side?

No, James Brown isn't walking through the gates at 35th and Shields. But the White Sox duo currently tearing the cover off the ball is looking like a pair of future stars right now, big news for a franchise and a fan base who missed out on the opportunity to add one of the game's best young players over the winter.

Fans are still stinging from the result of the Manny Machado sweepstakes, the four-time All Star passing on the opportunity to jolt the White Sox rebuild in favor of serving a similar purpose for an up-and-coming group of San Diego Padres. While no one's saying that 16 good games this spring have suddenly turned two White Sox infielders into players of Machado's annually impressive caliber, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada are racking up big hits and memorable moments not even three weeks into this campaign.

Their performance is sparking the kind of big thinking a front office trying to build a future contender has been dreaming of for years now. Are these the stars the South Side has been craving? Just how good can these guys be?

"Good," designated hitter Yonder Alonso said, with a emphatic tone that made it seem like "good" was perhaps putting it mildly.

"They've started off really well," manager Rick Renteria said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. "I think they're more and more comfortable in their own skin. I know it's just the beginning of the season, but those are signs of the possibilities of these guys being able to be consistent. And that's all we're looking for, for them to give themselves a chance to use the skills that they have. To this point, they're showing those signs."

One reporter asked Renteria before the game if a player would ever hit .400 in a season again. The reference to Ted Williams' famous feat was clearly in regard to Anderson, who entered Tuesday's game with a .453 batting average, the best in baseball. He went hitless Tuesday night but still boasts a .421 average that as of this writing ranked behind Cody Bellinger but ahead of everyone else in the game.

No one, probably not even the uber-confident Anderson, is expecting that number to stay above .400 all the way through the end of September. But his emergence in the season's opening month has been eye-popping. He did it all in Monday night's win, scoring a run thanks to good base running, making an artful tag on a would-be base stealer and doubling ahead of Welington Castillo's game-winning home run. He's being interviewed multiple times a day, his confident talk during and since the offseason making him a focal point and a leader in that clubhouse.

"Everybody knows what kind of player he is," Castillo said Tuesday. "He's a talented guy, a talented player. And he's a guy that brings so much energy to the team inside the clubhouse and outside on the field. That's a guy that goes out there and competes. And every time he's on base, we know what we can do and what he can do running the bases, and every time he's on base we have a chance to score a run. We need him to stay hot."

Tuesday night, it was Moncada's turn. He smacked a pair of home runs on a night where the ball was flying out of The Rate, the first multi-homer game of his major league career.

While his hot start from the season's opening days has stabilized a bit, he's still the owner of a tremendous .333 batting average and remains a different-looking hitter than the guy who struck out 217 times during a disappointing 2018 campaign. He's got five home runs on the season, good for the team lead. Same goes for his 16 RBIs. And Moncada, who committed 21 errors at second base last season, is looking like a changed man in the field, as well, at his new position at the hot corner. He started a slick double play Tuesday night that turned a potentially dangerous inning for Reynaldo Lopez into a quelled threat that allowed the until-this-point struggling starter to last six innings with just one run allowed.

"Everything," Alonso responded when asked what's different about Moncada this season. "Just a guy who's focused, a guy who comes in here with a mission, a guy who comes in here with a purpose. It's fun to watch."

"I worked a lot during the offseason and during spring training," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "It feels good. When you work hard, you are able to see these results and have success. ... Last year was last year. I passed through many different things. It’s in the past. I learned from them. I learned from all the experiences I had last year. Now I’m just enjoying this moment and just enjoying this season and doing my best."

It's definitely too early to suggest that Anderson and Moncada have made everyone on the South Side forget about Machado. The perennial MVP candidate would have done quite a lot for the ongoing rebuilding effort, including bringing it some legitimacy by having a big name from outside the organization buy in and show faith in what Rick Hahn has brewing. As good as Anderson and Moncada play this season, they can't provide that aspect, a part of this rebuilding effort for some time now. That part will have to wait until another round of free agency or a big outside acquisition via trade.

But Anderson and Moncada can legitimize things in their own way. Their continued success can be the payoff for the patience required of everyone involved in the organization during this process. Hahn has said numerous times that it's impossible to construct a World Series champion with solely homegrown players. But if the biggest stars on that team can be homegrown, well that'd be pretty nice. Are Anderson and Moncada those stars? Are we watching them develop from question marks to exclamation points before our eyes?

The rest of this season, the rest of seasons after this one hold those answers. But right now, fans and the front office can dream big about what these two can become. Because at least for the time being, they're showing potential of bringing Star Time to the South Side.

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way

Ozzie Guillen and David Dejesus join Leila Rahimi on this episode of Baseball Night in Chicago live from Gallagher Park outside Wrigley Field.

The three discuss Anthony Rizzo's injury, Eloy Jimenez being named the AL Player of the Week and they take a look at the Cubs starting lineup against the Reds ahead of first pitch. 

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

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Yoan Moncada has gone from 'strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven'

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada has gone from 'strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven'

Yoan Moncada is finishing off a breakout season and he has gotten there with a different approach at the plate.

When Moncada came up through the minors and even in his first two years in the majors, he was known for drawing plenty of walks. At every stop of the minors and in each of his first two seasons with the White Sox, Moncada walked in well north of 10 percent of his plate appearances.

This season, which is inarguably his best in the majors, he has 39 walks in 510 plate appearances. After Moncada added three hits in Sunday’s 11-10 loss to the Mariners, he is now hitting .308/363/.537 with 23 home runs, 72 RBIs and 75 runs scored.

Sunday's 3-for-5 game added to his red-hot September. Moncada is hitting .436/.492/.636 in 14 games this month. He's not the only White Sox hitter on fire this month.

Before the game, White Sox manager Rick Renteria talked about Moncada’s different approach.

“He’s going to be a 30-homer type guy,” Renteria said. “I think his on-base percentage is good. I think people look at the numbers in terms of the base-on-balls, the total numbers that are down, but he’s gone from strikeout heaven to impactful bat heaven, so to speak, and I think there’s going to be a balance in between where he’s going to continue to have those walk numbers, on-base numbers and be a pretty significant impactful player as a third baseman.”

That strikeout heaven Renteria referred to is another big difference for Moncada this year. After striking out in 32 percent of his plate appearances in 54 games with the White Sox in 2017 and whiffing a whopping 217 times last year (33.4 percent), Moncada has cut down on that number. He has 139 strikeouts this year, which is down to 27.2 percent.

So the strikeouts have gone down along with the walks. Moncada’s overall numbers are clearly better so it appears the tradeoff has been worth it.

“I think he’s taking into account more situational type things,” Renteria said. “Instead of taking that borderline pitch that they would call a strike, for example, he might be more inclined to create a productive out and drive in a run and put the ball in play.

"It’s more baseball-oriented, not just numbers wise. It’s a baseball situation in which he is now understanding a little bit more, I have a chance to impact this in a positive way. (If) I don’t swing the bat, it’s a called third strike, I’m walking into the dugout and my guys are still out  there on the bases. I got a pitch I can handle, I can still manage. Put the ball in play, score that run and we score another point, it puts us in a better position. Ultimately it’s about scoring runs.”

Renteria emphasized that he didn’t want Moncada chasing pitches as he tries to be more aggressive. However, going after borderline pitches that are hittable instead of trying to work a walk as one of the most dangerous hitters on the team isn’t always the best approach.

“If you look at his at-bats, he’s not a chaser,” Renteria said. “He doesn’t put balls in play that are a foot (outside), he doesn’t do that. There are balls that are manageable, hittable, things that he can either get a base hit out of or put in play to create a particular run. It’s more situational awareness that he’s become better at, which I think has helped him improved some of his numbers offensively.”

In other Moncada news, he got hit by a throw after stealing a base in the seventh inning .The throw bounced and hit Moncada in the side as he was sliding into second. After being in obvious pain, Moncada stayed on the bases, later came around to score and finished the game.

 

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