KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In his first full season in the major leagues, Yoan Moncada struggled. He struck out 217 times, hit just .209 against left-handed pitching, made 21 errors at second base and generally failed to live up to the admittedly huge immediate expectations of a guy ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.
So this offseason, he got to work.
It's only two games of a 162-game season, but Moncada's offseason work is paying off in a big way right now. Through the first couple of contests, the 23-year-old is 4-for-8 with a home run, a walk, two RBIs and three runs scored. And he's playing good defense at his new position, third base.
Everything's coming up Yoan.
"I am feeling good. I am carrying over the work I did in spring training. Just two games but I am feeling pretty good," Moncada said through a team translator after Saturday's 8-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals. "All the work I did in the offseason in Arizona, all the talks I had with (hitting coach Todd Steverson) and (manager Rick Renteria), all the work I put in during spring training to adjust, to improve the part of my game I wasn’t able to improve or adjust last year, it’s all paying off right now. It’s all in synch."
The 2018 season was supposed to be all about Moncada taking the next step in his development after playing his first 54 games in a White Sox uniform in 2017. And it was all about that, just not in the way Moncada, the White Sox or any of their fans wanted. So Moncada took it upon himself to do extra work in Arizona after the season ended, and he was red hot during spring training, with a 1.110 OPS and three homers in 20 Cactus League games.
While spring stats are rarely anything to crow about, that kind of production carrying into the regular season can be, and that's what's happened in the first two games of the campaign. Moncada was the lone White Sox hitter to reach base twice in Thursday's season-opening loss, picking up a hit and a walk and scoring a run in that game. Saturday, he singled in his first at-bat, singled and scored in his third trip to the plate in the sixth and then smacked a three-run homer, his first extra-base hit of the season, in the seventh.
And, it's important to note, Moncada has zero strikeouts through two games.
"I can’t really say I have this crystal ball for him. But the skill set that he has says this is the type of play he can have," Renteria said after Saturday's game. "A couple of days into the season and actually from the spring, he’s been showing that these are the things he’s capable of doing, and we are really happy in that regard with how he’s continuing to improve. He can’t continue at this pace, but hopefully it will last for a while."
Of course, no one is expecting Moncada (or anyone who has a successful first couple contests) to bat .500 for an entire season. But considering the first-full-year struggles White Sox fans saw Moncada go through in 2018, these are positive signs.
And on top of the positive outcomes at the plate, Moncada's defense at third base has stood out in his first two regular-season games there as a member of the White Sox. He made a couple noteworthy plays in the opener. Whether or not Renteria's springtime suggestion that the greater focus needed to man the hot corner could have positive effects offensively, too, is up for debate. But everything's clicking for Moncada through two games, something that if it carries through the rest of the season would be tremendous news for this White Sox rebuilding project.
Moncada's going to try to make that happen.
"This year, I’m trying to be more aggressive on all the pitches," he said prior to Saturday's game. "I want to keep my approach, but at the same time, I know that I can keep my approach being aggressive from the first pitch. That’s what I’m trying to do.
"I can’t say that (playing third base is) not going to help me (offensively). I know that I have to keep my focus in both aspects of the game, defensively and offensively. That’s what I’m trying to do. If you want to be a good player, you have to keep your focus and you have to do the best in every aspect of the game."
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