White Sox

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

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Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

It sounds like Yoan Moncada’s knee is going to be fine.

The immediate future of that knee looked very much in question during the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals, when Moncada crumpled to the ground after getting hit in the knee with a baseball. He was in some pretty significant-looking pain, which after the game the second baseman likened to being hit with a hammer.

But Moncada hopes to play in the White Sox first-half finale Sunday, and manager Rick Renteria isn’t even leaning toward adding a fifth day to Moncada’s All-Star break until he sees how his second baseman feels Sunday.

It ended up being a good forecast for Moncada, who has had the definition of an up-and-down first half of his first full season in the major leagues.

While much of the talk has been about Moncada’s struggles so far this season, he’s actually been hitting very well over the past two weeks, coming into Saturday’s game with a .300/.391/.525 slash line and five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs scored in the previous 10 games.

“I think he’s just being a little more aggressive in the zone early,” Renteria said. “He’s had quite a few really good at-bats over the last 10 days. Even if I think about (Friday), him walking the first three times, working deep counts, continues to be very focused in the zone. I mean, he understands the strike zone as good as anybody I’ve ever seen, regardless of how much time he has or doesn’t have in the big leagues. He’s got a really good idea.

“I think now he’s trying to take advantage of knowing that guys are going to try to come after you early. And if it’s in the zone, fire on that pitch. Get the barrel to it and do what you can.”

It’s a good stretch in a season that has to this point been defined by stretches for Moncada, who just a year ago was the No. 1 prospect in the game. Through the campaign’s first 17 games, his batting average was just barely higher than .200. Then he got hot for next 12 games before hitting the disabled list, which brought his season to a screeching halt. He returned in mid May and watched his batting average drop more than .020 points before the end of the month. In 46 games between May 15 and July 1, Moncada slashed .195/.242/.324. And then things finally reached an upswing in the last two weeks.

None of that tells the entire story, of course, good or bad.

Moncada has had his big moments, and Renteria, for one, continues to rave about Moncada’s mastery of the strike zone. But a look at the offensive averages leaves out other not-so-pretty areas of his game, like his major league leading 130 strikeouts and his 15 fielding errors, the third most in baseball.

Expectations were high for Moncada coming into the season and understandably so as the first-to-arrive major piece of this rebuilding effort. His acquisition in the Chris Sale trade followed by his White Sox debut last summer made his development the main storyline of this season.

So far, things have obviously not lived up to the hype, and Moncada isn’t happy, either, though he’s taking cues from his manager, Renteria, and teammate/mentor/friend, Jose Abreu, and looking at the positives.

“It hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be,” Moncada said through a team translator on Friday. “But it hasn’t been as bad as you can think. It has been a challenging first half, but I’ve been learning a lot and working. I think the second half is going to be much better.”

Certainly this kind of performance from a young player (remember that Moncada is only 23 years old) isn’t completely unexpected. While he arrived in the majors after tearing up Triple-A, Moncada, as the White Sox brass will remind you, is not a finished product. None of these young players are. And the struggles at the plate and in the field could wind up not as harbingers of doom but simply as growing pains on the way to the big league stardom White Sox fans hope for from Moncada and all the other highly touted youngsters in the organization. Development isn’t linear, as Rick Hahn likes to say, and Moncada was perhaps never destined to improve in such dramatic fashion that it was visibly noticeable to the layman from one day to the next.

But at the same time, fans are understandably irked by repeating mistakes. In just the last handful of games, Moncada added to his strikeout total, made a fielding error that cost the White Sox a run and failed as a base runner to pick up a ball hit to the outfield, getting doubled up for a double play.

Talking specifically about the fielding error, Moncada’s 15th of the season, Renteria explained what happened — Moncada was trying a little too quickly to turn a double play — and that it is another learning moment in a season of them for these White Sox.

“Just something where you end up have to emphasize in a double play situation like that not to get anxious,” Renteria said. “You have to catch the ball first and then feed it to the guy on the other end. It’s not abnormal for young players to try to turn the DP from where they are at. It’s not the case. Receiving the ball fist and then giving the good feed. It’s not unheard of. It happens a lot. They speed it up a little bit.

“You go over it with him a little bit, and he cleans it up. That’s one more experience we can rely upon that didn’t turn out well but we can talk about it and have it run through his mind and see if he can understand exactly what we are talking about. He normally does.”

That’s all part of the development for Moncada, and like great players before him, rookie-year struggles in certain facets can disappear by the following season. Look at Kris Bryant on the other side of town, who led the National League with 199 strikeouts during his rookie season and has watched that number plummet in each season since. Perhaps Moncada will end up with similar results.

There’s been plenty to dislike about Moncada’s first half, but that doesn’t mean the flashes of brilliance weren’t there. Moncada carries the burden of expectations as one of the prospects touted as a main piece of the organization’s bright future. And just because the first half didn’t look like anyone wanted it to doesn’t mean he still can’t get to that point.

And hey, if the second half looks more like the last two weeks, maybe these first-half struggles fade into distant memory.

Can Nicky Delmonico be this year’s Nicky Delmonico for White Sox?

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USA TODAY

Can Nicky Delmonico be this year’s Nicky Delmonico for White Sox?

Who will be this year’s Nicky Delmonico?

It’s kind of a strange question, considering Delmonico is always himself. But it’s a question that gets at this topic: Who will be the late-season surprise that makes 2020 lineup projectors pause and puts on enough of a show to start the conversation about their place in the White Sox long-term plans?

To this point, that guy has been Daniel Palka. The slugger with a flair for the dramatic hasn’t excelled in every facet of the game, but his power displays, often in clutch moments, have earned him a loyal fan base in this rebuilding season. Considering he wasn’t even a member of the organization when the campaign began, it doesn’t really get more surprising than that.

Meanwhile, Delmonico hasn’t matched the impressive numbers he was able to put up at the close of last season, when he came out of nowhere — as in, not high on the list of the organization’s top prospects — to slash .262/.373/.482 with nine homers and 23 RBIs in just 43 games.

A hand injury that knocked him out for months, the dip in his numbers — .229/.322/.388 heading into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Royals — and the ever-increasing amount of depth among the White Sox outfield prospects has perhaps taken Delmonico out of that conversation about the future.

But with home runs on back-to-back nights and a total of six RBIs in the last two games, perhaps Delmonico can play a similar role to the one he played last season, coming out of nowhere and staking his claim to future consideration. A strong finish might keep his name in the mix as the outfield of the future crowds with the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Alex Call and Joel Booker.

“It would be huge just to end the year on a good note,” Delmonico said Sunday. “But all I’m trying to do is control what I can control and go out there and give it everything I have.”

Delmonico obviously has experience in finishing the season strong. His production at the big league level at the end of last season came after a slow stretch in the middle of the summer, when he posted only a .216 batting average in the month of July while playing at Triple-A Charlotte.

This season, Delmonico’s numbers haven’t been much better in the second half than they were during a slow start ahead of the hand injury. Since the All-Star break, Delmonico is slashing .236/.304/.528 but with 11 extra-base hits including a quartet of homers. He said he can use the experience of turning things around last summer to close this season strong.

“When I was in Charlotte, I kind of hit a rough July and then kind of picked it up. And then when I was here, I kind of picked it up again and learned from a lot of my teammates, a lot of other guys,” he said. “I’m trying to pick up that same thing, that same mentality of where I was last year and just trying to go out and compete, learn and see what happens.”

Manager Rick Renteria, talking amid Delmonico’s two recent long balls, has liked what he’s seen.

“He’s been swinging the bat pretty good,” Renteria said Saturday. “I think he’s a little more fluid. (Friday), he put a good swing on that pitch that he was able to drive out of the ballpark. He’s getting more and more comfortable. Hopefully, it continues. We’ve got (however many) more days of the regular season left. All of these guys, at this point, you hope that they turn the corner and they start to improve on certain things that they’ve been working on throughout the course of the season.”

While the wave of prospects that is rolling its way toward the South Side figures to hold the bulk of the outfield of the future, of the time when rebuilding mode transforms into contention mode, there are unique opportunities for the guys currently playing at the major league level. Though that’s not to say Delmonico is currently without competition: Palka has impressed with his power, Leury Garcia has earned playing time with a solid bat, Adam Engel has been tremendous defensively, and Avisail Garcia was an All Star a season ago.

“I can learn from them, it’s awesome,” Delmonico said of his fellow big league outfielders. “I can learn from Adam, Avi, Leury, all these guys that are really good out there. As well as Palka, we go out there every day for early work. Just kind of learn from them. I try to motivate them, they motivate me and we continue to go.”

The opportunity is still there for someone like Delmonico, who at only 26 could still work his way into — or back into — those 2020 lineup projections.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Carlos Rodon’s breakout summer

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Carlos Rodon’s breakout summer

Carlos Rodon speaks with Chuck Garfien about his dominant stretch of starts and how he’s started to figure things out as a major league pitcher. Rodon talks about controlling his temper on the mound and how he’s learned to win on days he doesn’t have his best stuff. He explains why he doesn’t miss any of Daniel Palka’s at-bats, how he’s impressed with Michael Kopech, why he sympathizes with Kopech being in Triple-A, why he’s not wearing an undershirt during games and much more.

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