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.