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Yoan Moncada and The Great Debate

Why is the White Sox third baseman always such a contentious topic of discussion among fans? Let’s dive in.

Yoan Moncada Injury Chicago White Sox
Photo: WhiteSox/Twitter

Every few months, the same debate about Yoan Moncada makes the rounds on White Sox-centric social media. On one side, we have the hardcore stat-driven analytical crowd. On the other, the more traditional stat-based and eye test folks. While both sides bring valid points to the table, I think it’s time to take a deeper look at why this subject matter repeatedly makes its way into conversation amongst White Sox fans.

In order to dive in and figure out why Moncada is at the center of these spats, it’s important to look back at the 26-year-old’s journey to becoming the player that he is today. This can ultimately play a larger role in how he is viewed by portions of the fan base and understanding where the frustration with the player can come from.

Yoan Moncada the Phenom

Before we get into the White Sox acquiring Yoan Moncada and the expectations that fans set for him, let’s take a step back and look at what he was before he came to the South Side.

A 2015 Baseball Prospectus scouting report from David Lee is a great place to start. I recommend reading it in its entirety before continuing on here. But for those on a time crunch, here’s an overall summary of Lee’s report.

“Shows glimpses of five tools and physicality/athleticism beyond his years. There’s a natural feel for the game and looseness in certain aspects. The issue is in-game translation and whether all five tools will manifest in the majors. It’s in there, but he has to implement it at a much higher rate to reach his projected role. He seems to be going through the motions during his initial pro struggles. The ceiling is a first-division player, but there are quite a few boxes to check off to get there.”

Via David Lee, Baseball Prospectus

Seven years ago, Lee seemed to hint at the notion that Yoan Moncada needed to check off a few boxes that would be easier said than done in order to reach his full potential, despite all the flashy tools in his arsenal.

But one scouting report doesn’t paint the full picture. Here’s what a few other outlets had to say.

While at FanGraphs, now-ESPN Insider Kiley McDaniel wrote the following about Moncada in a 2014 post titled Cuban Super-Prospect Moncada Could Shatter Bonus Record.

“Moncada is 19 and packs a lot of tools into his 6’1″, 210-pound frame. He’s a plus-plus runner with above-average raw power from both sides of the plate and the tools/skills to stick in the infield, possibly at shortstop. Moncada is the quick-twitch type with big bat speed that clubs covet, and his track record of hitting at big tournaments and in Cuba’s professional leagues is excellent considering his age.”

Via Kiley McDaniel, FanGraphs

It’s easy to infer that descriptors such as “Super-Prospect,” “above-average raw power,” and “track record of hitting at big tournaments” would raise the eyes of scouts, GMs, and fans alike. MLB’s marketing department was sold enough to label him a “Phenom” on multiple occasions via social media.

If you need additional substance, I present to you this tweet and article from Jeff Passan.

In his piece titled “Meet the latest Cuban sensation who could change the game,” Passan wrote:

“He is a 19-year-old, switch-hitting, fast-twitch-muscled, movie-star-looking bundle of talent from Cuba packed into a 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. Nobody – not Yasiel Puig, not Jose Abreu, not Yoenis Cespedes – has at such a young age created so much hype among the Cuban baseball establishment since Omar Linares, the 1980s star widely regarded as the best talent ever from the island.”

Via Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports

Everything from the above report gets me excited. As it should. In this sense, Moncada is being touted as a potential generational-level talent — one that has the ability to change the game. How’s that for a marketing slogan?

Chris Sale for Yoan Moncada

Everything comes at a cost. The cost to acquire Yoan Moncada was originally a $31.5 million signing bonus. That price tag also came with a 100% tax, which brought the number up to a whopping $63 million. That’s a lot of money to spend on a prospect.

Comparatively, the White Sox recently signed the once-dubbed “Cuban Ohtani” Oscar Colas to a $2.7 million signing bonus. International prospect signings and the inner workings of how MLB clubs navigate that particular ever-changing and often debated market aside, anything that costs $63 million is going to carry a certain set of expectations, whether it be a brand new office complex or a professional baseball player.

For the White Sox to acquire Moncada’s services, the cost was arguably even significantly higher. On Dec. 6, 2016, the Pale Hose sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, and Victor Diaz. At the time, Sale was on a team-friendly deal that included three more years of team control at a total cost of only $38 million.

In the aftermath, Sale went on to help the Red Sox win a World Series while Yoan Moncada became the symbol of hope for a White Sox fan base that had been mired in mediocrity.

Yoan Moncada’s White Sox Debut

On July 19, 2017, the Chicago White Sox packed an announced crowd of 24,907 into Guaranteed Rate Field. Just one day after Todd Frazier was sent to the New York Yankees, the South Side faithful showed up to watch the young slugger make his White Sox debut. Dan Hayes, then of NBC Sports Chicago, reported that the club saw roughly 5,000 tickets purchased between the announcement of Moncada’s call-up at 11 PM the night prior and the first pitch. If there was hype around the White Sox that day, it was ALL centered around Yoan Moncada.

In his first at-bat with the Sox, Moncada battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk. It was the loudest moment of the game. Yes, almost 25,000 people were on their feet cheering for a walk in the early stages of a baseball game. That free pass exemplified hope that the “Rebuild” would pay dividends.

The Stat Sheet

For any baseball player, the back of the baseball card tells a story. Here is what Yoan Moncada’s says:

Stats via baseball-refrence.com

Now, the interpretation of these stats is subject to the reader. And that’s if the reader would prefer to even judge the player’s performance on stats like RBI or OBP instead of looking elsewhere for wRC+ and WAR figures. Once again, it’s a debate in and of itself.

But for the sake of this ongoing discourse and the above information in relation to the player that Yoan Moncada was expected to be, the question becomes: Does this stat sheet live up to the expectations from the time the player was acquired? Is he performing up to the hype that surrounded him when Rick Hahn sent a future Hall of Fame pitcher to Boston to secure his services? These are all fair questions to ask.

With that said, these are by no means “bad” numbers. In fact, Moncada has come a long way in multiple facets of the game. Perhaps his most notable improvement is a reduced strikeout rate. Since his league-leading 217 punch-outs in 2018, Moncada has done a remarkable job of adjusting his plate approach. This led to his highest career OBP just last year in his age 26 season. In fact, Moncada had a higher OBP (.375) in 2021 than teammate and leadoff man Tim Anderson (.338). He actually finished 10th in OBP across MLB tied with Joey Votto during the 2021 season. Not too shabby.

The Debate

As long as humans exist, those humans will continue to disagree. It comes as no surprise that the expectations, hype, and hope surrounding Yoan Moncada’s arrival on the South Side would result in performance evaluation of the utmost scrutiny. When the performance leaves something to be desired, things get called into question.

When the performance is exemplary, or even when Yoan Moncada posts a workout video on Instagram, it is shouted from the rooftops.

Neither observation is wrong. Nor are the feelings of a fan who only wants the team they root for to win each and every day. Healthy debate is inherently good. Especially when it drives discussion around a game that has been part of human history longer than anyone reading this has been alive. A game that, at this very point in time, needs all the eyes and ears it can get.

The problem arises when the debate becomes dismissive and stale. Certain factors are only taken into account when it serves the purpose of the side arguing that their point is the sole correct answer. “If he isn’t a 5 WAR player every year, then he’s a bust” or “Look at this guy working out in late January, how can he be a lazy bum?” are just a few examples.

My personal favorite attack angle is the one in which “Moncada Haters” inherently aren’t baseball fans, or they’re of lower intelligence because they aren’t thrilled with the former phenom’s production levels to date.

The ridicule may seem a bit harsh. However, it can be frustrating to continuously hear from the other side that Moncada is a “bust”. Busts don’t finish top 10 in qualified MLB OBP ranks. Busts certainly don’t hit more doubles in fewer at-bats than MLB poster child Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Perhaps this issue actually goes much deeper than surface-level observations and what appears on a stat sheet? Maybe a million other elements, such as a COVID-shortened season, injuries, and who surrounds a player in a lineup on any given day, factor into performance? In reality, everyone is going to have their own opinion on what type of baseball player Yoan Moncada is. Only the player himself can change that perception.

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