Fun and fluid: Drill sharpens White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada's defensive skills

Fun and fluid: Drill sharpens White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada's defensive skills

All the tools Yoan Moncada needs to be a good defensive second baseman are already in place. He just needs to learn how to access them more quickly and effectively.

Tapping into those elite abilities is a critical part of the development plan the White Sox have in place for their super prospect, who is currently the top-ranked minor leaguer in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com.

One way the White Sox have tried to unlock Moncada's gifts is by having him participate in a simple batting practice drill designed to enhance his fun and fluidity. The impact of the exercise could be seen Friday night when Moncada --- who also had two hits --- made a pair of outstanding turns on double plays for Triple-A Charlotte and also threw out another runner from deep in the hole.

"Since Day 1 he's gotten better," White Sox player development director Chris Getz said. "He's just another kid that needs to get the reps. He's into it, he's engaged and plays with energy.

"He's a solid defender and put that together with the offensive package and he's got a chance to be a very impactful player at the major league level."

The offensive potential has consistently been on display since the middle of March when Moncada's bat took off. Moncada has an .899 OPS in 68 plate appearances at Triple-A Charlotte, including four home runs, after he produced a 1.074 OPS this spring. 

"I'm glad he's on our team," Charlotte pitcher Carson Fulmer said.

While the White Sox would love to see a reduction in Moncada's strikeout rate, there's as much of an emphasis on helping him refine his defense. Some analysts and scouts question whether or not Moncada can stick at second base or if he'd eventually need to move to the outfield. But that possibility isn't close to a consideration right now for the White Sox, who think it's simply a matter of repetitions and time needed to clean up Moncada's process.

They've worked with him specifically on being more aggressive to the ball and taking better angles. But to kick his mind into another gear, bench coach Joe McEwing placed Moncada at shortstop during batting practice one day this spring. It's an exercise McEwing has previously used with first and third baseman to keep them more active.

"It was to get his feet moving and have a little fun doing it," McEwing said. "Sometimes at second base our feet can from time to time get stale and we sit back on more balls.

"We wanted to get him off the baseball once it's hit and to be aggressive and using his athletic ability to the maximum potential. He was smiling and jumping around and that's exactly what we want him to feel and do on the other side of the field. It's all the same. Angle may be different, but it's all the same mentally on how we want you to attack a baseball."

Moncada's manager at Charlotte, Mark Grudzielanek, has seen steady improvement from the second baseman. The White Sox like the progress Moncada has made and think more will come with age. Moncada turns 22 next month. Grudzielanek specifically likes how Moncada positioned himself at the bag on a pair of double plays on Friday, which allowed his strong arm to get behind his throws.

"We get him out there on the balls of his feet," Grudzielanek said. "We're tying to get his angles down a little bit. We're tightening him up with his throws. We're keeping him over the base at second base on the turns, which you saw (Friday) were some pretty above average turns even at the big league level. There's not many guys that can make that kind of turn and that do it the right way. He's looking really good out there, he's getting better and he understands what he needs to do and he's getting done."

Moncada said he likes how the BP drill has him more comfortable on the field. He continues to participate in it and feels like he's more fluid.

"(McEwing) just wanted me to have fun at the position, to be more loose with my feet and then because in that way, once I go back to second base, I could be more relaxed and loose with my legs and position my feet in their position when I needed to make a play," Moncada said through an interpreter. "I'm working every day to get better.

"That's something that helps you with your mobility and the moment you go over to second base it makes everything a lot easier."

The enthusiasm with which Moncada has attacked the team's plan has been evident to his coaches and teammates. Grudzielanek noted Moncada's willingness to learn and McEwing said he has seen consistent improvement since the Cuban product arrived at mini-camp in January. Veteran outfielder Jason Bourgeois said late Friday that Moncada also has started to grasp the timing of the game and has begun to figure it out. McEwing agrees that all Moncada needs is time and experience.

"The tools are there," McEwing said. "You see all the God-given athletic ability.

"What you're going to see over time is the process of chipping away at the speed of the game. We can't forget this kid is 21 years old. The speed of the runner, the attention to fundamentals, it takes time to grasp."

Preview: White Sox open series with Royals tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox open series with Royals tonight on CSN

The White Sox open a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight's starting pitching matchup: Jason Vargas (3-0, 0.44 ERA) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (2-0, 2.84 ERA)

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