First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.
Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”
“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”
The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.
The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.
News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.
“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”
The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.
“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”
Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.
Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.
“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”
“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”
While many of the faces in the White Sox clubhouse may be relatively unfamiliar to fans, Trayce Thompson remembers them all.
Even with Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle gone, Thompson sees a lot of old friends in the White Sox clubhouse. A member of the organization from 2009-15, Thompson said his first trip back to Guaranteed Rate Field since he was traded has brought back a lot of good memories. Traded in the three-team deal that brought Frazier to the White Sox, Thompson started in center field for the Los Angeles Dodgers and hit ninth on Wednesday night.
“I won’t call him Yolmer,” Thompson said. “I played with Carlos (Sanchez) at every level. I played with Tim (Anderson) at Birmingham briefly. Tim’s an amazing kid, one of my favorites I’ve ever played with. Kevan Smith is one of my really close friends. I’ve known Matt Davidson longer than any guy on that team because we grew up in the same area. Me and (David Holmberg) were drafted together. We pretty much did everything together when we first got drafted. I’m glad to see all those guys. Luis Sierra, I know he’s one of the coaches … I lived with him when I was here.”
“It makes me happy, brings back a lot of good memories being here. And I’m happy to see a lot of my good friends that I played with kind of get an opportunity to play here a lot. It’s been fun for me to kind of follow them.”
A second-round pick by the White Sox in the 2009 draft, Thompson bloomed when he finally got his chance in the majors. Thompson arrived late in the 2015 season and slashed .295/.363/.533 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in 135 plate appearances.
“I had two of the best months of my life here,” Thompson said. “Some of the most fun baseball I’ve ever played in my life.”
It’s nearly a lifetime ago in terms of where the White Sox have been. Thompson’s White Sox manager, Robin Ventura, stepped down at the end of the 2016 season. Sale and Eaton were dealt in December, which has begun a team-driven exodus of talent.
Back problems limited Thompson to 80 games for the Dodgers in 2016, though he still managed to belt 13 home runs. Thompson said his back has been fine since March, although it requires constant maintenance. After spending much of the season at Triple-A, Thompson rejoined the Dodgers in late June and splits playing time in the outfield.
“It’s pretty special to be a part of this team,” Thompson said.
He also enjoys that some of his old teammates have moved on — and into great situations, too. For those still here, Thompson likes the opportunity his homegrown teammates have started to receive.
“It’s far different than what I became accustomed to going to big league camp,” Thompson said. “But I’m happy for Chris Sale to get an opportunity to play with a good team in Boston and happy for Q now. They’ve moved on to good teams and I’m happy for them. I’m happy for all the guys here now who have an opportunity to play. I know they’re obviously trying to win, but they’re kind of allowing the homegrown guys an opportunity, which I’m happy to see. It’s definitely a different feel.”