HOUSTON -- Don’t think the White Sox front office isn’t enjoying every second of Yoan Moncada’s tear.
Everyone can breathe a little easier knowing there are fewer questions for baseball’s top prospect to answer headed into 2018. Pleased as they’d been with Moncada’s patient plate approach, the club desired a breakthrough before Oct. 2 for the confidence boost it would provide him alone. Moncada continued a torrid run on Wednesday night that should have him bristling with poise when he arrives in Glendale, Ariz. next February. He homered as the White Sox fell 4-3 to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“We’ve been looking for him to continue to try and make adjustments,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There was probably a point there where people were a little concerned. Truthfully, when you see some of the talent these kids have, you recognize that their skillset is going to play up, it’s just a matter of getting the repetition.”
The White Sox have been impressed with Moncada’s improved awareness as he gains more experience.
One area in which Moncada has made the most gains is pitch recognition. The book has been that second baseman has had trouble with offspeed since he arrived in 2016, hitting .154 against sliders and .238 against curveballs entering Wednesday, according to Brooksbaseball.net.
But Moncada is trending upward. The first-pitch slider from Astros starter Brad Peacock that Moncada ripped for a go-ahead, two-run homer in the fourth inning was his fifth hit of the trip on a slider or curveball in 11 at-bats. On the trip, Moncada -- who has 209 plate appearances this season -- is hitting .415/.477/.683 with three homers, eight RBIs and 12 runs in 41 plate appearances.
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Given Moncada’s struggles in a brief 2016 tryout with the Boston Red Sox, having success is certainly helpful as he won’t head into another offseason wondering when it might happen for him. Moncada doesn’t compare the two situations because of playing time -- he was limited to 20 plate appearances over a month in 2016. But he agrees his recent play is good for the psyche.
“It’s important for my confidence, especially thinking about next year,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “With this run, I have been able to have more confidence and believe in myself and my talent, and I think that’s something I can carry into next season.”
“This offseason is going to be different because I’ve been able to play almost every day. I have more confidence in myself. I know the game better. Last season I had an opportunity to be at this level a little bit, but it wasn’t the same. This year is the opposite because I’ve been playing a lot and have been able to handle good and bad stretches at this level.”
While a reduction in strikeout-rate is still needed to be more effective, Moncada has begun to establish himself as a major league hitter. It’s exactly how teammate and mentor Jose Abreu hoped Moncada would spend his time this season.
“He has to get to know a lot of things at this level,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “The game, the pitchers, the culture here -- there’s a lot of little things he has to get to know here. The way you can work through it is give your best every day and try to learn as much as you can and try to use all your knowledge and to pool your knowledge on each play in the game. That’s the only way you can get results and you can build on those results and this experience for the future. I think he’s finally doing it and that’s important for him and for us thinking of the next season and beyond.”
Renteria not only likes the pitch recognition but the way that Moncada has tried to hit through the shift several times against Houston. Though the White Sox never wavered, they’re certainly happy to see Moncada produce the way they thought he eventually would.
“He’s starting to slow it down a little more,” Renteria said. “He’s starting to see more of the landscape and making adjustments in general. It’s been a good run for him. We thought he would show signs of growth at the end of the season and he’s doing that.”