Last year Chicago White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada didn’t progress the way many thought he would; maybe a positional move is what he needs to unlock his full potential.
In 2016, Yoan Moncada was a cornerstone of the trade that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for a bevy of young talent. At the time he was one of baseball’s top prospects, and although Chicago White Sox fans knew he wouldn’t become an all-star immediately expectations for his future with the team were pretty high.
In the two years since then, things haven’t gone as well as many had hoped; Moncada’s play has been around replacement level over the stretch, and last season he had a league-leading 217 strikeouts. He’ll only be 24 next season, so he’s far from a lost cause, but he definitely needs some work, perhaps more work than was originally expected.
One thing the Sox are toying with this spring that might help Moncada’s approach to the game is a move from second to third base.
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From a fielding perspective, the move would make a lot of sense. His -5 DRS at second last year left a lot to be desired, and in two years as the Sox starting second baseman he’s put up a -4.3 UZR.
Teammate Yolmer Sanchez, who primarily played third last year, has looked much more comfortable at second over his time in the majors than Moncada, though his numbers come in less time at the position. Sanchez is also expected to shoulder a much smaller portion of the offensive load, and would be able to focus more on fielding the tougher middle infield spot.
Of course, this is all just theory, and there’s no way to know for sure how Moncada will look at third. When the Red Sox initially brought Moncada up in 2016 he fielded third base, but not much can be drawn from that time because he only spent 35 innings there.
He fielded third again in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, where his .714 FLD% and 1.75 RF/9 were less than impressive. These numbers also came from a small sample, but they do indicate that moving Moncada to third isn’t going to be just a case of telling him to stand over there.
That’s why it’s encouraging that the White Sox are trying to make the move now in spring training versus deciding midseason to throw Moncada into the fire. Both of the small third base stints mentioned above came without Moncada playing the position at all in the minors or in the Cuban National Series, so in some ways, he was set up to fail.
If after a few weeks Moncada starts to feel more comfortable at third base he can turn his focus more towards getting his OBP up, the most important thing he needs to do if he wants to progress in 2019.
This might sound counter-intuitive; won’t making him learn how to field a new position take away from time that could be used to tweak his swing?
Though it might seem like this at first, you have to remember that Moncada’s fielding at second also would need a fair amount of work, and after two years at the position, it doesn’t seem like things are gelling there.
There’s a real possibility that third fits Moncada’s fielding abilities better, something that one can’t really know without giving him significant time at the position. If it’s a true fit he’ll be able to master it with less work than he’s had to put into fielding second, allowing him to focus more on bringing up his numbers at the plate.
If the move doesn’t work out you can just move Moncada back to second, no harm no foul. This isn’t a move that will end his offensive struggles, but it’s certainly a move that can play a role, so it’s worth a shot.
Getting Yoan Moncada in the mindset of being an everyday third baseman also fits into the Chicago White Sox long term plans, leaving second base open for Nick Madrigal, a talented young prospect who figures to be an important piece during their championship window.