BOSTON — When the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and two other prospects, it was on.
The Sox threw their hands up, acknowledging they couldn’t win despite having an ace in Sale, a No. 2 pitcher in Jose Quintana and high-quality position players in Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, who was traded the same week as Sale.
A year and a half later, there was Moncada — the No. 1 prospect in baseball at the time of the deal and now in his first full major-league season — returning to face the franchise that invested $63 million to sign him (half for Moncada’s signing bonus, half for an overage tax) and facing Sale on Friday.
On his shoulders — and those of the other prospects — rests much of whether the Sox’ rebuild will be a success.
Of course, it’s too early to tell now. What Moncada knows, though, is that the trade was good for him.
‘‘I wasn’t expecting to be traded, but I understood this is a business,’’ Moncada said through a translator. ‘‘It was a surprise at the moment, but that was the best thing that could happen to me. Now I’m on a team with a bunch of guys, and I feel this is my team and my family.’’
Moncada said the trade was a plus for him because the Red Sox were playing him at third base and he prefers playing second, where he’s entrenched on the South Side. He said the Red Sox ‘‘took care of me and treated me well,’’ but he didn’t connect with teammates in Boston like he has in Chicago.
‘‘For me, that was a step forward in my career and my development as a baseball player,’’ Moncada said. ‘‘That’s why I said the trade was the best for me, and now I am around good people who care about me. It’s very special to be here on this team with
[fellow Cuban] Abreu and the relationship we have together from several years ago. We are very, very close friends.’’
Moncada, 23, is hitting .237 with eight home runs, 22 RBI and seven stolen bases. He still is looking to find the groove he was getting into before missing 10 days in early May with a hamstring issue and is struggling batting right-handed. In his career, he’s batting .198 with two homers in 140 plate appearance against lefties.
He struck out his first two times up against Sale before grounding to second to move Kevan Smith to third in the seventh. Trayce Thompson followed with a single to drive in the only run of the Sox’ 1-0 victory.
What sticks out this season are Moncada’s 82 strikeouts, and they’re not piling up because he’s chasing bad pitches. His batting eye is good, especially for a young player.
‘‘He’s not a guy that goes out of the zone very often,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘It’s not that. It’s recognizing certain pitches — breaking balls and offspeed in the zone — and slowing it down, being able to get to it.’’
Moncada has had to navigate through fame and fortune at a young age. He appears balanced and even-keeled, taking success and failure in stride as he’s being judged every day.
‘‘We talk about noise a lot, and that’s part of the noise — living up to the 24/7 cycle of information being provided to players,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I think he’s handling it as well as anyone could. They’re like any young person living in today’s modern age of information and media awareness. They like their likes and want to know why someone dislikes them.
‘‘They try to handle it with a ton of grace and integrity. They learn, hopefully as quickly as possible, that there’s a perspective to keep in sight, so that they’re not consumed by all of it. When he doesn’t do well, he wants to know why. He wants to try and figure it out.’’
(Yoan Moncada talks to media before the Sox game against the Red Sox Friday in Boston. Moncada designed the logo on his T-shirt):