At some point, switch-hitting second baseman Yoan Moncada is going to have to start swinging the bat.
With numbers that metrics proponents like and with an abundance of called third strikes that only opponents enjoy, Moncada, 23, continues to take a lot of pitches with what looks to be a seasoned batting eye.
A lot of those strikes are good, hittable pitches early in counts. A lot are borderline offerings on the edge of the strike zone with two strikes.
Moncada has been encouraged by his manager, coaches and at least one teammate — Jose Abreu — to be more aggressive. And he has gone through stretches where he has been aggressive, but lately it has been too much take, take, take for manager Rick Renteria’s liking.
“At some point, you hit a point of frustration where you say, ‘Man, I have to pull the trigger on particular pitches,'” Renteria said after Moncada went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts, two of them looking, Tuesday. “I think he’s finally reached that point. So now it’s about getting over that and seeing himself defend and battle and put balls in play and fight pitches. He has a great eye on balls for everything in the zone. Now it’s about battling tough pitches in certain situations.’’
Moncada, who has batted 2-for-29 with 18 strikeouts in his last seven games after going 1-for-4 with two whiffs in the White Sox’ 7-3 loss Wednesday night against the Yankees, seems to know what he needs to do.
“I’m just trying to be more aggressive, especially with two strikes,” he said. “Try to defend [the plate] a little better, have more good at-bats. But now I’m not feeling as good with my approach at home plate.”
With 163 strikeouts, Moncada is on pace to break a record he doesn’t want, the season mark for whiffs held by the Rockies’ Mark Reynolds, who struck out 223 times in 2009. Reynolds, 25 at the time, batted .260/.349/.543 with 44 homers and 102 RBI that year. Adam Dunn, who struck out 222 times in 2012 with the Sox, belted 41 homers.
Moncada has 14 home runs, but he isn’t swinging for the fences as he trends toward Reynolds and Dunn territory. He’s batting .218/.300/.390 with 20 doubles, five triples, 45 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
He said he’s still confident and that the strikeout numbers aren’t bothering him.
“I know the strikeout is an out,” Moncada said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s looking or swinging. It bothers you because you’re competing, but it’s not something I overthink about.”
Approaching the last two months of his first full season, Moncada has two “golden sombreros,” the term for four strikeouts, in his last seven games. He has five this season and 14 games with three strikeouts.
“To be honest, this is good for him,” Renteria said. “He’s going to start to understand there is another phase to hitting beyond just having a good eye.”
Appearing relaxed before a sizable group of reporters at his locker, Moncada said the struggle has not “been difficult at all” to deal with.
“A few weeks ago, I was being aggressive, and I got good results,’’ he said. “I lost that aggressiveness. Now that is what I’m fighting through, to regain that aggressiveness again and to start producing at the level I know I can produce.”
Moncada is a key player in the Sox’ rebuild. He was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball when the Sox acquired him, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz for Chris Sale.
Renteria said Moncada has been hesitant to flip the get-aggressive switch “because he has such a good eye. [But you want] to get to a point where you take it out of the umpire’s hands.’’
It’s that time.
“At some point, you understand that you either fight some off and keep yourself alive” or go back to the dugout with yet another unproductive at-bat, Renteria said.