Yoan Moncada, and the White Sox front office which traded for him, couldn’t be asking for a better April for the 23-year-old third baseman. Acquired as the premium chip in the trade for Chris Sale, the switch-hitting, five-tool Cuban talent is hitting everything hard even when he makes outs, slugging for power, striking out less and transitioning to full-time duty at a new position as hoped.
These are happy times for Moncada, who is batting .309/.363/.585 with six homers, six doubles and 18 RBI. Last year was not so happy, despite OK numbers – he batted .231/.315/.400 with 17 homers and 32 doubles – numbers tarnished by a whopping 217 strikeouts. There were also 21 errors at second base.
Moncada wasn’t happy about it. He had been signed by the Red Sox for a $31.5 million international bonus, and his pride was wounded. He made adjustments and was intentional about fixing things.
It was probably good for him.
“Maybe so,” Moncada said through translator Billy Russo. “From the bad stretches and slumps, you learn. It makes you better and stronger. When you’re young, there are things you need to learn.’’
Enter left fielder Eloy Jimenez, another highly prized Sox building block who debuted with fanfare, hullaballoo, a $43 million contract and high expectations. Jimenez’ first 20 games in the major leagues the last few weeks wouldn’t be characterized as slumpy – he’s batting .231/.286/.372 with three homers — but it hasn’t looked like .337/.384/.577 and 22 homers which he posted at the Class AA and AAA levels last season.
And it’s not what Jimenez expected to look like, not with 25 strikeouts and five walks.
“I learned a lot from the struggles, the bad moments,” Moncada said. “For him, it can be the same.’’
When Jimenez returns from the bereavement list Friday after a three-game absence, dealing with the expectations will resume, which is all part of it, and no easy thing for any 22-year-old. Moncada was a No. 1-ranked prospect, Jimenez a No. 3, and Moncada knows Jimenez wants to impress.
“In the beginning you put a little pressure on yourself because you want to display your talent, show the tools you have,” Moncada said. “You want to show people that what they’re saying about you is true.”
Jimenez admitted as much after he was chasing pitches early and more often than normal, going 4-for-24 with no extra-base hits and nine strikeouts in his first six major league games.
He’ll get back it after attending his grandmother’s funeral in the Dominican Republic, returning Friday when the Sox host the Tigers to open a 10-game home stand.
It’s been an eventful first month in the majors for the young man.
“He has handled it very well,” Moncada said. “We’ve been helping him, saying ‘Don’t be over-concerned, don’t put pressure on yourself, you have the talent and people will see what you can do on the field.’
“I passed through that last year. You have to study pitchers the way they study you. You have to adjust when they adjust to you. I think he will. He has talent, he has a confident swagger, he’s a smart guy and he works hard. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll adjust pretty soon.’’
Yonder Alsonso is observing how Jimenez carries himself, and he says their talks about hitting have been telling.
“It’s going to take an adjustment period for sure,” Alonso, 31, a No. 7 overall draft pick of the Reds in 2008 who knows about dealing with high expectations. “But he’s very educated about what he wants to do at the plate. Smart hitter. Every day he gets a chance to learn at a rapid pace in the big leagues. But the way he goes about it, prepares, studies not only the hitting side of it, but the game, we’re going to see a guy who gets better and better every day.
“You never want anybody to struggle and I don’t think he’s necessarily struggling, but every pitch is a learning process even when you succeed.”