OAKLAND, Calif. — Watching Yoan Moncada, so chill and at ease with everything he does, whether it’s playing baseball, preparing before a game or doing an interview, might make you wonder how badly he wants it.
You would be among those fooled to know he wants it all.
Moncada wants to be great.
“My goal,” the White Sox’ 24-year-old third baseman said Saturday, “is to be one of the greatest players in this game.”
Wanting to be great and doing something about it are two different things, though. Moncada, who already made his millions when he signed with the Red Sox out of Cuba, is doing something about it.
“Everybody wants to be great,” hitting coach Todd Steverson said. “The hardest thing about becoming great is understanding what you have to do to be great. Everybody has a vision of who they want to be and then the big leagues happen, and you’re like, ‘OK. I might need to revamp and retool. I need to do some tweaks to make this thing work because it’s different than anything I’ve seen.’ ”
Moncada said last season that major-league pitching was tougher than he expected. He wasn’t great, but he was good despite a Sox-record 217 strikeouts in his first full season. A review of video with Steverson and manager Rick Renteria in Arizona shortly after season’s end made him realize his keen batting eye wasn’t working to his benefit. He was selective at the plate to a fault.
“That’s when I understood I needed to expand my strike zone and swing at those borderline pitches,” Moncada said.
A switch was flipped, a more aggressive approach adopted, and from spring training on, an All-Star-caliber player — Moncada wasn’t honored but was deserving — was born.
“I have to work hard every day to be the player I know I can be,” he said. “I don’t want to waste my talent.”
Moncada, who went 0-for-4 with an RBI groundout in the Sox’ 13-2 loss to the Athletics, saw his career-high 14-game hitting streak snapped. His .309/.363/.538 slash line, 16 home runs and 49 RBI are well ahead of his .230/.295/.415 line, 11 homers and 40 RBI at this point last season.
“Hard work. Patience. It’s going to be a process, and you need to understand that,” Moncada said.
Moncada got called out 85 times last season, causing some to suggest umpires had it in for him. That probably wasn’t the case, and it’s certainly not the case this year.
“Everything around the zone, I’m swinging at,” he said, smiling.
Adding to Moncada’s breakthrough season is his smooth transition from second base to third base. He played third in Cuba, says he’s very comfortable there and is letting his athleticism do its thing.
Moncada seems to have ironed out the early throwing issues that crept in, too. He worked through soreness as he searched for an arm slot that felt right on his throws, some of which would cut left on him when he didn’t stay “in his legs” or “stay low,” Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said.
The thing is, Moncada is coachable and bent on getting it right. McEwing raves about the work ethic.
“He’s continuing to learn,” McEwing said. “The thing I appreciate is he’s becoming his own coach, and that’s our ultimate goal as teachers. Give them the ingredients, so they can make their adjustments quicker and fix it.
“Last week, he went back on a ball that got by underneath him down the line. Right away he came in and said, ‘I should have come in and got it. I got caught in between.’ Next play, he came in and got it right away. That’s making the adjustments quicker.
“As this continues, it’s going to be special. He’s already making plays a lot of third basemen don’t make.
“He has an extreme amount of pride. Everybody was calling him a bust last year. And this is what kills me: We seem to forget how young this individual is. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.”
It does, but it’s moving right along.