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September 1, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Transaction Analysis: Breaking down the Yoan Moncada call-up

The Red Sox announced on Wednesday evening that the system’s top prospect, infielder Yoan Moncada, will be selected to the active major league roster from Double-A Portland on Friday when rosters expand. Based on comments by Boston manager John Farrell to the press earlier in the day, it is likely that Moncada will see time at third base, a position he only began playing earlier in the month, as well as provide speed off the bench once he joins the club in Oakland.

The 21-year-old Cuban was ranked as the top prospect in baseball at midseason by Baseball America and, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him second. He will reach the major leagues less than two years after signing with Boston for a $31.5 million bonus in March 2015, a figure on which the club paid a 100 percent tax, having already gone over its international bonus cap. Although yet to make his major league debut, he shows sufficient promise for that record bonus to look like money well spent for a club that now turns to him for a shot in the arm entering the stretch run of a pennant chase.

After signing to great fanfare during spring training last season, Moncada spent time in extended spring training to shake off rust from a year-plus layoff, and his professional debut was then delayed further until mid-May because of a shoulder strain. After finally being assigned to Low A Greenville, he took some time to adjust, scuffling through his first 25 games. But after the all-star break, something clicked. In his final 56 games, Moncada hit .310/.415/.500 with seven home runs and 45 steals, reaching safely in all but six of those contests.

A consensus top 10 prospect in the game entering 2016, Moncada picked up where he left off, reaching base in the first 20 games of the season and posting a .307/.427/.496 line with 36 steals in 61 games before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland on June 20. The numbers and scouting reports had him earning the call-up based on two key refinements—improving against left-handers and becoming more consistent on defense at his preferred position of second base.

After the promotion to Portland, Moncada participated in the MLB Futures Game in July, earning MVP honors after hitting a key home run in the eighth and stealing a base. He also flashed some leather, making a stellar defensive play at second base to rob his Portland teammate, Andrew Benintendi, of a hit.

After 44 Double-A games, Moncada sports a .285/.388/.547 line with 11 home runs and 9 steals. He has continued to struggle from the right side (.171/.310/.400), but has dominated right-handed pitching (.314/.409/.584). After an ankle injury on August 5 kept him out for five days, he made the transition to third base in his second game back on August 12, only to have the ankle and some rainouts keep him out of the lineup until August 20. Since returning, he has shown few signs of lingering effects at the plate at least, hitting a pair of home runs while getting on base at a .475 clip.

After two seasons in the minors, Moncada carries a .289/.397/.483 career line with him to Boston. He may be worked into the lineup slowly over his first week with the club, a la Andrew Benintendi, but expect him to become the regular third baseman against right-handed starters in short order, as Travis Shaw has hit just .208/.278/.362 since the start of June.

As mentioned, the decision to call up Yoan Moncada was driven mainly by the struggles of the Red Sox third basemen, specifically Travis Shaw, who has really regressed after a hot start. If Moncada hits to his ability, he will provide an upgrade over Shaw, though at this stage of his career the Red Sox would be best suited to avoid his exposure to left-handed pitching, potentially platooning him with Aaron Hill. Another area Moncada could contribute is as a pinch runner in games he does not start. Currently, nobody on the Red Sox bench grades as better than an average runner, so Moncada, who has 45 steals this year, represents a clear upgrade even though he has been slowed of late by an ankle injury and has only attempted two steals since August 5th.

Physical Description:
The first thing that stands out about Moncada is his build, as he does not look like a baseball player. Moncada is built like a football player with a muscular frame and especially thick, strong lower half—many had said that if he had been born in the United States, he likely would have been pushed toward that sport rather than baseball. He fills out the uniform and already looks the part of a professional in that regard. He has minimal projection left in his frame, but will have to watch out not to bulk up too much as he gets into his mid-20s, hence he lose any of the athleticism that is a big part of his game.

One reason the Red Sox are making this move is the potential upgrade Moncada could provide at the plate despite not being a finished product by any means. A switch hitter, Moncada’s swing is significantly better and he is clearly more comfortable from the left side of the plate. He uses the same set-up from both sides, starting from an open stance with the bat resting on his shoulder. He utilizes a toe-tap timing device for the most part, though early in counts he will sometimes use a slight leg lift when he’s hunting a fastball. He has solid separation in his swing, explosive hands, and plus bat speed. He has a solid knowledge of the strike zone, but his pitch recognition could use some work. He tracks the ball well, watching it all the way into the catcher’s glove, and has shown a willingness to take a walk and grind out at-bats, especially from the left side. He does have a fair amount of swing-and-miss in his game at present, which should come into play somewhat this fall given his jump from Portland. As he matures he should improve in that area, especially if he decides to focus more on contact over power early in his career. He has shown an all-fields approach and willingness to take what the pitcher gives him.

From the left side, he is very quick to the ball and has a slight uppercut and high, two-hand finish. His swing from that side is aesthetically pleasing and does a better job showing off his quick his hands and plus bat speed. He does a good job keeping the barrel in the hitting zone from the left side and transfers his weight before exploding to attack the ball. On fastballs in, he will pull his hands in, open his hips, and pull the ball to right field, but he is also comfortable getting his arms extended and driving the ball to center or left field as well. From the right side, his set-up is similar, but you can tell he does not have as much confidence. His swing is longer, but his bat does not stay in the zone as long and he is not as quick, looking like he is trying to come around the ball and pull it. Moncada has a lot more swing-and-miss from that side and his pitch recognition is not as good, as he is more susceptible to breaking balls which you can really see at the end of the video below during his at-bats from the right side. Because of Moncada’s athleticism and overall profile, I believe his right-handed swing will improve over time, so this is not a situation where he needs to consider dropping switch-hitting so much as an area he needs to develop. Overall, in his peak, Moncada projects as a plus hitter capable of hitting in the .280-.300 range year-in and year-out, but until he improves his right-handed swing, he could be a little below that.

In addition to projecting as at least a plus hitter for average, Moncada also projects to have plus power in his peak, capable of hitting 20-plus home runs a year. When he wants to drive the ball in batting practice, he can, especially from the left side, where in a good round he will drop the barrel and drive the ball deep to left-center field. He has plus raw power, and the separation in his swing allows him to generate loft, especially with his slight uppercut swing path. When he gets a hold of the ball, he can drive it with backspin and the ball really jumps off his bat. It would not be a surprise if early in his career his in-game power does not match his potential pop, especially as he adjusts to big league pitching, but when he settles in he has serious power potential, especially from the left side.

Another standout tool for Moncada is his speed which grades out as plus-to-better, though I think as he matures he will likely settle in comfortably as a plus runner given his muscular physique. He takes long strides and is fluid. His instincts on the bases are good, and he has proven himself more than capable of stealing bases. He is a potential 30-plus steal player in his future, but does still need some refinement with his reads and situational base running; on multiple occasions, I have seen him run into outs at inopportune times.

Field and Arm:
The area of Moncada’s game that is the least refined right now is definitely his defense. He only recently converted to third base and he has made three errors in nine games. Tools-wise, he has everything you would want to see at either third base or second base, where he played previously. He is a plus athlete with plenty of range to both sides. He has soft hands and his actions are fluid. His big issue seems to be more with his fundamentals and focus, as he will get sloppy with his footwork at times or not get down all the way on a ground ball. These things are easily correctable, but any sort of defensive miscue will be magnified now that he is joining the Red Sox during a pennant race. Moncada has a plus arm, more-than-capable of making the throws from any infield position. But again, he can get sloppy with his footwork and sit back, relying too much on his arm, and as a result, his accuracy will suffer. Long-term, Moncada projects as an average defender capable of making plays but susceptible to the occasional mistake. This is the area in the early part of his career where I am most interested to see him develop, as he also has not had much time to adjust to third base. From talking with sources who have seen him play third, he has made some impressive plays and seems to have taken relatively well to the position. Moncada’s video archive seems to confirm this, with several recent defensive highlights

One of the top prospects in all of baseball and the top prospect in the Red Sox system, Moncada has the confidence and personality to be able to handle the pressure of playing in a pennant race. How he will perform, however, is still a question mark, as he is not a finished product and is more raw than Benintendi was when he made the same jump from Double-A to the big leagues a few weeks ago. Out of the gate, there could be some struggles, both at the plate and in the field, though I think the Red Sox will look to minimize those by keeping him away from tough left-handers and potentially even replacing him defensively late in close games should he grab the everyday role.

Long-term, Moncada has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect in baseball, and if everything breaks right he could be a frequent all-star, role-seven, impact player. Moncada’s bat profiles in the top third of the order, where his hit/power/speed combination is something few prospects can match. Defensively, things are a little murkier, though if he could grab a stranglehold on the third base position, I think that would be the ideal scenario for both him and the Red Sox both this year and down the line. He also has the offensive ability to profile in the corner outfield, but his athleticism and speed would be somewhat wasted there (as opposed to, say, center field, where the Red Sox currently have at least three major league-caliber players in the organization) and his offensive profile is potentially hugely valuable at an infield position.

He may not be a finished product, but the Red Sox had a hole and Moncada can fill it. Time and time again, the Red Sox have shown they are all-in this year, and if Moncada can provide the sort of boost that other young players who have been promoted in September like Xander Bogaerts or Jacoby Ellsbury have, he could prove an extremely valuable player down the stretch, either in a starting role or off the bench.

Photo credits: Yoan Moncada by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall. 

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield

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