December 7, 2016 at 7:00 AM
After acquiring right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers earlier in the day (look for a coming Trade Analysis on that deal), the Red Sox went out and made an even bigger move on Tuesday, acquiring left-handed pitcher Chris Sale for a package featuring four prospects, including the top prospect in the SoxProspects rankings in infielder Yoan Moncada, right-hander Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz.
Dave Dombrowski has shown since he first joined the organization that he is unafraid to deal top prospects if he thinks it can help the team win now. In acquiring Sale, the Red Sox added one of the best pitchers in all of baseball—who has had a lot of success against American League East opponents—on a very team friendly contract for the next three years, costing just $6.5 million against the competitive balance tax.
The cost to acquire Sale, however, was not as cheap. The Red Sox had to include three of the top 10 prospects in the system and four prospects who all have significant upside but come with risk. The depth the system had when Dombrowski took over is now gone and the cupboard has been picked thin—10 of the prospects in last October’s SoxProspects Top 20 have been traded in just over a year’s time. A few years down the line, this trade could look very different if a few of the prospects involved reach their potential, especially if one is Moncada. Still, the cost was easier to stomach given that the club was able to hold on to all of its young, established talent at the big league level, including Andrew Benintendi.
Part One of our Trade Analysis will focus on the Moncada and Basabe, while Part Two posting this afternoon will focus on the two arms in the deal. Senior Staff Writer James Dunne contributed to this piece.
The centerpiece of the package heading to the White Sox is Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. Less than two years ago, the Red Sox signed Moncada for a $31.5 million bonus plus a 100% tax penalty for having already exceeded the international signing cap threshold. Even at that $63 million total price, Moncada had shown that massive investment to potentially be worth it. After a long layoff, he began his pro career with a sputter, hitting .200/.287/.289 in his first 25 games for Greenville. Any fears from that early performance were quickly put to rest when Moncada tortured South Atlantic League pitching to the tune of .310/.415/.500 the rest of the season.
He kicked off the 2016 season by dominating at the top of a loaded Salem lineup, hitting .307/.427/.496 and stealing 36 bases in 61 games. Portland offered some more resistance in terms of strikeouts, but he also got a power boost moving from LewisGale to Hadlock, hitting .277 /.379/.531 in 45 games. In August, he began to get work at third base to get ready for a major league call-up, but after coming up on September 1, Moncada was thrust into a starting role that he did not quite look ready to fill, going 4 for 19 with 12 strikeouts. Still, the brief major league struggle did not dampen the enthusiasm for the 21-year-old phenom.
Moncada’s build immediately stands out when you see him play. He does not look like a typical baseball player, sporting a filled out, mature frame more akin to that of a football player. He is a plus-plus runner and an excellent athlete, the type of player who at times can make playing the game look remarkably easy. A switch-hitter, Moncada’s bat is more advanced from the left side at this point. He has plus-plus bat speed and explosive hands and a short, fluid swing with slight uppercut and two-hand finish from the left side. He does a good job getting his whole body into his swing and can clear his hips to turn on pitches on the inner half, but can also stay back and drive the ball to the other way. From the right side, his swing is stiff and not as quick. His swing path is longer and he looks to pull the ball too much, resulting in his being caught off-balance and often lunging at the ball.
Moncada’s approach and pitch recognition are also works in progress, as shown in the swing-and-miss he showed during his brief big league call up. Moncada will always strike out, but part of that stems from his propensity to work deep counts and take a lot of pitches. His ability to handle breaking balls is a legitimate concern, but with more time in the minors, given his physical ability and tools he should be able to improve enough to develop into a plus hitter for average who, when he makes contact, will often make hard contact.
Moncada will show plus raw power from both sides of the plate during batting practice. Hitting left-handed, he will drive the ball to all fields, but when hitting right-handed he will show power mainly to the pull side. He generates backspin with his slight uppercut swing, and when he makes solid contact the ball makes a different sound coming off his bat. At his peak, he projects as someone to hit for plus power, capable of hitting 20-26 home runs a year.
Defensively, there are some questions about what ultimately will be Moncada’s best position. He has the athleticism and bat to profile almost anywhere on the diamond and has an easy plus arm that would play at any infield or outfield position. Reportedly, the White Sox will start him out back at second base where he played the majority of his career. Moncada has the tools to be an above-average defender there, with plenty of range and soft hands. However, his footwork can get sloppy when fielding ground balls and around second base, and he was prone to making mistakes on routine plays that seemed to stem from a lack of focus. With continued repetition those mistakes could be minimized, but even at his peak he is likely to make his fair share of errors in the field. If he cannot stick at second base, third base is the next most likely position, but an eventual move to the outfield should not be ruled out, especially if he does not show improvement these next few years.
Overall, Moncada is one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and if he reaches his ceiling, he is a potential role seven, frequent all-star profile. He has the potential to impact the game in all facets, capable of hitting .300 with 20-plus home runs and 20-plus steals each year. Moncada does have some risk attached, as he needs to cut down on the amount of swing-and-miss in his game and improve his consistency in the field while finding a long-term position.
Luis Alexander Basabe has not received the same national recognition as Moncada or Kopech, but is also a high upside prospect. Basabe signed back in August 2012 for $450,000 out of Venezuela along with his twin brother Luis Alejandro, who was traded to the Diamondbacks this July in the trade for Brad Ziegler. Because he comes from a part of Venezuela near the Colombia border where soccer is far more popular than baseball, he was relatively new to the game of baseball when he signed, having only started playing a year or so earlier. Basabe made his system debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, putting up a .225/.385/.321 line with one home run and 18 steals. He returned to the DSL in 2014 and excelled, hitting .284/.408/.480 before a midseason promotion stateside to the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .248/.328/.324 in 32 games. It was after that season, during the Fall Instructional League, when Basabe really popped up on our radar, as he showed an intriguing but raw tool set. In 2015, Basabe hit a respectable .243/.340/.401 with seven home runs and fifteen steals as an 18-year-old playing against mainly college age pitchers in the New York-Penn League. He finished the year as the number 10 prospect in the system in the SoxProspects rankings and established himself as one of the toolsiest prospects in the system. In 2016, Basabe spent most of the year in Low A Greenville, hitting .258/.328/.447 with 12 home runs and 25 steals before a brief call-up to Salem where he hit .364/.391/.545 in 22 at-bats.
Basabe was one of the most intriguing prospects in the Red Sox system. He would flash at least above-average in four tools, but the question mark is his hit tool. Basabe has an athletic, projectable frame, listed at 6-foot-0, 170 pounds. He still has some room to fill out as he physically matures and should be able to add strength without impacting his plus speed. A switch-hitter, Basabe has solid bat speed and quick hands, but his approach and pitch recognition are major works in progress. He has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but has shown some on-base ability and more selectivity, especially later this year after putting in work on tracking pitches with Greenville hitting coach Lee May. Basabe does not look like a power threat in person, but he has above-average-to-plus raw power and a tendency to make a lot of hard contact, which could lead to 15-plus home runs and 20-plus doubles at his peak if his hit tool develops into the fringe-average range, which it could.
Basabe will also add value in the field, where he projects as a plus center fielder with a plus arm. He takes good routes and has a quick first step and natural instincts. Though farther away than Moncada (and Kopech, for that matter), if Basabe hits, he also has everyday upside. Even if he does not, he has a reasonably high floor as he should be able to stick in center field and can run and hit for some pop, a profile that will play in a bench role.
Photo credits: Yoan Moncada and Luis Alexander Basabe by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.