Last year, Yoan Moncada was the rare White Sox prospect whose problems on offense stemmed from passivity, not overaggression. It didn’t take long for pitchers to discover that they could back him into a corner by throwing strikes, because he hadn’t figured out how to swing his way out of them.
That gave him a team-leading walk rate over his first 1½ months, but at the cost of a lot of other dead plate appearances.
He eventually wrestled his strike-zone judgment numbers into a working arrangement during his successful September …
- July: 13.0% BB, 34.8% K
- August: 17.1% BB, 36.8% K
- September: 9.2% BB, 27.5% K
… because when you look at his frequencies of swinging at pitches inside and out of the zone, it paints a picture of a guy who figured out how to get pitchers to come to him a little.
This development cost him a team lead in walk rate. Among White Sox hitters with a meaningful amount of playing time, he fell behind Todd Frazier, Nicky Delmonico and Omar Narvaez. Moncada can get back there as long as he can prove he’s dangerous over a prolonged amount of time. Plate discipline without works is dead, as Zack Collins is learning.
Given that it’s still all tenuous at this point, I like Rick Renteria’s idea of batting him leadoff at this juncture.
“He likes the leadoff role (and) he likes hitting second,” Renteria said. “It gives me another option. If I can find someone who’s really comfortable in that situation and if he can manage that situation maybe we’ve found a guy we can use there. It’s only one time through the lineup that you’re ultimately a leadoff hitter but if you can … put yourself in the best situation early through that first round of at-bats and possibly score early, maybe it gives you some type of advantage. We’re going to use him a little bit more in that slot this spring … and we’ll see how it develops.”
It’s partially due to a lack of other candidates, especially if Leury Garcia isn’t going to be an everyday player. Garcia had surprising success at the top of the order before his injuries, batting .312/.376/.481 over 83 plate appearances before the first DL stint. He had the combination that you want to see out of a guy who hasn’t typically been leadoff material — getting on base enough, and doing enough once on base.
The guys on the rest of the roster who have one of those don’t have the other. Narvaez has the Sox’ best batting eye, but he’s 412th out of 451 in sprint speed. It’s fun to watch Tim Anderson and Adam Engel run, but they don’t round first base enough.
Moncada aside, I’d be cool with more Garcia in this role to start. Improved contact was the secret to Garcia’s turnaround, and that’s carried over to the spring so far (three strikeouts over 17 plate appearances). The more I look at Garcia’s numbers, the more it seems like his role will be the first pet cause of the Second Sox Machine Era. I understand why Renteria and the Sox want to keep his infield skills sharp, but I’d rather Garcia bonk his head on his ceiling with close-to-everyday work. If that work is almost entirely in center field, so be it.
But bringing Moncada back into it, it seems like a good way to introduce him to a full season’s work. There might come a time where batting Moncada with fewer RBI opportunities wastes his power, but leadoff duties take advantage of his patience while minimizing the harm from his contact issues. If you need some time to get used to this idea, you can start with today’s webcast:
Today's #SoxSpringTraining starters.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) March 4, 2018