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It’s too soon to declare the nadir of Yoán Moncada’s post-COVID-19 malaise because he’s not out of the woods, but the clubhouse leader might be the botched rundown against Minnesota back on Sept. 2. The White Sox’s execution lacked in many ways, but at the center of it was a Moncada who couldn’t summon the effort to run after Miguel Sanó. Had José Abreu known that Moncada lacked the necessary acceleration, he might not have gotten rid of the ball so soon.
A day later, Moncada assigned words to what we’d been seeing — a general fatigue that saps the upper-edge athleticism that allows him to make an impact in so many ways, be it baserunning, exit velocity or, in this case, middle-infield speed applied to a corner spot.
Moncada still found ways to contribute during this time, relying more on his above-average batting eye to keep the line moving, and his hands to take care of all the makeable plays in the field. But in terms of what he could bring to the table, expectations had to be lowered from “MVP candidate” to “the good Conor Gillaspie season,” with others picking up the slack.
The White Sox are in better position to compensate in 2020, but to pick up on yesterday’s conversation, they are feeling the lack of his full-strength left-handed bat against right-handed pitching. It’s a big drop from last year’s production.
- 2019: .322/.377/.569
- 2020: .252/.331/.409
There’s some sunlight, though, because Moncada’s 2019 self surfaced during the Pittsburgh series. The sequences that involved starting, stopping, lunging and contorting didn’t pain him over the two games. Here’s a single that’s as noteworthy for its exit velocity (106.3 mph) as it was for his ability to stretch it into two bases after Gregory Polanco fumbled it.
If exit velocities were temperatures, Moncada wouldn’t have registered even a mild fever over the course of the previous two weeks. His hardest-hit ball was a flyout to right against Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams that clocked in at 98.6 mph on Aug. 26.
Moncada hit five balls harder than that over the course of the two most recent games in Pittsburgh:
- The above single
- A 106-mph one-hopper the shift couldn’t contain
- A 104.6-mph lineout to Polanco
- A 101.8-mph one-hopper that Josh Bell knocked down
- A 99-mph comebacker off Joe Musgrove’s calf
A few innings after that single-turned-two-bagger, he made this charging, barehanded pickup and cross-body throw to get the relatively speedy Kevin Newman by more than a step.
It’s great to see the old Moncada for numerous reasons, starting with the well being of the individual. There’s also the idea that it’s fun as hell to watch him play at full strength. Luis Robert knocked him down a peg when it comes to the most physically impressive White Sox, but Moncada has already experienced several years of refinement, allowing him to more regularly showcase those strengths.
The White Sox would also love to see this version of Moncada Prime hang around, if only because he gives Yasmani Grandal company as a left-handed bat that forces managers to consider their presence. I don’t see Nomar Mazara turning that corner until he figures out how to get those back-foot breaking balls up in the air. He’s seeing a career high in sliders, and he’s pounding them into the ground. Beyond Mazara, Yolmer Sánchez is a defensive specialist, and Zack Collins remains more theoretical than actual.
Rick Renteria has to strike a balance between excitement and expectations for everybody, and he said rests will still be part of Moncada’s program as the White Sox embark on 17 games in 17 days to close out their season.
“We saw the guy you guys have been used to seeing for a while,” Rick Renteria said Wednesday. “He’s still working. The trainers did a great job in trying to manage, strengthen his legs and control the irritation that had occurred with him.
“We still have to monitor his playing time, so whatever we can do to keep him out there and allow him to continue to move forward, that’s what we’re going to do. A great play on a slow roller coming in, it was a big play. He looked very good (Wednesday).”
For the time being, Moncada’s uprising in Pittsburgh offered support for the White Sox’s management of his condition thus far. Given the unpredictable nature of his post-COVID fatigue, time on the injured list could end up in the Sox missing out on Moncada’s upswings, just to get him back in time for another downturn. There are no more compelling options for his playing time, so they may as well keep his eyes, brain and hands engaged in the game to seize the days where the rest of his body is cooperating.
(Portrait of Yoan Moncada by Carl Skanberg)