What did they expect?
It is one thing to call-up a 21 year old phenom from your double-a affiliate and insert him into your everyday major league lineup. It is a whole other thing to expect him hit the ground running and excel at that level without a few bumps along the way.
Excelling in professional sports is about natural talent, but it is also about maturity and attaining a level of comfort at your position on a team.
Yoan Moncada isn’t just the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, he’s arguably the top prospect in all of major league baseball.
Last Friday Moncada made his major league debut in the late innings of the Red Sox 16-2 blowout win over the Oakland A’s. His pure athleticism and talent don’t make him a “can’t miss” prospect. They do make him a prospect with an extraordinarily high ceiling as far as potential goes. Moncada could be a superstar, and that’s something that can’t be said of every prospect who reaches the majors.
For now, he’s a very talented and very inexperienced player struggling to adjust to the majors on the fly.
It isn’t easy, and if anyone expected it to be a smooth transition then they were probably deceiving themselves. Earlier this season Moncada was promoted from high-a Salem to double-a Portland. He struggled at first, but after a few up-and-down weeks, Moncada got comfortable and hit his stride. That’s when he started to post some very impressive numbers.
In June Moncada slashed .250/.268/.400 with 1 home run, 4 runs batted in and 1 stolen base. For the month of July Moncada slashed .307/.408/.636 with 7 home runs, 18 runs batted in and 7 stolen bases.
Adjusting to any advanced level of pro ball takes some getting used to, this isn’t unique to Moncada. Prior to Moncada being promoted to the top spot in many prospect rankings, Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros was the guy most often mentioned as the top prospect in major league baseball.
Bregman, the No.2 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft is more than a year older than Moncada, and he had the advantage of having playing college baseball for a high profile LSU program.
Bregman made his major league debut on July 25th, more than a month before Moncada’s first major league appearance. Bregman had also spent a few weeks with the Astros triple-a affiliate, Moncada leapt over that level entirely to make his major league debut.
In spite of all of that Bregman didn’t exactly have a seamless transition to the majors.
As of Tuesday Bregman had played in 38 games this season. He’s hit 7 home runs, 10 doubles and driven in 26 runs. Over the past 24 games he’s hit all 7 of those home runs, driven in 24 of those 26 RBI’s and hit 7 of his 10 doubles.
What was Bregman doing for the first 14 games of his big league career? Adjusting.
Moncada has appeared in four games, he’s started the last three games in a row. As of Tuesday he’s slashing a respectable .308/.357/.385. He’s gone 4-for-his-first-13 with 1 walk, 1 double, and 6 strikeouts. At times he’s looked overmatched and a bit lost at the plate, something that’s too be expected of just about anyone making the dramatic leap from double-a in the minors, straight to the big leagues.
The problem is that the Red Sox are struggling as well, and it isn’t the bullpen or the starting pitching either.
The Red Sox have scored one run over the past two games. Sunday they dropped a tough 1-0 contest to the Oakland A’s. Monday afternoon they lost 2-1 to the lowly San Diego Padres. The one run came courtesy of a pinch-hit home run off the bat of Chris Young. Moncada has gone a combined 2-f0r-7 with three strikeouts over the last two games. Sunday he was picked off first base in the third inning.
With the Red Sox fighting for a playoff berth as well as the AL East crown, every game counts. Moncada may need time to adjust, but can the Red Sox afford to give him that time?
They probably can, and they definitely should try to allow him the at-bats and innings in the field that he needs to get comfortable.
It is important to remember that prior to Moncada’s promotion to the majors, the Red Sox had seen a dramatic drop-off in production from the third base platoon of Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill.
The arrival of Moncada may have sparked the slumping Travis Shaw. Friday night, Shaw erupted to go 3-for-6 with 2 doubles, 1 home run and 5 RBI’s. Shaw had 3 doubles, 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s for the entire month of August.
In spite of the overall struggles to get offensive production from the third base position, there’s already plenty of momentum among those who feel that Moncada is overmatched and that the Red Sox would be better off not playing him in the midst of a pennant race.
Tuesday morning, Rob Bradford of WEEI wrote that the Red Sox were in a “conundrum” when it came to Moncada.
“There is no doubt that Moncada has shown enough to suggest he can help this team down the stretch, and even in October. He offers a skill set that is hard to find at any age. But to just roll him out against every righty might not be the play here. Particularly when there is another viable option (Travis Shaw) to balance the rookie’s uneasiness.”
Ben Buchanan of SB Nation’s “Over The Monster” Red Sox blog wrote that Moncada is not deserving of Travis Shaw’s starting third base job. He might have a point about “deserving” the job. Then again this is major league baseball. What a player deserves is not always the manner in which jobs are determined.
If the Red Sox ultimately believe that they’re a better team with Moncada as their primary third baseman, then getting him acclimated to the rigors of the majors sooner than later may end up paying off down the road.
Buchanan correctly cites Shaw’s overall stats which are not at all bad, but he does not make much mention of just how poorly Shaw has hit the ball since the end of May.
The reality is that Moncada may very well struggle for the next few weeks and possibly even beyond that, but he also might figure things out and start to really excel on the diamond.
The decision to promote Moncada and hand him the starting job is one that comes with risk, it is also a move that most likely never happens if Travis Shaw had been able to snap out the slump he’s been in since the end of May.
The Red Sox did make an effort to help Shaw out. He had struggled to hit left handed pitching so the Red Sox acquired right-handed Aaron Hill to play against left-handed pitchers in hopes that Shaw would flourish when limited to at-bats against only right-handed pitchers. That didn’t work out though.
Yoan Moncada might not deserve the starting third base job, but Shaw simply hasn’t done enough to deserve to keep it either.
Moncada is worth being patient with, the Red Sox were plenty patient with Shaw who has been in a slump for three months.
The team has lost two in a row and the offense has looked stagnant, but Monday the team benched DH and MVP candidate David Ortiz rather than play him at first base in a National League ball park.
Not having Ortiz in the lineup probably had a larger negative impact than Moncada’s 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. During the month of August, Shaw had two games in which he struck out three or more times, including an 0-for-4 with 4 K’s to finish up the month against the Tampa Bay Rays last Wednesday.
Maybe Moncada won’t work out for this season, but three games is not nearly enough time to make any sort of assessment, and Moncada is still far too talented to write-off for 2016.