How Moncada compares to top middle-infield prospects
Cuban prodigy has skills in same echelon as current Minor League standouts
The most exciting teenaged prospect to leave Cuba since Jorge Soler in 2011, Yoan Moncada has a broader base of tools than the Cubs' young slugger, as well as a chance to play in the middle of the diamond.
Virtually every team in baseball covets Moncada, who's expected to decide where he'll sign by the end of the month. He'll come at an exorbitant price, with a bonus projected in the neighborhood of $40 million and an equal amount as a tax penalty on his signing club for blowing past its assigned international bonus pool. That team also will be prohibited from signing anyone for more than $300,000 in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods.
How talented is the 19-year-old Moncada? Here's how he stacks up, tool for tool, against the 15 middle infielders on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list (grades are based on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents average Major League ability):
Best Top 100 middle infielder: Carlos Correa, Astros (70)
A switch-hitter, Moncada generates tremendous bat speed and consistently barrels the ball from both sides of the plate. He has a long track record of hitting, dominating international youth and junior tournaments and similar age-based leagues in Cuba. When Moncada moved up to face better competition, in the Serie Nacional (Cuba's primary league) and with Cuba's national team, he more than held his own as a 17- and 18-year-old player.
The caveat is that Moncada hasn't faced much pro-caliber pitching, though evaluators still project him as a future .280 hitter in the big leagues, and some say that might be conservative. The only middle infielder on the Top 100 who gets a better grade is Astros prospect Carlos Correa (ranked No. 3), who has batted .322 in two years of full-season ball despite being much younger than his competition. Six others matched Moncada's 60 grade, including the Dodgers' Corey Seager (No. 7), who led the Minors with a .349 average last season.
Best Top 100 middle infielder: Correa (65)
Solidly built at 6-foot, 210 pounds, Moncada has strength to go with his lightning bat speed. He also has demonstrated the patience to wait out pitchers who won't challenge him, and he should be able to fully tap into his plus raw power. Moncada should be good for 20-25 homers annually, once he gets established in the Majors.
Correa is the lone Top 100 middle infielder to top Moncada's power grade, and the Cubs' Addison Russell (No. 5) and Seager are the only others who can match it. A player who projects to be a plus hitter for average and power is rare, and a middle infielder who does is even harder to find. Hence Correa, Russell and Seager rank among the very best prospects in baseball, and Moncada is about to become very wealthy.
Best Top 100 middle infielder: Jose Peraza, Braves; Trea Turner, Padres (75)
Moncada usually clocks in at around 6.6 seconds in the 60-yard dash, with some scouts timing him faster than that and willing to give him 70 speed. He outran Rusney Castillo, who signed a $72.5 million contract (the biggest outlay ever for a Cuban defector) with the Red Sox in August, to win races to first base and around the bases at Cuba's 2012-13 All-Star Game. How many bases Moncada steals in the Majors will depend on where he bats in a lineup and how much of a green light he gets, but it's reasonable to project him to swipe 25 or more per season.
Peraza (No. 38) and Turner (No. 62) have close to top-of-the-scale speed, while the Royals' Raul Adalberto Mondesi (No. 40) and the White Sox Tim Anderson (No. 76) are 70 runners, though none of them approach Moncada's impact at the plate. On the Top 100, there isn't a single middle infielder and there is just one prospect overall with 60 or better grades in hitting ability, power and speed. That would be Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, who also happens to be baseball's best prospect.
Best Top 100 middle infielder: Correa (70)
While the consensus is that Moncada has a fourth plus tool in his arm strength, grades vary anywhere from a 55 to a 70. The bottom line is that his arm works well and would fit anywhere on the diamond.
Moncada's arm isn't exceptional for a middle infielder, with Correa's 70 cannon leading the Top 100 middle infielders and nine others rating as 60 arms. But Moncada's four-plus-tool ability is unusual -- Buxton has five plus tools and no one else on the Top 100 has more than three.
Best Top 100 middle infielder: Francisco Lindor, Indians (70)
Moncada has more than enough range and the hands for second and third base, his main positions in Cuba and his likely home in the big leagues. He has seen action at shortstop, though he looked uncomfortable there during a heavily attended workout in Guatemala in November and is unlikely to get deployed there. Moncada also has spent time in center field, where his speed and arm would work well.
Moncada profiles as an offensive-minded infielder who can be an average defender at second base and perhaps a tick better than that at the hot corner. Lindor (No. 4) is the class of the Top 100 middle-infielder defenders, one of eight who earn at least solid grades.
Best Top 100 Middle Infielder: Carlos Correa, Astros (70)
If he were eligible for the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, Moncada would be a strong contender to go No. 1 overall to the D-backs. His overall 65 grade would place him among the top dozen prospects in baseball right now, and it's arguably a bit conservative, because teams haven't had the chance to evaluate him against much quality competition. Only the first three players on the Top 100 earned overall 70s: Buxton, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Correa.
As a plus hitter for both average and power who probably won't stick at shortstop, Seager is the best Top 100 comparison for Moncada. But it's not a perfect match, because Moncada is significantly faster and is capable of playing the middle infield, while Seager figures to move to third base. Though Seager proved himself against Double-A as a 20-year-old, Moncada has a higher ceiling.
Players with Moncada's upside don't come along often, and they're available as free agents even less frequently. That's why he may triple the highest bonus ever paid to an amateur -- the Reds gave Aroldis Chapman $16.25 million deferred over 11 years as part of a $30.25 million contract in 2010 -- and his team will gladly pay a huge tax penalty to secure his talents.