CHICAGO -- Yoan Moncada has the raw talent to eventually become an American League Most Valuable Player.
But it took the 24-year-old White Sox switch-hitter one full Major League season dotted with struggles in 2018, coupled with one highly productive offseason featuring work in Arizona alongside manager Rick Renteria and former hitting coach Todd Steverson, and a move in the field from second base to third to tap into that immense potential during the 2019 campaign.
“At the end of last season, I realized that I needed to work on certain aspects of my game I needed to improve,” said Moncada through interpreter Billy Russo. “During the offseason, I worked hard, and I think the results have been pretty good.”
The understated but supremely confident third baseman explained the season he produced in ’19 was not a fluke, finishing third in the AL in hitting with a .315 average, as well as finishing 10th with a .915 OPS. The lofty results were the product of hard work, with Moncada knowing he can do more.
“This season is just a big takeoff for me and a big motivation,” Moncada said.
What went right?
Pretty much everything.
Moncada raised his average from .235 in ’18 and jumped his OPS from .714. He launched a career-high 25 home runs and 34 doubles, while also posting a single-season best 79 RBIs and 83 runs scored. He hit .299 with 21 extra-base hits and an .845 OPS as a right-handed hitter, which is his natural side, after hitting a mere .209 with eight total extra base hits and a .585 OPS from the right side in ’18.
His September finishing kick featured a slash line of .412/.455/.647 over 112 plate appearances, with three home runs, 11 doubles and 15 RBIs. Moncada had four hitless games the entire month and had multi-hit efforts from Sept. 15-22, covering seven straight games.
“I'm just going out there, trying to enjoy the game and have fun,” Moncada said. “That has been one of the biggest changes in my game from last year to this year. I'm just enjoying the game and enjoying what I'm doing."
What went wrong?
To be honest, very little.
After striking out a Major League-worst 217 times in ’18, Moncada cut that total to 154 in ’19 albeit with 91 fewer plate appearances (650 in ’18 to 559). His more aggressive approach at the plate naturally dropped that number, but his walks also dipped from 67 to 40.
“Over the long haul, he's going to continue to evolve as a hitter, and all those things end up balancing themselves out,” Renteria said. “Obviously, history will tell us where he ends up being.
“He's still a guy that has -- as far as I'm concerned, in my opinion, really looking at his skill set -- he's a guy that could hit 30 home runs. He's a guy that's got the kind of speed to steal 20, 30 bases a year. He's a guy that is still learning the nuances of third base.”
Moving to third base seemed to be a more instinctive fit defensively for Moncada. Barring something unexpected, that position will belong to Moncada for many years to come.
As for the 20 or 30 stolen bases per year envisioned by Renteria, that category was targeted by Moncada as his next big improvement. He has swiped 25 total over parts of three seasons and 335 games with the White Sox.
“That was an aspect of my game that I couldn't totally explore this year,” Moncada said. “But I'm going to work hard at that, at being more aggressive on the bases, especially stealing bases, next season.”
Any time Moncada let loose with his casual bat drop after connecting on a long one was a “best moment” for the White Sox and their excited fan base. But on July 3, in Game 2 of a home doubleheader against the Tigers, Moncada homered from each side of the plate including a game-tying drive with one out in the 10th off of then closer Shane Greene. Jose Abreu walked the game off via a three-run blast in the 12th, improving the White Sox to 41-42.
A tight right hamstring sidelined Moncada from July 30 to Aug. 21. But if he stays predominantly healthy, that run to MVP contention could begin as soon as '20. Moncada’s talent is limitless, and he’s really just learning the game at the heart of a young and equally talented lineup.