By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The youngest player on the tour of the Lurie Children’s Hospital on Thursday may well be the franchise player the White Sox are looking for over the next decade.
Infielder Yoan Moncada was the consensus top minor league player in baseball when the White Sox acquired him from Red Sox in a five-player deal in early December. That trade sent ace left-hander Chris Sale to Boston for Moncada, right-hander Michael Kopech and two other top prospects.
Moving forward, the White Sox hope Moncada is their second baseman for most of 2017 and beyond. By holding Moncada back from promotion to the majors until mid-May, the team can retain contract control over the 21-year-old Cuban’s contract through 2023. Thus, starting the 2017 season at Triple-A is a certainty for the switch-hitting Moncada. Honing his defensive skills at second base will be part of Moncada’s goals in spring training and the first six weeks of the season.
Moncada believes he’s ready for the big leagues. After seeing him play at White Sox mini-camp in Glendale, Ariz., last week, incoming manager Rick Renteria was impressed.
“We talked to him a little bit at the mini-camp,” Renteria said. “We had a nice couple of conversations. We talked among ourselves about his strikeouts in his introduction to the big leagues. We believe most of that has to do with getting a little more experience. We can help him learning how to isolate, controlling certain zones. He will eventually learn the pitchers and what they are trying to do to him. We need to help him stay confident in what he does well.”
Moncada broke into the big leagues last September and had 12 strikeouts in his first 20 plate appearances.
Moncada will meet and greet the Chicago fan base at SoxFest this weekend. The event takes place at the Hilton and Towers Hotel on Michigan Avenue.
“I already feel like a White Sox player, “Moncada said through a translator. “I have had an opportunity to meet with some of the guys here. I also met with Rick (Renteria) and others in the mini-camp. I certainly do feel like a White Sox player now.
“I learned everything in life comes at the right moment. You as a player do not need to rush for that time. I learned a lot from the experience. I spent a lot of time with David (Ortiz) and Hanley (Ramirez). I was lucky to spend that time with them. I am now in a better position to compete in the major leagues.”
Moncada isn’t concerned about great expectations from his new team in a new city.
“I can handle that situation well,” Moncada said about the major league chance. “I feel very comfortable about myself. I know what kind of player I am. No, I do not feel any pressure. I know what I can do. The pressure is not about what other people think.”
Joining slugging first baseman Jose Abreu, a fellow Cuban, is something Moncada is embracing going forward into his first big league spring training in Arizona.
My first meeting with Moncada was one of being impressed with his strong body, easy smile and overview of his chance in Chicago. He told me in English that he has an app on his iPhone that helps him translate English words and sentences.
“This is how I am learning English,” he said. “By translating from Spanish to English and working at it a lot, it’s important to me to learn English for many reasons.”
Moncada is expected to join the big league club by May 15, and White Sox fans may be in for a treat over the next few seasons. A switch-hitter with power and 90 percent stolen base rate doesn’t come around every day.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.