An even better Yoan Moncada? ‘I still know that I can do more'


Yoan Moncada is the White Sox best hitter. But he’s not going to stop here.

It’s been a remarkable season for the 24-year-old, who a year ago was wrapping up a disappointing first full campaign in the majors, one lowlighted by the 217 strikeouts that rank as one of the highest single-season totals in baseball history.

Thankfully for Moncada, once the top-ranked prospect in the game, and the rebuilding White Sox, 2019 has been a completely different story. Coming into Wednesday night’s game against the division-rival Cleveland Indians, Moncada owned a .314/.367/.547 slash line to go along with 24 home runs and 77 RBIs.

"You see his numbers," shortstop Tim Anderson said Tuesday. "He improved a lot. He's a heck of a ballplayer. He's going to continue to get better."

While Anderson is likely going to win a batting title and Jose Abreu is likely going to win an RBI title and Eloy Jimenez is likely going to finish somewhere in the AL Rookie of the Year vote and Lucas Giolito is likely going to finish somewhere in the AL Cy Young vote, it’s easy to argue that Moncada has blossomed into the team’s best player. As good as Giolito was in 2019, becoming an All Star and the ace of the staff, he only plays every five days. Moncada is in the lineup every day and has transformed himself into a heck of a hitter, not to mention a strong defender at third base.

That’s all phenomenal news for the White Sox, who plan to have Moncada and all the rest anchoring their roster for years to come as they eye a transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode.

But that’s the thing: Moncada’s not hardly finished.

“I feel very good, very satisfied with having the season I'm having, but at the same time, it's not a fluke,” Moncada said Tuesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I'm having the season that I'm having because I worked hard, and I still know that I can do more. I think this season is just a big takeoff for me and a big motivation.”

That ought to get White Sox fans real jazzed that this excellent version of Moncada can get even better.

September success doesn’t always carry over to the following season, but Moncada could be unleashing a preview of the 2020 edition right now. He’s been among the best players in baseball this month, with more hits, 36, than anyone coming into Wednesday. He’s slashing .424/.468/.659 in 21 September games. His 1.127 OPS ranks eighth among players with at least 50 at-bats this month.

Moncada talked about wanting to steal more bases next season, and it’s not ridiculous to think his power numbers could make a significant jump, too, if he avoids the injured list. Even if he plays in all of the White Sox final six games this week, he’ll finish the year with just 133 games played.

In other words, there’s still more for Moncada to unlock.

“He's having a really good year this year,” manager Rick Renteria said Wednesday. “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.”

Moncada (as well as Giolito and Anderson and James McCann) showed this year how big a jump a developing player can make from one season to the next, and while it would be perhaps foolish to expect any of those guys to leap as far as they did again this offseason, further improvement of some kind would not be unexpected. Moncada showed that some of Abreu's work ethic has rubbed off and went to work last winter to create this season's transformation. He could do it again this winter. And that could go a long way toward fulfilling his potential as a centerpiece of a winning White Sox team.

Renteria sees the same thing coming from all of those core youngsters, who as general manager Rick Hahn is often quick to remind are not finished products.

If Moncada and Anderson and Giolito and Jimenez continue to improve, if Luis Robert and Michael Kopech and Nick Madrigal join them as members of the young core, and if Hahn’s front office adds some impact pieces this winter, look out.

“I am confident that we're going to be competing next year for a spot in the playoffs,” Moncada said. “The improvement that we've been doing, and next year we're going to keep improving. We're going to be fighting for a spot in the playoffs because I truly believe that we're going to be very good next year.”

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