‘I'd pay to watch those guys play': Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada look like foundation of White Sox core


“If coming into the season, in the moment, I had said ‘Do you think TA will be hitting .330 in September?’ what would your answer have been?”

No, Joe McEwing. My answer would have been no.

Regardless of how bright you thought Tim Anderson’s future looked after the 2018 season, you likely weren’t ready to project a nearly .100-point leap in his batting average. That’s where Anderson’s at right now, .332 coming into Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels, after hitting just .240 last season. He currently owns the highest batting average in the American League and could very realistically win the batting title in the Junior Circuit.

Quite the evolution, considering throughout the offseason there were calls for him to be replaced with free-agent superstar Manny Machado, as well as Machado-independent questions of whether he could be a good enough offensive player to really be this team’s long-term shortstop.

It’s been quite the evolution.

Look to Anderson’s right, and you’ll see another transformed player. Yoan Moncada struck out 217 times last season, one of the highest single-season strikeout totals in baseball history. He had an inarguably disappointing 2018, his first full year in the major leagues. Considering his ceiling and potential as the one-time No. 1 prospect in baseball, there was a bit more patience, maybe fewer questions. But there was a bad taste in plenty of fans’ mouth after watching the season Moncada had, and that couldn’t help but sour, however slightly, their long-term prospects on the guy.

Well, Moncada’s now probably the team’s best all-around hitter, wrapping up a season in which he was described as All-Star caliber by his teammates and team brass. He came into Friday with a .292/.352/.520 slash line, 22 home runs and 65 RBIs.

It’s been quite the evolution.

“I think they’ve grown and matured in so many positive ways,” McEwing, the White Sox bench coach, said, “and they’re going to continue to get better. We can’t forget how young these kids are.”

And that’s just hitting. These guys have been pretty darn good on that left side of the infield, too. Moncada’s been excellent in his first season as a major league third baseman after an error-filled year at second base in 2018. Anderson stills boasts the same kind of high error total he has in years prior — his 24 errors are the most in the bigs by a big margin — but those who watch him on a daily basis know the errors don’t tell the whole story and that he can do some things that not many other shortstops can do.

“With Moncada being his first year at third base, as he continues to grow, we’re just trying to eliminate — between him and TA — eliminate the little mistakes, the routine plays,” McEwing said. “We are already pretty good defensively. I know statistics may not show that, but we’re a pretty good infield club. Like I said, I know statistics may not show that, but range and what these guys are able to get to compared with other individuals throughout the game, it’s pretty impressive.”

It all adds up to these two being the foundation of the White Sox growing core of young players.

All those top-ranked prospects are slowly but surely arriving on the South Side, and the core that’s supposed to power perennial contenders for years to come is coming together. Lucas Giolito, Jose Abreu and James McCann were All Stars this season, Reynaldo Lopez has been terrific in the second half, and Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease have provided plenty of examples of their enormous potential in their rookie seasons. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal should be here relatively soon.

That group is the reason for so much optimism that 2020 could be the year in which the White Sox make their transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode. And Anderson and Moncada might be the most stable of them all, aside from the uber-consistent Abreu, of course.

Valid questions could be asked about the rest: Will Giolito be able to show that his transformation is permanent? Will Jimenez and Cease be able to emerge from their growing pains in time for a potential contending season in 2020? Is second-half Lopez or first-half Lopez the real Lopez? Can McCann produce near this level again? Regardless of your level of optimism, those questions are perfectly fine ones to be asking. And they cannot be answered until next season.

Anderson and Moncada aren’t without their own questions about following up these breakout campaigns, but their respective growths into foundational pieces for this future-focused White Sox team are among the biggest rebuilding accomplishments of this latest sub-.500, postseason-free campaign.

Jimenez and Robert and Cease and the heretofore unmentioned Michael Kopech might eventually lay claim to being the best of the rebuild’s young stars. We’ll have to wait to find out. But the foundation heading into the offseason will be Moncada and Anderson and what they can do for this team on a daily basis.

Need proof? Just look to how things got started Friday night: Anderson and Moncada singled in the bottom of the first and both scored. Instant offense, just like that.

No, Joe, I probably wouldn't have expected that when the season started. Just one example of how far these two players — and as a result, this team — have come.

"To sit out there and watch Moncada do certain things on a baseball field, to watch TA do certain things on a baseball field every single day, it's impressive," McEwing said. "Those are the guys you want to come out and pay to watch play. I'd pay to watch those guys play."

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