Rarely is there a buzz and an electric atmosphere with a Single-A game, but that has been the case all week with the professional debut of 19-year-old, highly touted Red Sox prospect Yoan Moncada with Single-A Greenville.
After he signed a minor league contract that featured a $31.5 million signing bonus on March 12, the Cuban prospect spent a little over a month extra in spring training to get acclimated to the American game and since he hadn’t played organized baseball in over a year.
Sunday night it was announced the second baseman’s professional debut would be Monday and it officially became Moncada Mania.
“We haven’t had somebody in our organization since I’ve been around anyway that has got this kind of attention for their debut,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said. “He’s handled it really well. I think our job and our goal is to put him in the best position to handle some of those things and something he’s balanced really well.
“He’s handled the attention. He’s handled the extra interviews and things like that that some of the other guys don’t have to do. As far as his very short stint here he hasn’t shied away from the spotlight playing games in a packed ballpark and an electric type of environment.”
Going into Thursday night, Moncada had gone 4-for-12 with three runs scored in three games.
Moncada had spent some time with his new teammates when they were together in Fort Myers.
Infielder Mauricio Dubon was one of the first players Moncada made a connection with in Florida, and Dubon has noticed a big difference in the type of player Moncada is now, compared to back in March when he first signed.
“Oh yeah, he’s way better,” Dubon said via phone Thursday. “I understand it’s spring training and he went a year without playing ball. He looks more comfortable. He’s a great player. He’s a really good player.”
MANAGING THE LOG JAM
Even before Moncada joined Greenville, there were a number of talented infielders with the team — 2014 first-round pick Michael Chavis (third base), 18-year-old International free agent signing Rafael Devers (third base), 2012 International free agent signing Javier Guerra (shortstop), 2013 26th round pick Dubon (shortstop/second base) and 2013 30th round pick Nick Longhi (first base).
Devers leads the team hitting .325, while Guerra is third hitting .299. While Chavis’ average isn’t where he wants it (.219), he’s shown some power with four home runs.
Two of those infielders, three including Moncada, were acquired as International free agents, something the Red Sox have taken full advantage of recent years. Crockett noted how important that market has become for the organization.
“It’s certainly very important both the work that Eddie Romero and the International scouts do as well, Mike Rikard, and the amateur scouts, they are very important for bringing in talent like this,” Crockett said. “I think some it’s one of the most impactful things we can do as an organization.”
Having this many star prospects sharing playing time may get frustrating for some of the players, but they seem to be enjoying it and feeding off one another.
“It’s fun. If you want to be the best, you have to be better than the best,” Dubon said. “It’s fun playing with these guys. It makes you better because they push you and you push them.”
From a developmental perspective, this could hurt as the players might not be playing as much as they would without having the number of talented players that they do, but Crockett explained they would be getting days off anyway, as a way to adjust to most of their first full season’s of professional baseball.
“I think it limits flexibility, certainly, but I think as young players at their first professional season level, guys aren’t playing everyday anyway,” explained Crockett. “Really up until you get to Double-A and Triple-A are guys playing a lot. I think at the A-ball level guys are playing five or six days a week with intentionally getting a couple of days off making sure they are making that adjustment to playing a full season. We feel as the off days we would be giving them no matter who is [with Greenville].”
CHECKING IN WITH CHAVIS
The No. 26 overall pick of last year’s draft isn’t off to the best of starts with Single-A Greenville this year, his first full professional season. Drafted out of Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, he’s transitioned to playing third base full time — still adjusting, but making strides.
At the plate he has a batting line of: .219/.276/.395, with four home runs in his first 29 games to go along with 18 RBIs. He has struck out 43 times in 123 plate appearances, and Crockett noted he’s working on finding his approach.
“From what we’ve seen, the transition to third base has gone well,” Crockett said. “He certainly has shown some good strides from last year. He played third base as an amateur as well, but definitely something he continues to get more comfortable with. He’s worked really hard on that and looks more confident and relaxed there now when he first came in. Offensively, he has some impressive raw power as well as bat speed and has shown his ability to hit. It’s just a matter of refining his approach at the plate and continue to improve.”
NOT QUITE THEIR TIME
Before the Red Sox’ resurgence from the mound, seven straight games the starter has gone at least six innings allowing two earned runs or less, there were some people calling for Brian Johnson or Eduardo Rodriguez to be called up as a way to rejuvenate the rotation.
Those two players aren’t even thinking about potential call ups whenever those may be, which would be their major league debut.
“I don’t really have a mindset on it,” the 6-foot-4 left-hander said last week. “I just worry about pitching, the task at hand. I am worried about my Day 2 side right now. I can’t make any of those decisions. The only decision I can make is getting better on the field every day.”
“You know you have no control over it,” he added. “The only control you have is what takes place on the field and how hard you work.”
Rodriguez, who came over from the Orioles in the Andrew Miller trade last July, feels the same way.
“I don’t think like that,” he said last week. “I am just thinking about doing my job here. If they give me the chance I get it. If not, I am still here doing what I can.”
The left-hander is 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA through his first seven starts of the year. He said he feels much more comfortable than he did last season just after coming over via trade. Ironically, last season in six starts with Portland he went 3-1 with an 0.96 ERA.
“I am feeling a lot better here,” Rodriguez said. “Last year I was moving. To get here and do my job, working more on my pitches, I feel a lot better.”
Johnson remarkably has had 26 starts since the start of last year allowing one earned run or less. Through seven starts this year he is 5-2 with a 2.65 ERA.
“I have no idea, to be honest,” said Johnson of his stats. “I don’t really worry about too much. Just go out there and have fun.”
3 STARS OF THE WEEK
1. Oscar Tejeda, 3B, Portland — Tejada is on a tear of late, with an eight-game hit streak, including three games with three or more hits. Over the eight games he’s batting .444.
2. Rafael Devers, 3B, Greenville — Despite all the attention surrounding Moncada this week, Devers has stolen some of his thunder, as the third baseman has six hits in his last five games and is hitting .333 in that span, scoring eight runs.
3. Kevin Heller, RF, Salem — Heller extended his on-base streak to 11 consecutive games with a walk Wednesday night. He’s hitting .314 on the year for Salem after hitting just .132 in 13 games in Double-A Portland earlier this year.