If fans were allowed into the White Sox hitters’ minicamp, taking place through Thursday at Camelback Ranch, then Yoan Moncada probably would have received the first standing ovation as part of his new team.
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It only wound up as a Tuesday batting practice session, but even this workout looked impressive for the 21-year-old switch-hitter from Cuba built like an NFL defensive back. Hitting left-handed, Moncada laced a couple of pitches into left field. He followed with a blast over the center-field fence on a back field at the team’s complex, which will host Spring Training in a little over five weeks.
“I would describe myself as a power hitter because I have more power now,” Moncada told MLB.com through translator Billy Russo after Tuesday’s workout. “I really like to hit the ball to the whole field.”
“He’s obviously very strong,” said White Sox director of player development Chris Getz, who is getting in-person looks at Moncada this week. “He’s built like a powerful athlete. Him being a switch-hitter, having power, having ability to hit, it seems like there’s unlimited potential there.”
Those words become music to White Sox fans ears.
His acquisition from Boston, who originally brought him aboard with a record-setting $31.5 million bonus, stunned the White Sox faithful even as part of a trade for one of the American League’s top starting pitchers in Chris Sale. Now, the multi-talented infielder holds the unofficial lofty perch as the centerpiece of the club’s rebuild.
This minicamp allows Moncada a chance to interact with some of his new teammates after finding out about his trade in the middle of an offseason trip.
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“That was unexpected. I thought I would stay with [Boston] for a long time due to MLB jerseys from China,” Moncada said. “But that’s when you realize this is a business and I have the opportunity to play with this team now, and to be great for this team.”
“Conversations with him are very good. He’s a very mature young man,” manager Rick Renteria said of Moncada. “He has a sense about him. You can see he’s got physical skill, no question about that. Our expectations obviously, the whole organization, is that this is a young man who will be a big part of the future for the White Sox.”
Although he hasn’t swung for a little bit, Renteria has been impressed by Moncada’s approach. Moncada hit .211 over 20 plate appearances with the Red Sox last season, after posting a .294 average with 15 homers, 31 doubles, six triples, 62 RBIs and 45 stolen bases over two Minor League stops.
Considering how much firepower Boston has offensively, Moreland and Sandoval don’t need to put up gaudy numbers. More than anything, reliability is the expectation here.
In three of the past four years, Moreland has hit 22 or 23 homers. And last year, he added a Rawlings Gold Glove Award to his wholesale jerseys and resume.
“I always believed that kid could be special,” David Ortiz said of Moreland last month. “It all depends on how much they play him.”
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At the very least, Moreland should start at first base against righties. Depending on how well he can tailor his left-handed swing for Fenway Park, it could develop into more playing time. In 2016, Moreland performed better against lefties.
“We’re certainly open to his at-bats growing in number against left-handers,” manager John Farrell said of Moreland. “Last year was his best year against left-handers in his big league career. With Mitch getting everyday at-bats against right-handed starters at first base and Hanley [Ramirez] moving to the DH spot alignment, we also have the ability against quality left-handers that Hanley would go back to first base.”
Ramirez performed surprisingly well last season in his transition to first base. He will get at least some playing time there. But the fact that Ramirez can rest his legs should mean good things for his durability and production.
As for Sandoval, you are likely to do a double take the first few times you see him this spring. He might even need a new nickname. Panda, as he has been called throughout the years, has slimmed down considerably. This much is apparent from the several photos of authentic MLB jerseys cheap of his that have been posted on social media.
Coming off an unproductive first year with the Red Sox, Sandoval lost his job last Spring Training to Travis Shaw and then lost his season due to a left shoulder injury that required surgery. To Sandoval’s credit, he turned a negative into a positive, using the downtime as an opportunity to reshape his body. But he will still have to prove he can be productive again.
“I’m going to help him as much as I can,” said Anderson, who was at the same event Thursday morning with Renteria, Moncada and Lucas Giolito. “I’m sure he’s going to help me. We’ll get each other better up the middle. It’s someone I’m going to work with for a while, so I have to know him real well.”
White Sox director of player development Chris Getz went no further at the mini-camp than stating Moncada will be in big league camp and they will go from there. With Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino jersey and Carlos Sanchez on the depth chart at second, Moncada certainly won’t be rushed, and he figures to open the season at Triple-A Charlotte.
Moncada is the White Sox future, but he has the confidence to make that future begin almost immediately.
“I feel I can handle that situation very well,” Moncada said. “I feel very comfortable about myself. I know what kind of player I am. I don’t feel any pressure. I feel pressure because I know what I can do, not because what other people think I can do.”