There was one obvious reason the White Sox decided to shift Yoan Moncada from second base to third this spring.
The Sox used the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft on Nick Madrigal, and the pint-size hitting machine is a second baseman.
Madrigal is likely to spend this entire season in the minor leagues, but he is an advanced talent, and the Sox haven’t completely ruled out adding the 5-foot-8, 175-pounder to the major league roster this year.
There was more to the Moncada move. Much more.
The Sox think third base is a better position for Moncada because it requires more concentration. He has played some third in his native Cuba and with the Red Sox.
“We’re hoping, honestly, that some of the focus that he’s got to take into re-acclimating himself to playing third base will be also part of expanding his offensive capabilities,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And, by the way, if you look at – and I know this is going to sound crazy – if you look at the metrics of his hitting, there was a lot of good things in his offensive game last year.
“I know we focus on the strikeouts and things of that nature, but there were a lot of good things that went on with his ability to have a good eye. On balls in play, his batting average was off the charts. So there are a lot of things that will continue to improve with him.”
Named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year in 2016 in the Red Sox’s system, Moncada was a key part of the trade package for Chris Sale after the season ended.
“We view Moncada as a premium position player, a guy who is going to play up the middle for us, be an impact player offensively and defensively for us for a long time,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said after completing the deal at the 2016 winter meetings.
“Second base, third base, we think he’s capable of playing both. But at this point we would have him playing second base for us.”
Moncada broke in with the White Sox in July 2017 and has shown flashes of greatness.
Last year – his first full season in the majors – the 23-year-old switch hitter was one of only six players in the American League with 30 or more doubles, five or more triples, 15 or more homers and 60 or more RBIs.
On the flip side, Moncada had a subpar slash line (.235/.315/.400), and his 217 strikeouts were the second highest in baseball history behind the Diamondbacks’ Mark Reynolds (223 in 2009).
Moncada also led all major league second basemen with 21 errors.
Wanting to improve his overall game, Moncada went to Arizona in November and worked with Renteria and hitting coach Todd Steverson.
The Sox drafted power-hitting Jake Burger in the first round in 2017, but the 22-year-old third baseman is a long way from reaching the majors.
Last spring, Burger tore his left Achilles tendon in a Cactus League game. He tore it again in May and missed the entire season. Burger is on track to join a minor league team June 1.