Impatient White Sox fans (myself included) have turned into the equivalent of my 4 year-old on a road trip. Hey Rick Hahn – when’s Yoan Moncada coming up? Is he here yet? Is he here yet? Is he here yet?
Who can blame us? With little chance at being competitive this season, and two of our best players being traded in the offseason, it is a lot more fun to dream on the prospects that we have in the pipeline than watch Cody Asche getting reps at DH for some unknown reason. And when it comes to the P1500 overall #2 prospect, Yoan Moncada, there is a lot to dream on.
Moncada at AAA-Charlotte 2017
Through 13 games with AAA Charlotte in 2017, Moncada has produced a drool-inducing .314/.407/.569 slash line. He’s went 3-for-4 in stolen base attempts. He’s shown off his power by hitting 4 home runs in 13 games, with dingers coming from both sides of the plate. He’s made smart, aggressive plays in the field and on the base paths. In short, he looks like one of the best prospects the Pale Hose have ever had.
However, looking at deeper-level stats should give us some pause. First, Moncada’s BABIP is a robust .407. This is unsustainable and bound to regress. A league-average player generally posts a BABIP around .300. However, Moncada has posted an above-average BABIP at every professional level that he’s played at. There are some (usually very productive) hitters who can routinely post an above-average BABIP, sometimes in the .350s. Moncada just might be that type of player, given his ability to hit the ball hard and his speed, two skills which can turn potential outs into hits. So, while Yoan is due for some course correction, I’m not overly concerned about his BABIP.
His strikeout rate is more troubling. Moncada has struck out in a very-high 32.7% of his at-bats at Charlotte this season. While modern players strikeout at a far-higher rate than their predecessors (a record 21% of all 2016 MLB plate appearances ended in a strikeout, and so far in 2017 there has been a whopping 9.25 strikeouts per game, which would crush last year’s record of 8.03), Moncada’s high strikeout rate is still troublesome.
Moncada reminds me of the other young, promising 2B in Chicago, Javier Baez. Like Moncada, Baez flashed prodigious power in the minors (.344 ISO at AA in 2013, .250 ISO at AAA in 2014). Also like Moncada, Baez had a consistently high strikeout rate in the minors. There was talk of keeping Baez in the minors while he worked on his plate approach, but he forced the issue with the Cubs (arguably with his glove) ahead of schedule. Baez’s poor plate approach has carried over to the Show, as he posted a 24.0 strikeout rate and a 3.3% walk rate in 2016, limiting his offensive potential and fantasy relevance. They are different players, but Baez is an argument for keeping Moncada at AAA to work on his plate approach.
A pesky little thing called ‘service time’
Every major league baseball player has his ‘service time’ tracked. Every day a player is on a team’s 25-man roster counts as a day toward his service time in the majors. A player can earn a maximum of 172 ‘service days’ each season, therefore 172 ‘service days’ equals 1 ‘service year’ for MLB purposes.
So why does this matter? Well, after six full service years, a player becomes a free agent under the current CBA. A player must complete his sixth separate full service year of 172 service days before becoming a free agent. Therefore, if a team calls up a player after a certain point in the season, it is impossible for him to earn 172 service days for a full service year and the team effectively gets 7 seasons of cost-control (rookie salaries and mandatory arbitration years) over the player before he can become a free agent.
Theo Epstein’s Cubs did this with Kris Bryant in 2015. Bryant looked completely ready to take over the Cubs starting 3B job heading into the season. But when spring training broke, Bryant got sent to the Cubs AAA affiliate in Iowa. Bryant stayed there for 10 days, magically just enough time to prevent him from gaining a full service year in 2015. The end result is that, instead of becoming a free agent in 2020, Bryant has to wait until 2021. In practical terms, this means that the Cubs will only have to pay 28 year-old Kris Bryant, potentially one of the top hitters in baseball at that point, a cheaper final year arbitration contract instead of the $20 million-plus he will likely earn on the free agent market.
For the White Sox to pull a Kris Bryant on Moncada, the earliest he could be called up is May 15. This is because Moncada earned 31 days of service time with the Red Sox last season that have to be accounted for. If the White Sox wait until at least May 15, then Moncada will be under team control until 2022, giving them team control through Moncada’s age-28 season. It would be stupid to call him up any earlier, and I don’t envision a scenario where Rick Hahn does it.
Super Two Considerations
Another wrinkle to keep in mind is the ‘Super Two’ cutoff. Ordinarily, a player must earn three service years before he is eligible for three years of salary arbitration. This means three years of ‘pre-arbitration’ salary in the league-minimum $550,000 range, followed by three years of increasing (and much larger) arbitration awarded salaries. For example, Dallas Keuchel was awarded $7.25 million for his first year of arbitration in 2016.
However, the top 22% of players in service time between their second and third years of service are eligible for an extra year of arbitration instead of a third year of ‘pre-arbitration’ salary. These are commonly referred to as ‘Super Two’ players. Essentially, calling a potential ‘Super Two’ player up too early costs the team an extra year of a extremely cheap, team determined salary.
The Super Two cutoff changes each year, but it’s generally lower than the 120 days of service time. For the White Sox to avoid a Super Two designation for Moncada, they would need to hold off on calling him up until around the All-Star break. Again, it would make the most sense for the White Sox to be patient and hold Moncada at Charlotte until after the Super Two cutoff. However, if Moncada continues putting up good numbers at AAA, it will be much more difficult for the White Sox to leave him there until mid-July as opposed to mid-May.
Where’s he going to play?
While some scouts pushed for Moncada to see playing time as a CF, the White Sox clearly see him as a 2B. Moncada has played nearly all of his innings in the White Sox organization at 2B. Which is a shame, because the White Sox CF depth chart is unsettled at best.
Jacob May earned the starting CF job out of spring training, but he’s 0-for-26 at the plate so far and counting. Charlie Tilson was projected to be the opening day CF, but he just got moved to the 60-day DL because he’s still dealing with a ‘stress reaction’ in his foot that the team claims is definitely not a stress fracture. Sure, whatever. Leury Garcia has been seeing time in center but his defense just isn’t there. In short, CF is a mess and Moncada wouldn’t be taking anyone’s playing time if he slotted in there. But he hasn’t been getting the reps in CF so far at Charlotte, and I don’t see the Pale Hose just throwing him in there at the MLB level.
If Moncada gets called up to play 2B he will bump Tyler Saladino from his regular spot. Saladino is a below average hitter but he’s got a great glove. In 2016 he earned 1.2 WAR, making him a league-average player. A Moncada call-up would turn Saladino into a utility-man, something that I think the Sox should think twice about.
Are we there yet?
No. But my best guess is Moncada gets called up on or shortly after the May 15 service year cutoff to be the White Sox everyday second baseman. He’s forcing the issue with his play at AAA-Charlotte. Additionally, the White Sox need to give their fans a reason to continue coming to the ballpark, which I think will become more difficult as the season and rebuild wears on. Moncada is an exciting player who can put fans (such as myself) in the seats.
For fantasy players in standard re-draft leagues, I’d strongly consider picking up Moncada and stashing him for the next 3 weeks or so if he’s still available on the waiver wire. He’s got the chance to be an everyday player that can contribute with power and steals for the rest of the season. For dynasty players who own Moncada, you only need to wait a few more weeks to use your prized asset.
Hang in there kids, we’re almost there.
Article featured image of Yoan Moncada – courtesy MLB.com