In February of 2015, 19-year old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada agreed to a contract with the Boston Red Sox that included a $31.5 million signing bonus. In the 18 months that have elapsed since then, the baseball world has anticipated his arrival to its biggest stage and, this weekend, it’s going to get what it wants.
While we’ve all understandably been following and analyzing his progress and development in anticipation of things to come, possibly lost on us has been that Yoan Moncada is already a significant historical figure in baseball’s history. His departure from Cuba with the country’s unexplained blessing came at a time when the public was just beginning to understand what his predecessors and their families endured during their defections just as relations between the island and the United States began to change. He symbolizes the end of a historic era of Cuban baseball excellence, the most remarkable talent in a wave of defectors who have left the country, at least momentarily, dry.
His delivery to America and, eventually, the major leagues was preordained. There was too much money on the table for all parties involved for Moncada to take a bow behind an isolated archipelagian curtain. Unlike several supreme Cuban baseball talents who preceded him, American baseball fans are fortunate that they don’t have to ask themselves, “What if?” as they do with players like Yulieski Gurriel, Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez who debuted stateside past their primes, in their 30s. They instead have been asking, “When?”
Moncada’s relevance extends beyond international baseball popular culture and deep into the business end of things. He is so talented that, at the age of just 18, he shined a very public light on a multi-billion-dollar business’s flaccid and discriminatory system designed specifically to suppress the wages of teenage Latin American ball players by single-handedly pushing it to its limit. He forced Major League executives to confront a once-in-history scenario, a stoned sports fan’s hypothetical question about loopholes and generational talents: “How much money is the best teenager on the planet worth, up front?”
His courtship and ultimate price tag were likely the last straw for those in baseball’s seats of power who would like to see an International Draft implemented and the $31.5 million the Red Sox paid in tax when they signed Moncada, which ended up in a Bridge to Nowhere bank account at MLB, will likely help fund the infrastructure needed for one. Even if Yoan Moncada is snatched into the æther by unknown forces in the next several hours and never sets foot on a major-league field, he’ll still have had more of an impact on the game than a lot of multi-time All Stars.
All of this feels secondary as we enter the final month of regular season play and Moncada, now 21, ascends amidst a crowded race at the top of the American League East and a crowded collection of talent in Boston that will force Moncada from second base to, primarily, third base. For now. He has posted a .285/.388/.547 line at Double-A Portland despite a nearly 31% strikeout rate. Moncada is so talented that he’ll probably find a way to contribute to Boston’s postseason cause despite issues with swing-and-miss.
Moncada has an elite athletic body at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. If you were to make physical comparisons to other players, you wouldn’t be able to name very many before being forced to veer into other sports. The quality of Moncada’s contact in my looks at him has been so good as to not necessitate a full-effort sprint to first base and, as such, I have no in-person run time to report, but he very clearly has plus-plus straight-line speed. It is that speed that has allowed him to steal 94 bases in 186 career minor-league games at an 86% success rate.
Some think Moncada will retain that speed for quite a while, convinced that his body is mostly maxed out and/or that he’s explosive enough to run well even if he does fill out some more. Others think he’ll slow down as he ages, the same way Mike Trout has, and still have impactful (but no longer elite) speed. I tend to fall into the latter camp because Father Time will come for us all, including Yoan Moncada’s legs, but I do think he’ll be at least a plus runner deep into his 20s.
Moncada’s speed and athleticism gives Boston some options. He’s obviously blocked at second base by icon and potential future Hall of Famer Dustin Pedroia but has the arm to kick over to third base (which seems to be the plan for now as Moncada has played third in each of his last nine minor-league games) and enough speed to play all three outfield positions (no, not at the same time) should the unlikely need arise. Though his infield actions are sometimes clunky and inefficient, especially around the second-base bag, things aren’t so bad that Moncada is a lost cause as an infielder and should be average at second base, long term.
Of course, Moncada need only tap into a fraction of his offensive talent to justify playing a middle-infield position every day. He has plus bat speed from the left side and extreme hip rotation during his swing which helps him generate all-fields power as a left-handed hitter. His swing from that side is geared for low-ball contact and his bat control is middling, which is a large part of why he has struck out so much. Moncada’s swing from the right side is more conservatively planed, has average bat speed and relies on punishing mistakes up in the zone. We’ve seen him do that.
He has plus raw power from both sides of the plate and arguably grades above that from the left side. Even with an above-average strikeout rate factored into his hit tool’s grade, I think Moncada is a future plus hitter because, when he does connect, he’s vaporizing baseballs into play. He has a .371 career BABIP in the minor leagues over an 850-PA sample and, while that number is undoubtedly inflated by the quality of minor-league defenses, that sample size is quite large and the BABIP would be fifth among qualified MLB hitters this season. I think it’s reasonable to say Moncada’s career rate will rest, at the very least, comfortably above the league-average .300 mark.
A plus-hitting middle infielder with plus raw and game power as well as 70-grade wheels is basically in-his-prime Ian Kinsler, except faster. That’s really good, and Moncada is debuting three years earlier than Kinsler, who is still stroking it at age 34, did. This is the best prospect in baseball, a player I think will be a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP type of talent, with tools so deafeningly loud that it may be a while before we hear the echoes of his historical significance.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.