Yoan Moncada’s journey from Cuba to Fort Myers has simultaneously been well documented and, as with so many Cuban defectors, shrouded in mystery. I, on the other hand, had only to forego a Friday night of debauchery*, respond to a 5 a.m. alarm clock, and make the cross-state trip through Alligator Alley in order to see the Red Sox newest acquisition in action for the first time.
*And let’s face it, I still debaucherized a little.
I awoke in the dark to an obscenity-laced text from members of the prospect team who had arrived out in Arizona the night before and sent their love. I grabbed my stopwatch, note pad, and coffee, and was out the door on my way to the second professional workout of the young man we’d all spent the last few months speculating upon, but about whom we still knew very little.
There are no rosters on the back fields in spring training, no programs given out, no PA announcers directing traffic. The typically intimate setting usually draws only a few fans; only this was Fenway South on a Saturday, with a big-ticket prospect being shown off for the first time to boot. Unsurprisingly, there was quite a crowd.
There are names on the back of the Red Sox spring training jerseys, but lettering wasn’t necessary to figure out which one was the man so many had driven to see. From a purely physical standpoint, Moncada stood out among the crowd of fellow post-pubescents. The phrase “man amongst boys” gets overused. In this case, it was more like a well-developed Cuban redwood nestled amongst the Florida palms.
The polyester pants of a uniform don’t exactly flaunt the physique, so when quad and hamstring muscles are evident through the slack of a pair of baseball pants, we can be assured of a strong lower half. Moncada fills out his uniform as though a tailor took it in. The physical development is evident from the moment he walks on the field. He’s simply not built like your average 19-year-old, and when surrounded by them, the comparison is striking.
The Red Sox didn’t pay him $31.5 million to look good in his uniform though, and the anxious crowd awaited some kind of baseball-related action from their newest obsession. There wasn’t a lot to speak of, as the Red Sox still have Moncada in the “plastic goldfish bag inside the tank” phase of his immersion into professional life. He’s out on the field, he’s participating in drills with his teammates, he’s throwing, catching and hitting baseballs, but it’s being done at a measured pace.
There is a sense of trying to run before he’s ready to walk from Moncada, the result of a player itching to dive head first into the deep end after 14 months away from the competitive field. The rust is evident, as is his propensity for flair, enough that he could easily work at Chotchkie's without any pestering from his boss. Routine ground balls at second base being fielded off to the side, flipped to first with the glove hand, and kicked around a few times were the result of youthful exuberance mixed with rust, but drew the ire of the chronologically advanced crowd of spectators who were already wondering what $31.5 million buys a team these days. Welcome to Boston, kid.
Anyone who gave up on the day at that point, however, missed out on the real show. Batting practice was next, and for the first time all morning there were no restraints on Moncada. Batting practice was full bat speed ahead.
If his ability wasn’t obvious before from the way he looked or moved around the field, it smacked you in the face like the smell of onions in a deli once he stepped into the batter’s box. The switch-hitting Moncada offers a similar swing from both sides of the plate, with a short, violent, powerful stroke ended with a two-hand finish. As Herb Brooks fictitiously once said, “the legs feed the wolf,” which accurately, if not serendipitously, describes Moncada’s swing.
At first look, despite their similarities, his left-handed swing appears to be further along than its right-handed counterpart. Shorter and more compact, the left-handed version is more direct to the ball and has more natural uppercut, creating a backspin which allows the ball to carry further, and in at least one instance on this sunny Florida morning, over the fence and off the Red Sox indoor hitting facility in right-center field. Both swings, however, are oozing with potential, the combination of strength and refinement you don’t typically see from 19-year-olds.
Which is why there is so much hype surrounding Moncada’s every move. The hype is warranted, and despite their best efforts to dispel the commotion and promote the idea that he’ll need extended time in the minors to develop, it’s clear from a few swings on a field and a few ground balls that he’s further along than the rest of his age group.
The Red Sox are still easing him in, withholding him from intrasquad game action later that morning as they get him back up to game speed. They’ve announced their intention to start him in Low-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League, but he will force their hand before long. There will be developmental hurdles along the way, and despite all of his physical tools, he’s still 19 and almost a year-and-a-half removed from game competition, but one look at Yoan Moncada showed why the hype will be difficult to fend off.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now