FORT MYERS, Fla. — Yoan Moncada hopes to reach the major leagues by next season. For now, the Red Sox plan to start the 19-year-old Cuban star in one of the lowest levels of the minor leagues.
The Red Sox unveiled their $63 million investment Friday during a press conference at JetBlue Park. Now comes the hard part: showing he’s worth the money,
“I’m just really looking forward to getting back on the field and playing baseball,” said Moncada via a translator. “I’ve gone so long since I’ve actually been able just to go out and play. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of being with this organization.”
The Red Sox outbid the Yankees, Padres, and other teams, signing Moncada to a record $31.5 million signing bonus. The Sox made the deal knowing they would have to pay an additional $31.5 million to Major League Baseball by July 30 for exceeding spending limits on international amateur players.
“First of all, we believe he’s certainly one of the few most talented 19-year-olds in the world,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “He’s got a unique combination of skills. Great athlete, speed, switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate, defensive skills, the athletic ability to play multiple positions if he had to.
“He’s going to enter into our minor league system and, like everyone else, there’s still development to do. He’s a developing baseball player but he’s an exceptionally talented one.
“We believe he can be a very good major league player for a long time and we’re committed to helping him get there in the right way.”
Moncada reported to minor league camp earlier this week and will eventually be assigned to one of the team’s minor league affiliates. Cherington said that would likely be low Single A Greenville.
“My goal is to see if I can make it to the big leagues in a year,” said Moncada. “I know not having played for so long it’s understandable that it might take more time than that.”
Moncada has not played competitively in 14 months and will get whatever preparation is required in spring training before joining a team.
“I don’t think we have any timeline,” Cherington said. “We’re not setting a floor or a ceiling on what his development path looks like. One of the benefits of this atypical contract is that we have time.
“We fully expect his talent will force him towards the big leagues at the right time.”
Moncada is a “natural second baseman” according to Cherington and will start out at that position in the minors. At 6 feet and 215 pounds, he could eventually be shifted elsewhere. Moncada has played third base, shortstop, and center field during his career.
“If I need to work on those other positions, I will,” he said.
Cherington said obtaining Moncada “has been an atypical scouting and signing process.” That is very much an understatement.
A Red Sox scout first saw Moncada play in person in 2010 during a tournament in Mexico. Director of international scouting Eddie Romero then traveled to the Netherlands and Taiwan in 2013 to see him.
“There was no doubt the tools stood out,” Romero said. “There was an aggressiveness and an excitement to his game. There was a lot of hype. Everybody knew this was a very interesting player to follow.”
Moncada left Cuba in June and is believed to have spent two months in South America before establishing residency in Guatemala sometime in August.
Unlike other prominent Cuban players who defected, Moncada was allowed to leave the country with a passport and visa. During the press conference, Moncada deflected two questions about how that happened.
“Thankfully I’ve been able to work my way here,” he said.
His agent, David Hastings, also declined to answer.
“I didn’t know Yoan until he landed in a country outside of Cuba,” Hastings said. “I don’t know anything about that process to land outside of Cuba.”
When a reporter attempted to ask Moncada for a third time how he came to leave Cuba, Romero interrupted to say Moncada wouldn’t be answering that question.
It’s also unclear how Moncada came to be represented by Hastings, a certified public accountant from Gulfport, Fla., with no previous experience in baseball.
Hastings said a client referred him to Moncada. He would not identify who that was.
“I was asked not to mention their name,” Hastings said.
Hastings would not identify the nationality of that person or whether they were related to Moncada.
“Today is about Yoan’s future in Boston, his future career,” Hastings said. “I’d rather keep it at that.”
Hastings and his wife, Josefa Gonzalez Hastings, are listed as officers in a company called Baseball Divas with 31-year-old Nicole Banks, a California-based player agent. In December, Vice Sports reported that Moncada and Banks were once listed as perspective parents on an online baby registry.
The Red Sox also signed outfielder Carlos Mesa to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old Cuban has been described as one of Moncada’s mentors. Mesa was in the Pittsburgh organization for four seasons and did not advance beyond Single A ball before being released.
Mesa, also represented by Hastings, played briefly with an independent team last season and hit .204.
Cherington said signing Mesa was not a requirement for signing Moncada.
“It was our choice,” he said. “There was no condition either way.”
The Sox got to know Mesa through the process of evaluating Moncada and see the value of having him in the organization.