Two prisms colored all perceptions of the beginning of Yoan Moncada's minor league career with the Greenville Drive: A record-setting amount of money and suggestions of sky's-the-limit talent.
His performance from the time he joined the Single A Drive on May 18 through the South Atlantic League All-Star break nearly one month later aligned with neither. Moncada hit .200 with a .287 OBP and .289 slugging mark, the most noteworthy aspect of his statistical profile being the nine errors he committed in 18 games at second base.
Yet the evaluation of Moncada in terms related to his income, potential, or statistics ignored some critical context. Moncada, who turned 20 in late May, was dealing with human and on-field circumstances that made it challenging to perform immediately.
"I can't answer directly for Yoan, but personally, I can't imagine the adjustment that one would have to go through, that he's had to go through, since leaving Cuba," said Moncada's agent, David Hastings.
"Leaving his parents, going to different countries, establishing permanent residency, coming to the United States, going through all of the different tryouts we had, meeting all the people, signing with Boston, going out to live in [Fort Myers, Fla.], being a little bit disappointed that he wasn't shipped up with the team at the beginning and was kind of held back to get more acclimated, taking English lessons, then going up to Greenville and having to work into the lineup after they'd already been playing for a month or two months . . .
"I just can't imagine the process that one has to go through to kind of feel a little bit more normal, just like everybody else."
Beyond that, there was the challenge to regain timing at the plate after a lengthy absence from full-speed competition. In particular, noted Greenville manager Darren Fenster, Moncada struggled to recognize breaking pitches — both expanding the strike zone and missing pitches that were in it. His timing was faulty.
Since the start of Greenville's second half, all that has changed.
Perhaps it was the opportunity for him to catch his breath during four days without games; perhaps it was the chance to spend time with teammate (and close friend) Carlos Mesa and his wife for a few days in what Hastings described as a "family atmosphere"; perhaps it was the move from the No. 6 slot in Greenville's batting order to a leadoff spot he'd often occupied in Cuba.
More likely, it was a little of everything that has allowed Moncada to play since the start of the second half like a singularly dynamic prospect whom the Sox deemed worthy of a record $31.5 million bonus.
In 13 second-half games entering Thursday night, he's looked like as impressive a prospect as there is in the Red Sox system, hitting .380 with a .458 OBP, .520 slugging mark, six extra-base hits (one more than he had in 25 first-half games), and 10 steals in as many attempts.
"He's been great since we got back here in the second half," said Fenster. "There's a lot of hard contact we hadn't seen early. There's just a lot more consistency in his overall approach . . . He's got game-changing speed on the bases. He's got the instincts to steal bags when I think everyone in the ballpark knows he's going to steal, which is not an easy thing to do.
"Defensively, his progression from when he first got to us in May compared to when we first saw him in spring training is incredible. And to where he is now vs. the beginning of May, it's just as significant."
The transition for Moncada is far from complete. He's still just four months into his pro career, and less than two months into his time in Greenville. But now, at least, there are glimpses of immense promise and the possibility of what may be coming.
"Don't get me wrong: There have been a lot of good things," said Fenster, "but there's a long way to go, still."
This Spinner’s got pop
Players rarely make it to Lowell at age 18. The ones who do rarely hit the ball hard enough to drive it over the fence. Yet outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe is doing both of those things, in a fashion that is without parallel in Spinners history.
On June 30, Basabe became the first player in Spinners history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. On Wednesday, he did it again. Through 17 games, he's already hit four homers — the most by an 18-year-old in Lowell since Steve Lomasney hit that many in 59 games in 1996.
"He's a strong guy," said Lowell hitting coach Iggy Suarez. "He swings the bat, and he has some pop. He keeps his swing short, and once it gets off that barrel, it kind of jumps. It surprises you. I guess it's surprising a lot of guys on the opposite team."
Basabe, listed at 6 feet and 160 pounds, is just starting to fill out, so there could be more power in the tank for a player hitting .271 with a .320 OBP and .514 slugging mark with four steals in six attempts.
Suarez spoke highly of Basabe's uncommonly mature ability to make adjustments at the plate, and of his overall skill set.
"He can hit for pop. He can run. He can throw from the outfield. He can go and get it," said Suarez. "There's a lot to his game."
Pity party in Pawtucket
The roster of Triple A Pawtucket features a wealth of highly regarded young players and longtime big leaguer, some of whom have enjoyed tremendous success. That's made the team's current tailspin almost shocking. Pawtucket had lost 11 straight games entering Thursday, just two defeats shy of the franchise's record losing streak set in 1985.
"When that team was originally assembled, you looked at the team on paper and you were like, 'This team can be incredible — one of the best minor league teams probably ever.
"Some guys have had some disappointing seasons," said Travis Shaw. Some guys are a little frustrated. It's also been a little bit of bad luck. "
Guys are hitting balls hard and not getting anything to show for it. It seems like everything that can go wrong goes wrong. You can't really put a finger on what it is."
"Obviously you've got guys going up and down. Opportunities have been there, so maybe guys have been pressing a little bit, seeing the opportunities that guys are getting. And then when guys come back down, certain guys, I know when I came back down, I hadn't played for seven or eight days. You're obviously a little rusty when you get back. No excuse. You've still got to try to find a way to get it done."
Quite a steal
Portland shortstop Marco Hernandez, the 22-year-old acquired from the Cubs as the player to be named for Felix Doubront, leads the Sox system with a career-high 29 extra-base hits and entered Thursday ranked second in the Eastern League with a .323 average . . . Righthander Anderson Espinoza continues to perform like few Sox pitching prospects in recent memory. The 17-year-old, in his first pro season, has tossed four shutout innings in each of his three starts in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. He's the youngest pitcher in the GCL.
Salem infielder Mauricio Dubon, who'd played at second and short since the start of the 2014 season, has reintroduced third base to his arsenal. Though off to a slow start in Salem, Dubon has impressed evaluators as a potential above-average starting infielder in the big leagues who combines good defense with above-average speed and the potential to be a gap hitter.
In the Dominican, 18-year-old Victor Garcia has a 0.36 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 25 innings. The strong, 6-3 righthander has worked at 92-95 miles per hour with his fastball while showing the makings of a three-pitch mix (curve and split-change). If he can harness his control, he has the physicality to be a potential starter.