SAN DIEGO — In a game representing baseball’s brightest future players, Yoan Moncada shone more brightly than anyone. The Red Sox’ top prospect blasted a second-deck, two-run homer to left-center in San Diego’s Petco Park, part of a 2-for-5 day that also included a stolen base to earn MVP honors and propel the World Team to an 11-3 victory in the All-Star Futures Game.
In some ways, it seems unsurprising that Moncada dazzled in the spotlight. After all, the 21-year-old second baseman, currently with the Red Sox’ Double A Portland affiliate, has long since embraced his position in it, dating to his celebrated showcase circuit for major league executives en route to a record-setting $31.5 million signing bonus from the Red Sox last March.
“I feel good [about the attention]. I feel happy. I don’t feel anything negative. It’s always positive,” Moncada said through a translator prior to his performance in the Futures Game. “It’s good for people to get to know me.”
That view, in turn, helps to define the unlikeliness in his pairing with a fellow top prospect on the fast track with the Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi, who turned 22 last week, took a break from his status as Moncada’s Portland teammate on Sunday to play opposite him in the Futures Game, going 0 for 3. Though the duo shares elite prospect billing and tremendous on-field ability, those are perhaps their only commonalities.
Moncada may be the biggest head-turner in the minors right now, in a year where his dominant performance in High A Salem and Double A Portland (a .312 average, .415 OBP, .532 slugging mark, nine homers, and 40 steals) has validated the view of him as a potential star. Baseball America just named Moncada the top prospect in the minors at the season’s midpoint. The switch-hitter’s imposing physical frame distinguishes him from the instant he steps on a field.
“He was a premium dude [as an amateur],” said one big league executive whose team pursued Moncada as an amateur. “He’s turned into a premium dude [as a professional].”
“I think he hit an opposite-field home run. I was like, ‘This guy has some real oppo juice,’ ” said Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens, recalling the first time he saw Moncada play against him in Double A. “I was like, ‘This guy is huge, with a big, aggressive swing.’ I recognized the name, and I was like, ‘I think he’s on a big league rehab.’ I thought he was a big league rehab guy — until I found out, he wasn’t.”
He isn’t yet, but Moncada certainly looks the part of a big leaguer, and he carries himself with the certainty that his natural abilities will play at any level. Moncada described himself as a “five-tool player,” with all of his tools being “advanced.”
Benintendi has an ever more refined game that is considered extremely well-rounded. Yet the outfielder is so undersized that talent evaluators often do a double take the first time they see him, wanting to make sure that the prospect about whom they’ve heard so much is the same one whose jersey always seems a bit too big. Whereas Moncada’s on-field ability matches expectations based on what he looks like, Benintendi — listed at 5 feet 10 inches, 170 pounds — defies assumptions.
“You look at him like, ‘He’s the guy who hit 20 bombs?’ ” mused Rays pitching prospect Ryne Stanek, who worked out with Benintendi at the University of Arkansas in 2013, the fall of the outfielder’s freshman year and after Stanek had been taken in the first round.
Benintendi, a 2015 Red Sox first-rounder, admits that his comfort is on the field, where he is hitting .311/.376/.526 with 43 extra-base hits (ninth in the minors) between Salem and Portland this year.
The attention he might glean based on what he does there is foreign.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m not a fan of all the attention and the media, stuff like that, but I understand it’s part of it and I have to do it,” said Benintendi, ranked the No. 9 prospect in the minors in Baseball America’s midyear evaluation. “I come from a pretty humble family and I try to be a humble guy.”
Despite their distinguishing traits, however, Moncada and Benintendi share the traits of on-field excellence and belief in their abilities. Barely one full year into their pro careers, both are inspiring conversation about whether they might be ready to reach the big leagues this year, particularly after Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted a degree of comfort with promoting players directly from Double A.
“I think I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about [getting to the big leagues],” acknowledged Benintendi. “I’m very confident [about being able to succeed at any level]. I think if you’re not confident, you’re not in the right place.”
More likely than not, for all their differences, Moncada and Benintendi seem destined to continue their dizzying ascent to the game’s highest level, their presence at the Futures Game intensifying the sense that their big league futures could be coming soon.