While the Red Sox haven’t made a final determination – or at least aren’t yet ready to announce one – about whether or not they’ll call up Yoan Moncada, manager John Farrell acknowledged that the team is having conversations about whether its top prospect might represent an antidote to the struggles of the big league team at third base.
“We’ve talked about Yoan, and not just as a pinch-runner,” said Farrell. “That’s an exciting young player, an extremely talented guy, there’s all positive reviews and evaluations of him. When that major league experience will initiate, time will tell that, but in terms of playing the position of third base, yes, that conversation has been had.”
Major league rosters can expand from 25 to 40 players on Sept. 1. The minor league season, meanwhile, is winding down to its final days (Double A Portland, for whom Moncada is currently playing, wraps up its season on Labor Day).
Those landmarks on the calendar come at a time when Moncada has started getting frequent exposure to third base, having played each of his last nine games there for Portland, dating to August 12. The position of third base has been a black hole for the Red Sox in the second half, with the team’s third base combination of Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, and Brock Holt combining to post a .186/.265/.309 line – the worst marks in the American League in all three categories.
“We need better production,” said Farrell. “I think if you were to ask any of those guys, they would concur.”
Moncada represents a potential answer. He’s hitting .288 with a .388 OBP and .547 slugging mark along with 11 homers in 44 games for the Sea Dogs. Of late, he’s also shown a more disciplined approach at the plate, with 13 walks (as well as 15 strikeouts) in his last nine contests.
“That’s a sign that he’s continuing to work to try to control the zone and get pitches he can handle,” Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator Greg Norton said recently of Moncada’s walk-rate spike. “When he’s able to do that, he has some scary talent with the bat.”
Moncada is also viewed as a potential impact baserunner, who is 9-for-13 (69 percent success rate) on steals in Portland and 45-for-57 (79 percent) for the season between Portland and High A Salem. Though the switch-hitter has shown enormous left/right splits, hitting righties at a .314/.409/.584 clip with nine homers while posting .171/.310/.400 marks against lefties, even the idea that he could make a mark as a platoon contributor is enticing to Farrell, who cited the potential gains of adding a top prospect in the middle of a pennant race.
“Absolutely, there is [a jolt of energy from a call-up],” said Farrell. “You’ve got a newness element to it. You’ve got likely above-average speed. You’ve got athleticism. You’ve got the unknown across the field of how does a certain team look to attack that guy, so does that give the upper hand to the young position player? In the cases that we’ve talked about, it has been advantageous to us or beneficial for the young player to come up. I don’t want to say they’re overlooked, but they find a way to contribute in a meaningful way. Without saying that it’s a definite, it has a lot going for it.”
Farrell said early returns on Moncada’s work at third base – a position he played in Cuba – suggested he has the range, athleticism, and arm for the position, and that the primary point of emphasis for him is the refinement of fundamentals. While rough edges remain in Moncada’s game, there is also upside to what he might be able to add to the Sox’ mix at this stage of the season. Farrell cited past precedents such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Xander Bogaerts, both of whom played key roles in the postseason after coming up from the minors late in the year.
“For those who have been around this team for a number of years, teams that have had success have always had an injection of young players late in the season that have helped carry a team through the postseason,” said Farrell. “I think Yoan would be in a similar category of when [Pedroia] and [Ellsbury] came to the big leagues, when [Bogaerts] came to the big leagues. [Andrew] Benintendi is obviously already here. I wouldn’t separate him out from that comparison at all. In fact, he’s a direct comparison.”
No later than next week (when Portland’s season ends), and perhaps even by the weekend (when the Sox open a series in Oakland on Friday), it will become clear whether the Red Sox think the time to make that “direct comparison” starts now.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.