There was nothing unusual about the two-out, second-inning grounder hit by Ryon Healy to third base. It wasn’t hit overly hard. There wasn’t much spin. It was routine. It just clanged off the glove of Red Sox rookie third baseman Yoan Moncada in Sunday’s 1-0 walkoff loss to the Oakland A’s.
That can happen to a veteran major leaguer as well. But when the No. 1 prospect in major league baseball does it, one who has been hyped as tall as the Hancock Tower, you notice it just a little bit more.
Yet, it was an education; a game where Moncada learned a thing or two on the job. A learning experience in which he likely got closer to figuring out what the major leagues are all about.
We have seen the good — two more hits Sunday, four over the weekend batting eighth in the Sox lineup. We have seen a BB arm that gets the ball to first in a hurry. However, he has a penchant to hold on to the ball a tick too long. He hasn’t been victimized by it yet because his arm saves him, but one of these times he’s going to see a runner beat his arm because he held the ball too long.
This is a product of inexperience at the position, for one, and underestimating the speed of major league players for another.
And then there’s the base running. We’ve seen the plus-speed around the bases, even going through a Brian Butterfield stop sign Friday night and scoring easily. He’s already one of the fastest players in baseball. But in his first chance to be in a position to steal a base after a leadoff single in the third inning on Sunday, Moncada was picked off before A’s starter Kendall Graveman even threw a pitch to Jackie Bradley Jr.
Moncada stole 45 bases in the minors this season, so stealing bases is a big part of his offense. We were all looking forward to seeing that aspect of his game, but we didn’t see it for long on Sunday. Maybe it was being overaggressive on his lead and not knowing Graveman’s move to first, or simply reading it wrong, or simply zoning out for a second.
These are all things related to the speed of the major league game, which is a lot different than the speed of a Double A game, the highest level Moncada had known until his call-up on Friday.
These are all understandable issues the 21-year-old phenom must adapt to as he begins his major league career. There’s no reason for alarm because Moncada will figure it out. Of course, he’s figuring it out in the middle of a pennant race, so too many mistakes will likely cost him playing time. The Red Sox have veteran options in Aaron Hill and even Travis Shaw, so John Farrell doesn’t have to play him if the mistakes continue. There’s too much at stake.
On the other hand, he had two singles in four at-bats Sunday. He seemed to learn from his earlier issues and his defense got better.
When he singled in the seventh, Moncada already seemed to have learned from his second-inning mistake. He didn’t attempt anything early in Bradley’s at-bat, but then took off twice with great jumps as Bradley fouled off a couple of pitches before he walked to create a first-and-second, nobody-out situation in a scoreless game. Moncada advanced to third after a Dustin Pedroia fly out in the right-field corner, but was stranded.
In the bottom of the seventh, with the Sox trying to preserve Eduardo Rodriguez’s no-hit bid, Billy Butler hit a screaming line drive to third, which Moncada snared.
What a team wants from a kid coming up from the minors is a spark. For the most part, Moncada’s early experience has provided that. Andrew Benintendi gave the Red Sox a spark when he came up, but he, too, had his hiccups, including the ball he lost in the lights that cost the Sox a game. He also jumped over the fence to help win a game, so things evened out.
But even with the early error Sunday, Moncada got more confident in the field. He picked off the line drive, then handled two ground balls in the eighth to help Rodriguez get some quick outs in his quest for the no-hitter. On the two grounders, he didn’t hold the ball too long and again showed off his arm. He grounded out in the ninth, yet busted it down the line. It didn’t happen on Sunday, but he’ll force infielders into making bad throws at times because he’s so fast.
It was a great snapshot of a kid learning the major league game. The takeaways are that Moncada isn’t always going to play like a great prospect, that there’s still a learning curve, but he definitely doesn’t get down on himself.
Rather than fall apart, he picked himself up and made very good plays the rest of the way.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.