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Yoan Moncada digs in on learning curve

Yoan Moncada has had a rough first month in the majors with four hits, 12 strikeouts, and 19 at-bats. File/Ben Margot/Associated press

Another swing. Another miss. Another strikeout.

Yoan Moncada’s transition to the big leagues hasn’t exactly been a smooth one. Pinch-hitting in the eighth inning of Monday’s game at Fenway Park, the 21-year-old Cuban struck out for the ninth straight at-bat.

Moncada, with just four hits in 19 at-bats since his big league debut Sept. 2, has spent more time on the bench than he has in the lineup. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t improving. He’s watching major league pitchers, major league hitters, and major league third basemen.

“I’m learning a lot from those guys,” Moncada said via an interpreter before Tuesday’s game against Baltimore. “Just things that on the outside looking in. You don’t think that you’re going to learn a lot about in the big leagues, but when you’re here you realize that there still is a lot more to learn. And these guys are helping me with that, giving me tips everyday and helping me out.”

After all, one of the most storied careers in recent baseball history began on the bench, as a 21-year-old Derek Jeter sat in the Yankees’ dugout during the 1995 American League Divisional Series. With just 15 major league games under his belt, he wasn’t listed on the roster — he was only brought along for the ride so he could experience postseason baseball in the big leagues.


At that point he wasn’t “Derek Jeter,” the 14-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion. He was just a kid — the same age as Moncada is now — who was eager to learn.

“Derek Jeter’s second year in professional baseball he made 56 errors in [Single A] Greensboro,” said Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield, who was the Yankees’ first base coach in 1995. “There’s always a learning curve. You got to go down before you go up and just about every player — guys that are in Cooperstown — have gone through that down phase.


“And [Moncada’s] just going through a little phase, it’s not a big deal. He’s got good teammates that pat him on the back and he’s got coaches that care about him, so he’s going to be fine.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s manager in 1995 and still believes in allowing young players to simply soak in everything the majors have to offer.

“I know it was important to us to expose Derek, and Jorge [Posada], and [Andy] Pettitte, and Bernie [Williams] — and I’m probably missing a couple — to that environment even if they weren’t active,” Showalter said.

“The game and the pitching is hard enough to adjust to. So when you can eliminate some of those things by exposing them to it, it can be advantageous.”

Butterfield acknowledged Jeter had an advantage over Moncada having spent four years in the Yankees’ minor league system as opposed to the two seasons Moncada has been with the Red Sox. The coach noted that playing in the Arizona Fall League and working with infield instructor Carlos Febles could significantly help Moncada’s development in the offseason.

“Yoan is still in that learning stage where the tools are there, he’s very strong, he’s got a strong arm, he can really run, he’s a quick-twitch athlete,” Butterfield said. “But he needs repetitions in the game and he needs to do some things to clean him up offensively and defensively mechanically.”


Moncada was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year on Tuesday. He hit .277 with 11 home runs, three triples, six doubles, and 28 RBIs in 45 games with Double A Portland after hitting .307 with 36 stolen bases in 61 games in High A Salem. He was called up to Boston with no Triple A experience .

“I’ve been very impressed with the kid,” Butterfield said. “He seems like a good kid, he’s got a twinkle in his eye. He wants to do the right thing, he asks questions. He’s hungry to work and whenever you have that type of guy with ability, you have a good student.

“If he can watch — and I think he’s a visual guy — the more he can watch and the more he can see and the more he can sit on the bench and really pay attention to the way things transpire in the game, the quicker he’s going to learn.”

Emily McCarthy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @emilymccahthy.