White Sox star Yoán Moncada bouncing back to 2019 levels

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Vinnie Duber
·4 min read
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Moncada well on his way to bouncing back to 2019 levels originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It's only spring training, but there's plenty of reason to believe that Yoán Moncada is well on his way to a bounce-back season.

Things have to go better for him than they did during the shortened 2020 campaign, when he was unable to shake the aftereffects of his preseason COVID-19 infection. He described a "daily battle" to find the energy to do just about anything required of him on the field, most noticeable when he was getting fanned by former manager Rick Renteria in the dugout after a trip around the bases in Cleveland.

But Moncada has been a different man this spring, the mere presence of energy an obvious change in the player we saw last year. When he stole a base in his first Cactus League game, it said everything. That energy was back. He was back.

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In baseball, however, truly being "back" means production.

Moncada broke out with a big 2019 season that had plenty pegging him as a future MVP type. This spring, he's looked far more 2019 than 2020, and so, too, have the numbers. Heading into Saturday's game, he owned a .295/.426/.500 slash line with a home run and six doubles. He had seven walks compared to 10 strikeouts.

We'll pump the breaks on saying that a .926 spring OPS means he'll surpass the .915 number he put up in 2019. But to say that Moncada could be even better than he was two years ago is no stretch, now that his energy has returned.

"You know what? I feel better. I feel better than I felt in 2019," Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo while speaking with reporters Saturday. "I think I’m ready to just start playing games and start doing the things I know I can do. I definitely feel much better than I did in 2019.

"I know if I’m healthy I can play this game and I can do a lot of things. I think that’s what matters for me right now. I’m feeling good and just ready for the season to start."

While Moncada was already slated to play an obviously large role for a White Sox team with championship-level expectations — he seems destined to regularly serve as the cleanup hitter in Tony La Russa's batting order — he's one of several hitters who will need to step up in the absence of Eloy Jiménez, who will spend months, and perhaps the entire 2021 season, on the shelf.

The White Sox boasted the most powerful lineup in the American League last season even while Moncada struggled, not to mention while they saw a down year from Yasmani Grandal, a woeful second-half slump from Luis Robert and virtually non-existent performances from Edwin Encarnación and Nomar Mazara. But they'll have to find some way to make up for the gaping hole Jiménez's absence blows in their lineup.

That's where Moncada's bounce-back comes in.

"Eloy is a big part of this team. He’s one of our keys. We are going to miss him. I wish him the best," Moncada said. "But you know what? I think we all have to do our job. ... It’s not on us to try to do much. We have to do up to our capabilities."

That Moncada played through his physical challenges last season was amazing, especially when hearing his descriptions of how drained he was on a regular basis. And that, entirely, explained the severe drop in his numbers.

In addition to the return of his energy, though, is the consistent presence of the kind of thing that got those numbers up in the first place: work.

Lucas Giolito's offseason work between his dismal 2018 season and his All-Star year in 2019 have been far more documented. But Moncada's offseason work between those two campaigns, which included extra time spent practicing in Arizona, was just as transformative.

Well, he's still at it, exhibiting the kinds of qualities that made his mentor and locker buddy José Abreu an MVP.

And they could make the White Sox better able to weather Jiménez's absence and better able to meet their sky-high expectations.

"(He's) locked in," La Russa told reporters Saturday. "You float around and watch the work. In the cage, he’s by himself when nobody is there, getting extra work. All the drills we do, he’s not, 'Why we doing this?' He’s taking swings. He’s very exciting.

"He did something today that impressed all of us. We had two lineups made because we weren’t going to push it if he was going to play limping (after fouling a ball off his leg Friday). Trainer called him early, and he said, ‘No I’m in there.’ And he knows tomorrow is the last game before the day off. So being in that lineup today, where you have to drive to Scottsdale, tells a lot about where his head is.

"And it’s in a great place for us."

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