Yes, Yoan Moncada is striking out a lot, but Rick Renteria sees a silver lining: 'In the long run, I think it's going to help him'

Vinnie Duber
NBC Sports Chicago

Box scores don't always tell the entire story, and there are parts of players' development that can be hard to see, even for those who watch on a daily basis.

One thing that has not escaped White Sox fans and observers: Yoan Moncada strikes out, and he strikes out a lot. The 23-year-old second baseman leads baseball in the category with a whopping 161 of them, putting him on pace to strike out 236 times this season, or 13 more than baseball's single-season record.

Moncada came in as one of the 2018 White Sox biggest faces after earning the title of No. 1 prospect in baseball last year, but it's important to remember that he's only in his first full season in the big leagues. He's not a finished product, and what he does as a 23-year-old in 2018 won't be what he does years down the line, when the White Sox rebuild is hoped to yield a perennial contender. All these strikeouts are almost certainly part of the developmental process for this young player.

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But he's striking out a lot.

The White Sox are taking steps to try to cut down on the number of "Ks," be they swinging or looking. It's the strikeouts looking that have generated the most attention, and the White Sox are asking Moncada to be more aggressive. It's a delicate balance, of course, because Moncada's eye and his understanding of the strike zone are part of what make him such a promising young player. But pitchers seem to be taking advantage of that, and their ability to paint the corners in two-strike counts have Moncada striking out looking often.

Lately, he's been striking out in big numbers, with five games with at least three strikeouts in his last eight.

Moncada, batting .114 since the All-Star break, knows he's in a slump.

"I think right now I'm not feeling as good as I was feeling probably a couple of weeks ago," he said through a team translator Wednesday. "I'm just trying to be more aggressive, especially with two strikes, try to defend a little better, have more good at-bats. Right now I'm not feeling as good with my approach at home plate. That's probably one of the reasons that I've been striking out more than I want to."

While White Sox fans, understandably, are looking at all these strikeouts and believing them to be a bad thing, manager Rick Renteria believes this is a stretch that will have positive effects on Moncada in the long term. This season is all about development, more so than it is about where the White Sox will finish in the standings. If growing pains come now for these young players, the lessons learned could pay off down the road. That's what Renteria - who's said on numerous occasions that he and the team would like Moncada to be more aggressive at the plate - is predicting for his second baseman.

"At some point you hit a point of frustration where you say, ‘Man, I have to pull the trigger on particular pitches.' I think he's finally reached that point," Renteria said after Moncada's four-strikeout night against the New York Yankees on Tuesday. "So now it's about getting over that and seeing himself defend and battle and put balls in play and fight pitches. He has a great eye on balls for everything in the zone. Now it's about battling tough pitches in certain situation.

"To be honest, this is good for him. He's going to start to understand there is another phase to hitting beyond having a good eye."

Tuesday night, Renteria was asked if Moncada has been hesitant to change his approach from patient to aggressive, and the manager answered that Moncada has been. But Moncada is, at least in his comments to reporters, buying in to a more aggressive approach and even attributed a hot streak to close out the first half (a .356 batting average over the final 12 games prior to the All-Star break) to being more aggressive.

He said Wednesday he's got to get back to being more aggressive.

"There was a time a few weeks ago I was being aggressive and I got good results. I lost that aggressiveness," he said. "Now that is what I'm fighting through, to regain that aggressiveness again and to start producing at the level I know I can produce."

Moncada has certainly had his flashes of brilliance this season and has experienced stretches of the kind of success that generated huge preseason expectations in the first place. But the strikeouts have been glaring at times. Right now is one of those times.

Plenty of All-Star players have had their own early-career troubles with strikeouts and turned it around. Kris Bryant led baseball in strikeouts during his rookie season and has seen those numbers go down each year since. So suggesting that Moncada will have these issues for the remainder of his career is a stretch at this point.

Not that Moncada is hearing anyone outside the organization suggest that - or anything else.

"I don't focus on that," he said. "My focus is on the game. Just to come here and do my best. I don't know what people on the outside are saying."

Moncada's numbers so far this season have not been what fans expected after he arrived on the South Side with much fanfare last summer. He carried a .217/.300/.391 slash line into Wednesday's game. But the White Sox rebuilding effort has provided these young players, especially the ones already at the major league level, with plenty of time to develop into the kinds of players they'll be when the games mean a whole lot more, when championships are in reach.

Perhaps all these strikeouts are just a side effect of Moncada's personal development process.

"In the long run," Renteria said, "I think it's going to help him."

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