GLENDALE, Ariz. — There are scrappy, noisy gritty-gutty types who make their mark and then there’s the quiet smooth of Yoan Moncada.
“Chill” comes to mind watching Moncada go about his day. Big, strong, fast and talented, he looks like that guy who’s pulse is low and steady whether he’s walking to the clubhouse kitchen for an omelette or standing in the batter’s box facing Shane Bieber.
Which begged a question. Does anything ever upset you, Yoan?
“As long as you don’t mess around with me I don’t care,” Moncada said in an interview with the Sun-Times. “If you do, things change.”
The coronavirus messed with Moncada last season, and now he has a score to settle. He says he is feeling completely normal again after playing through effects of the virus, which drained his strength. Exit velocities off his bat were down, and Moncada didn’t attempt a stolen base.
“I don’t have any lingering issues, I have no concerns health-wise,” Moncada said through translator Billy Russo. “I feel very, very good and strong.”
So things are probably about to change. That .225/.320/.385 hitting line with six homers in 52 games in 2020, which followed .315/.367/.548 with 25 homers and 79 RBI in 2019 when he was arguably the Sox’ best player, will be there on his Baseball Reference page forever. They won’t put an asterisk by 2020, but it might always be known as an aberration.
“I don’t really pay attention to the stats or those numbers, especially last year’s numbers,” Moncada said. “Everybody knows how difficult it was and the problems I had. It was tough. But you learn from the past. That situation I went through put me in a better position for this year. To be more prepared for different things. One of the reasons I’m in a better position now is because of what I experienced. Hopefully, with God’s grace I will be able to prove and show what I can do.”
The switch-hitting Moncada is having a good spring. Batting fourth on most days in new manager Tony La Russa’s Cactus League lineups, Moncada reached base in his last 12 Cactus League games and took a .313/.450/.438 hitting line into the Sox’ game against the Giants Monday.
He said he’s ready for the season to begin right now. His goal?
“Stay healthy,” he said.
To underscore this is to report that Moncada emphasized staying healthy throughout the conversation. Keeping his hamstrings issue-free has been a point of emphasis since he missed three weeks with a strain in 2019 — when he put up the aforementioned numbers in 132 games.
“In my years in the majors something has always bothered me, I haven’t had a full season without any problems,” Moncada said. “There is always something. So the key is to stay healthy, and if I do I will be able to show what I can do.”
Mainly a top of the order hitter before now, La Russa said he likes a switch-hitter fourth, and Moncada strikes him as one who will produce more if asked to produce more.
“He has the ability to rise to the occasion and that’s what you look for in the middle of the lineup,” La Russa said.
Moncada isn’t making a big deal of batting cleanup, a spot he’s been slotted in 32 times in his career. He said he’s open to anywhere but he’s comfortable there.
“I like that slot,” he said.
And the Sox lineup looks deep, so hitting fourth won’t carry inordinate weight.
“Our lineup is a powerful lineup, one that will scare a lot of people,” Moncada said. “We’re second to none around the league. We’re going to do some damage.
“Everybody is working toward the common goal of the postseason and of course to win a World Series. This team has a lot of energy, and we need to stay healthy to sustain that energy through the whole season, and into the postseason. That’s when you’ll really need it. We know if we stay healthy we have a chance to win it all.”