So here we are again in September, and for the first time in a long time the Red Sox enter the most exciting stretch of the baseball season with hope. There are just 29 games left to be played and the Sox find themselves two games behind Toronto in the American League East and two games ahead in the race for the AL’s two wild card spots.
In other words, the Red Sox start the final full month of the season with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. As we all know, the team hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2013, which is probably why, even more than usual during a pennant drive, every win right now seems like the beginning of some grand new future, and every loss feels like the end of everything. It is also, I suspect, why the Sox decided to call up Yoan Moncada.
Moncada, of course, is the team’s top prospect — some evaluators rank him as the best prospect in all of baseball — and without question, he is a talent to behold.
There is at least some chance that Moncada could, in a few years, be the Red Sox best player, better even than Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts. However unlikely that outcome, it is within the realm of possibility given Moncada’s power, speed, throwing arm, positional flexibility, and overall poise. At 21, he has the air of a winner.
Little wonder, then, that the team made the decision this week to promote Moncada from AA Portland to the major leagues now that the major league roster has expanded from 25 to 40 players. He is scheduled to join the team on Friday.
“We’ve talked about Yoan, and not just as a pinch-runner,” Sox manager John Farrell told reporters earlier this week, according to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “That’s an exciting young player, an extremely talented guy, there’s all positive reviews and evaluations of him."
A Moncada promotion has been widely anticipated since the organization began working the second baseman out at third, a position of immediate need for the Red Sox, a couple of weeks ago. After all, why institute a switch of positions so late in the season if you’re not going to bring Moncada up this year?
It’s the same strategy the team employed with another top prospect, Andrew Benintendi, a centerfielder who began playing leftfield in Portland prior to being called up to the Red Sox a month ago. Benintendi flourished for the Sox prior to spraining his knee on Aug. 24, slashing an impressive .324/.365/.485 in 68 at bats while playing fine defense in left.
With his superior package of skills, it’s understandable that the Red Sox see the potential for a similar effect from a Moncada call-up. The problem, though, is that Moncada is not as polished as Benintendi at this point in his development. It’s true that he statistically out performed Benintendi at Portland, but he’s nearly a year younger, he didn’t play in a top U.S. college program, and he missed essentially all of 2014.
None of that is to say that Moncada won’t become an excellent major leaguer. There is every chance that he will. But exactly when is unclear. His game needs work. A switch hitter, he has destroyed right-handed pitching in AA, posting a .314/.409/.584 slash-line with nine home runs in 137 at bats while batting lefty. From the other side of the plate, though, he has struggled: .171/.310/.400 with two home runs in 35 at bats.
And though his athleticism and renowned drive for greatness bode well for his future abilities as a third baseman, he is new to the position and was, to some degree, still working on his development as a second baseman prior to making the switch.
I imagine that the Red Sox see something special in Moncada’s make-up. And let’s hope so, because the smooth major league transitions of Betts and Benintendi have been the exception rather than the rule during recent Red Sox history. Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Christian Vasquez, and just about every pitcher in the organization have all experienced struggles during their early exposure to the big leagues.
Judging by Farrell’s comments, though, the move is being considered not because it’s the best thing for Moncada’s development but because a team that is trying to make the playoffs after consecutive last place finishes has a desperate need for offense from third base.
“We need better production,” Farrell told the reporters Tuesday.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with throwing a talented young player into the fire before he’s fully ready. It can be argued, in fact, that such a move can actually aid the development process.
But as the Red Sox have seen, it can also just as easily impede it. Young players are unpredictable and not all of them respond well to the pressures of being asked to win now.
The Red Sox, with perhaps the finest collection of young stars in the game, are well set up to compete for championships for the next several years. Let’s hope bringing Moncada up this season won't negatively affect those that are still to come.
John Wolfson spends a lot of time thinking about the Boston Red Sox, politics, current events, and poker. He is the editor of Tufts Magazine and the former editor of Boston magazine. His writing has appeared in publications including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times.