“He’s an outstanding player and I’m going to be here right by his side to help him with anything he needs.”
The gleam in White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu’s eyes was unmistakable Wednesday afternoon as the media gathered around him to ask questions unrelated to him for nearly ten minutes. Abreu couldn’t have seemed more sincere and heartfelt when he spoke of new White Sox second baseman, friend, and fellow countryman Yoan Moncada.
Moncada was called up after a flurry of moves after Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. One of them included the recall of baseball’s number one prospect. Somehow, from the small Cuban town that is Cienfuegos, located about 150 miles from Havana, Abreu and Moncada managed to reunite. This time, on the game’s biggest stage.
“When I made my debut with this team Alexei [Ramirez] and [Adrian] Nieto were here and they helped me a lot to get through this new process, to get through that first season,” Abreu said recounting his White Sox debut in 2014. “I appreciate that. And that’s why now I want to give Moncada as much as I know and as much help as I can give him,” Abreu continued. “It’s an honor, to be playing with someone who is from my same country, and from my same town and that’s why I take a lot of pride in helping him to get better.”
Abreu even went as far as becoming Moncada’s personal driver, picking him up at the airport upon his arrival to Chicago. “I asked him in the morning if he can pick me up at the airport and he did it,” Moncada said. “I was glad to see him there and we talked a little about everything—nothing in specific.” These two go way back, Moncada remembers Abreu as “the superstar” of their hometown when he was just 15-years-old. “At that moment in Cuba, he was the best player in the country,” Moncada said.
The emotions flew in the clubhouse during this Dodgers series. Pregame Tuesday consisted of the media zooming in on how Todd Frazier handled trade rumours, and just 24-hours later, three vacant lockers that belonged to former teammates were quickly identifiable. All the while, the number one prospect in baseball was suddenly present in his new environment.
“Those are two different moments,” Abreu said of the quick turnover. “From one end we are saying goodbye to good friends, good teammates, people who you play with for two years and people that you care about. But on the other hand we are happy because Moncada was coming up. I was really happy for him and to have him here. But it was a very bittersweet situation.”
The energy around the ballpark was unmistakable, as fans gathered around to get a glimpse of Moncada on the field, shower him with boxes of Twinkies, his favorite snack, and to witness a turning point of the White Sox rebuild began to slowly take shape.
“I think it’s the beginning of what hopefully will be a transition from a lot of the youth we’ve been accumulating in the system,” Renteria said pre-game on Wednesday. “Everybody in the organization felt it was time for him to be a part of the White Sox.”
Despite the box score showing Moncada recording no hits and one walk in his debut, watching Moncada’s three plate appearances showed a strong and very disciplined plate approach.
Moncada’s saw an impressive nine pitches from Dodgers’ starter Kenta Maeda to start his White Sock career, and quickly found himself in an 0-2 count before working a walk, prompting what was likely the most heralded walk baseball has seen in quite a while. “I was excited, I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said of his first trip to the plate at the corner of 35th and Shields. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”
Moncada was also down 0-2 in his second plate appearance of the night, working himself to a 2-2 count before grounding out. He quickly got himself into a 2-0 count during his final plate appearance of the evening, one in which he would line out on a ball scorched to centerfield.
“I felt good. I think that I executed my plan,” Moncada said postgame. “I didn’t get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan. I was very comfortable with the strike zone. I was very aware of the strike zone.”
Manager Rick Renteria had high praise for his new second baseman after Wednesday’s rain shortened contest as well. “He looked very comfortable,” Renteria said. “Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”
The 9-1 loss may have been dismal for Carlos Rodon and the White Sox, but the South Side came away with true hope for their future on Wednesday evening. The box scores may read that the Dodgers swept the Sox, but the Sox came away with a win this series in their own right. Baseball’s shiny new number one prospect in pinstripes.