Yoan Moncada is a name that has been on the tongues of many over the last week as it was announced that he would hold a public workout for Major League teams on November 12th. As one of the latest defectors of Major League Baseball’s recent Cuban arms race, the hype machine was already whirring back to life but when one factors in his athletic tools and ability, it is very possible that this nineteen year old could become a true franchise game-changer.
Born on May 27th, 1995 in Abreus, Cuba, this nineteen year old has been a stalwart for both the Cuban National team’s 16U and 18U squads. Baseball America notes that Moncada "excited scouts" with his play during the 2010 COPABE Pan American 16U Championships in Mexico and again a year later during the 16U World Championships where he hit .417/.563/.667 in seven games played. Moncada showed himself to be nothing but consistent as he continued to hit in his native Cuba’s 16U team .500/.643/.918 with 8 homers, 37 walks and a perfect 15 for 15 in 158 plate appearances.
In 2012 Moncada, at only seventeen years old, made his professional Cuban League debut for the Cienfuegos, playing alongside the likely 2014 Rookie of the Year winner Jose Abreu. Moncada more than held his own against the older competition, putting up a .283/.414/.348 in 172 plate appearances. His performance that year garnered him all-star honors. Following up that excellent rookie season was a slightly less impressive line of .273/.365/.406 in 195 plate appearances for the Cienfuegos in 2013. Moncada continued traveling internationally as part of Cuba’s 18U team, unsurprisingly leading his team in all statistical categories.
Moncada would eventually leave the island back in June. Unlike a lot of Cuban players who came before him such as Marlins' phenom, Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig or even the Hernandez brothers back in the 90’s, Yoan Moncada did not have to brave some shoddy boat, work with human traffickers or other illicit means to escape Cuba. According to Ben Badler, he simply asked for and was subsequently granted his unconditional release by his team and the Cuban government.
Depending on the source, Yoan Moncada is somewhere between 6’0 and 6’3 in height and weighs somewhere in the range of 200-210 lbs. Moncada is a switch-hitter who is capable of playing all four infield positions as well as center, though he is expected to remain at shortstop due to good range and a very strong arm. Moncada is said to possess well above average speed, which was put on display back in his native Cuba where he defeated current Red Sox player Rusney Castillo in a timed base running skills competition at the Cuban Professional League’s All-Star game. Castillo, for those who may not recall, was graded to have plus to plus-plus speed. At the plate, Yoan has been praised for possessing lightening quick hands allowing him to easily generate incredible bat-speed that when combined with his already strong frame, projects to at least above average power currently and likely more as he continues to mature.
By all accounts, Moncada is an incredibly special talent with a set of highly graded physical tools, combined with his youth one can see why he has drawn comparisons to Yasiel Puig and Jorge Soler. There are few downsides to this caliber of player but nonetheless there are things that need to be considered.
First is the issue of age. Since Moncada is only nineteen and has only two years playing in Cuba’s highest level, he will be subjected to the International Free Agent spending pool. This is a double edged sword because the MLB will have a strong influence on the course of Moncada’s contract negotiations. With the success of so many Cuban defectors over the past few years, prices have been driving ever higher. This will be especially true for a young, five-tool player who can play the premium infield positions.
If declared a free agent for the 2014-2015 signing period then it would not be haphazard to guess that the bidding war could become one of the biggest one’s yet. Fortunately for teams who have long since blown through their allotment, such as the Yankees, there is nothing to lose going hard for Moncada. Competition for his services may also be slightly limited in number as there is likely going to be more than a few teams who are not going to sacrifice spending next year’s class of international free agents. There is also the added bonus that big market teams like the Dodgers would not be able to bid due to overspending their allotments last season. Unfortunately, if MLB decides to drag their heels then the Yankees will have no shot at the Cuban infielder. This is the most unlikely route since Moncada has been in Guatemala for several months and to everyone’s knowledge has not committed any violations of MLB rules. It would also be out of character, even for MLB, to delay a player’s eligibility for seven more months without cause.
Yoan Moncada is a special talent, with his youth, tools and potential he could grow into something special. His ability to play the infield also makes him the perfect fit to the hole left by Derek Jeter. If and when he is declared a free agent, I would hope that the Yankees go all out for him. He may need a season or two in the minors and there is no doubt risk, but this is the type of talent one would want their team to pursue.