Now is not the time for Yoan Moncada to be promoted. (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox minor league notebook: Yoan Moncada still belongs in High-A, for now

Ryan Hannable
June 02, 2016 - 7:34 am
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1. Once Andrew Benintendi was promoted to Double-A Portland a few weeks ago, the questions and urging began. When will Yoan Moncada be promoted? Moncada should be in Double-A! Why hasn't Moncada been promoted yet?! The simple answer is, he isn't ready yet. This isn't suggesting anything negative about Moncada at all. In fact, he likely will be promoted at some point this year, but right now, only two months into the season and two months into his High-A career, it isn't the time. Benintendi was promoted insanely early for Red Sox and baseball standards and the two aren't the same. While they both are 21 years old, Benintendi played college ball at the University of Arkansas and Moncada is in just his second year in the United States. "He's a developing baseball player, but an exceptionally talented one," former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said last year at Moncada's introductory press conference. "Obviously, given the investment we're making we believe he can be a very good major-league player for a long time and we're committed to helping him get there, in the right way." Although Cherington no longer is in the organization, the philosophy is still the same and promoting a player like Moncada after just 48 games in High-A wouldn't be "the right way." Moncada isn't the typical baseball player. The Cuban native didn't play organized baseball for all of 2014 as he was getting ready to come to the United States and was setting up showcases for major league teams. He's one of the more athletic players in all of minor league baseball and still becoming a baseball player rather than a stud athlete playing baseball, which he was for the majority of last year. With a tireless work ethic, Moncada continues to work on his consistency when it comes to pitch selection at the plate along with throws and footwork in the field. Basically, he's turning his athleticism into baseball movements, which he's getting better at each and every day. The more patient the Red Sox are with him, the better both he and the organization will be in the long run. In his 48 games with High-A Salem, Moncada is slashing .287/.414/.444 with three home runs and 23 RBIs, along with 31 stolen bases. He does have 51 strikeouts, compared to 36 walks, which says there is still some plate discipline to be learned. The second baseman is a switch-hitter and is far better from the left side of the plate as he's batting .310 with all three of his homers. As a right-handed hitter he's hitting just .224 and slugging .286. There's still plenty of room to grow from the right side of the plate. In the field at second base, he's still fine tuning his athleticism into baseball skills. He's made nine errors, which is a matter of learning the intricacies of playing the infield in America, which is much different than he was used to in Cuba. Also, going into Thursday he is batting just .146 with 12 strikeouts in his last 10 games. This certainly isn't reason for panic at all, it just suggests the time isn't right for a promotion. Bottom line, Moncada will likely be a star one day, but there is no need to rush him to the next level. As a baseline, typically Red Sox prospects who are promoted during the season happen around the All-Star break and by the way Moncada is trending, that seems like the right timetable -- not any time soon. 2. It's been a mixed bag for 18-year-old Anderson Espinonza with Single-A Greenville as he is 4-4 with a 3.43 ERA over his first 10 starts. He's had some dominant outings and others where he's looked like an 18-year-old kid. The difference with Espinoza is when he's good, he's really good. "If you go through start-by-start, there has been some inconsistency there," Greenville manager Darren Fenster said. "The biggest thing for him is the ability to repeat his delivery and be consistent with his approach every day. Sometimes he gets into a bad habit of trying to be too fine where he has the stuff where he doesn't have to be perfect. For him to understand that, when he gets in trouble and when he is being too fine it's when he's working behind in the count, but when he he rearing back and throwing the ball through the zone that is when he is at his best. He's shown us the ability to do that a number of innings at a time and we're looking for him to sustain that every time he takes to the mound." The hard-throwing right-hander is the Red Sox' best pitching prospect and will be capped at about 110 innings for the season since he's so young. In his last two outings, Espinoza has gone 11 scoreless innings allowing just three hits. He did have four walks in his last outing, but Fenster noted how three of them were of the lead off variety and it showed him a lot that he was able to bare down and work around them. For the season Espinoza has 17 walks in 44 2/3 innings, compared to 14 in 58 1/3 innings last year. Fenster isn't concerned because of how young he is along with his flashes of dominance. "I think if all you go by are the expectations and the hype around the kid, the walks definitely would surprise you, but when you step away and understand, this kid is 18 years old and growing into his body, learning how to harness his stuff," Fenster said. "He will go through phases where the command isn't where he or anyone else wants it to be, but there are still some instances where this kid is putting the ball where he wants and attacking the zone, just working at a really good pace and tempo. These are the growing pains really any player is going to go through." 3. One player perhaps flying under the radar in the Red Sox' farm system is closer Bobby Poyner with Single-A Greenville. The lefty has put up truly impressive numbers. In 16 appearances he has 11 saves, an 0.35 ERA and in 26 innings he has 32 strikeouts, while not walking a single batter. A 14th-round pick out of the University of Florida in last year's draft, Poyner doesn't have overpowering stuff as his fastball sits in the high-80s, but it is deceptive. "Obviously, the numbers speak for themselves," Fenster said. "This is a kid who can command three pitches to any part of the plate really in any count. At this level, if you're able to do that and have an idea of how to pitch -- which Bobby does at a very advanced level -- you're going to have a lot of success. His numbers are indicative of that." In 49 2/3 innings in the minors, starting with 17 appearances with short-season, Single-A Lowell last year, he has 54 strikeouts and just two walks. Fenster noted being a left-hander might be a big advantage for him to progress through the system and ultimately potentially one day to the majors. This year lefties are hitting 0.87 against him. "Lefties are always a different animal," Fenster said. "From a stuff perspective, he doesn't have anything that is going to really wow you, but you see guys that go on and have very good big league careers on the left side of the mound." 4. Michael Chavis seems to be progressing well from the thumb injury he suffered at the end of April. The 2013 first-round pick was able to avoid surgery and has been rehabbing in Fort Myers since the injury. He's begun to play in extended spring training games -- both in the field at the plate -- but hasn't yet been able to play a full nine innings. It's just a continued progression in his work load. Repeating a season with Single-A Greenville, the infielder was off to a great start before the injury. Chavis was batting .356 in 15 games with three home runs and 14 RBIs. 5. No one in the Red Sox farm system has had more of a breakout season than Greenville first baseman Josh Ockimey. Two years ago at this time he was graduating high school and now the 2014 fifth-round pick is tied for the South Atlantic League in home runs with nine. "The year he is putting up right now is very, very impressive," Fenster said. "To envision him what he's doing right now I don't think anyone could have said that. He and Lee May, our hitting coach, have an incredible relationship. The communication they have during a game, at-bat-to-at-bat where they discuss what a pitcher is trying to do, Josh to his credit is able to take that information into the box and he has as good of a plan as anyone I've seen at this level in my three years." The left-handed hitter is slashing .315/.456/.568 with 29 RBIs in 47 games. He does have 48 strikeouts, but also has 42 walks, which makes the strikeout total not a concern for Fenster. "The number of strikeouts are not nearly as big of a concern as you would think because of what he's done number one, when he is putting the ball in play and number two, the number of walks that he has," he said. "When a guy is drawing the number of walks that he has, he's not afraid to go deep into a count. When you go deep into the count you're running yourself the risk of striking out. You can't have it all. What he's been able to do in terms of managing his at-bats, the way he has a plan and never has gone up as a free swinging hacker that you often see at this level. The strikeouts are not a concern at all for me." 6. Starter turned reliever Jake Cosart is continuing to do well with the transition. A third-round pick in 2014, the hard-throwing right-hander is now a reliever with Single-A Greenville. In 14 games spanning 26 1/3 innings, he has a 2.05 ERA with a staggering 39 strikeouts. His best pitch is his fastball, which nearly touches 100 mph. "He's been the same guy every time he takes to the mound," Fenster said. "He's transitioned to the role pretty well. I think he has a pretty good idea of his strengths which are a plus-plus fastball. He knows that he's probably only coming in for two innings max so he goes right into challenge mode with that fastball right away. When you're throwing 95-98 with a quick arm, you don't see many comfortable swings against him." 7. Cosart isn't the only player in the organization to switch from a starter to a reliever as power arms in the bullpen are becoming more and more popular in today's game and something president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski stressed in his first offseason with the club. It isn't just a Red Sox thing either, it's baseball in general, and teams sometimes are faced with tough decisions on certain players when deciding what role is ultimately best for them as they progress through the minor leagues. "Obviously the emphasis on velocity at the major league level is front and center almost every game," Fenster said. "Pitchers are throwing harder than ever and it's a premium when you have those guys who can throw in the upper 90s. That is just one piece of the puzzle. If you throw in the upper 90s and can't throw the ball over the plate, then throwing in the upper 90s doesn't do you any good. "You've seen guys who jump into the organization as starting pitchers and then all of a sudden that role doesn't look like it is what they are going to be down the road. A guy like Pat Light and Matt Barnes are really good examples. Two guys who came up through A-ball as starting pitchers and now they find themselves as premium velocity guys out of the bullpen at the major league level." 8. Greenville right-hander Jose Almonte threw six no-hit innings to pick up the win last Saturday in just his third start of the year, as his season was delayed because of a groin injury. In his four starts this season, the right-hander has gone 21 innings and allowed just five total runs. Even though he's just 20 years old, he has more experience and maturity than most 20 year olds in the system. "He's young, but he's been in the organization a little bit longer than some of our other younger guys," Fenster said. "I think he's been around long enough that he has a pretty good understanding of what our expectations are and what the Red Sox pitching philosophy is having been here a few years. From that perspective he has some maturity to him and he's got some presence on the mound. Even though the age is pretty young, he does have some experience under his belt." 9. The farm system took a major hit this past week when PawSox first baseman Sam Travis was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered on Sunday in a freak play when he was in a rundown while playing first base. Travis was Pawtucket's best hitter as in 47 games he has batting .272 with six home runs and 29 RBIs. Moving forward, it may cloud the first base picture a bit at the major league level. Some thought Travis could take over for Hanley Ramirez at first base next year if he moves to designated hitter, but that's tough to do given Travis has only 934 career minor league at-bats. As it relates to the PawSox, Chris Marrero has played first base in Travis' absence and it wouldn't be a surprise to see recently signed and Wellesley, Massachusetts native Nate Freiman promoted from Double-A Portland to also get some games at first. 10. A few random notes from the system: Kevin McAvoy has been activated from the disabled list and will start for Double-A Portland on Thursday. A 2014 fourth rounder was 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA before the DL stint … Rafael Devers continues to struggle to open the year in High-A Salem. The 19-year-old is slashing .197/.273/.315, but did have a better May than April. He hit .138 in April and hit .245 in May. … Michael Kopech continues to throw in extended spring training games and is looking at a return to an affiliate in a few weeks. It's unclear where that will be as of now.