Deep Dive on the headliners: Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech

The White Sox finally struck and dealt their best player and one of the most valuable assets in baseball. After an exhaustive and seemingly endless search, the South Siders seemed to have found a prospect package that was worthy of such a prize. 3B/2B Yoan Moncada (#1 overall MLB prospect), RHP Michael Kopech (#30 overall), OF Luis Alexander Basabe (#8 in BOS), and RHP Victor Diaz (#28 in BOS) are all heading to the White Sox and will provide much needed reinforcements to a beleaguered farm system. In this article, I will focus on the two headliners, Moncada and Kopech. We will have a second article to come on Basabe and Diaz.

This report is based on information and videos found on Baseball America, 2080 Ball, Sox Prospects, Fangraphs and other sites, which are linked at various points. We also spoke with a pair of current White Sox prospects who have played against them on the field. Our thanks to all of them.

Yoan Moncada

When I wrote about a potential centerpiece to the Chris Sale trade yesterday, I highlighted Andrew Benintendi, believing he was a better fit to headline a deep package than Moncada. However, it is a 1A and 1B situation, as Moncada may not have the floor that Benintendi has, but Moncada’s ceiling puts him to shame. Signed for a record-breaking $31.5 million (and an additional $31.5 million in penalties) last March, Moncada has proved to be worth that and more as he wows scouts at every stop. The Cuban import started with Class A Greenville in 2015 and slashed .278/.380./438 while stealing 49 bases over 81 games. Moncada was moved up to A+ Salem and spent the majority of 2016 tormenting pitchers to the tune of .307/.427/.496 with 36 steals over 61 games. The Red Sox promoted him to AA Portland, where he lost some points off his batting average and OBP, but slugged .531 over his 45 games there. Boston then rewarded him and picked him as a September call-up to the big league club, where he struggled while playing periodically.

Moncada is one of the most physically gifted players in the game and at 6’2”, 205 pounds, is built more like an NFL linebacker than a second baseman. In addition to his prodigious strength, Moncada runs like a deer, garnering a 65-70 grade on his foot speed on a 20-80 scouting scale. With 94 stolen bases in just 187 minor league games, he is a legitimate threat to steal every time he reaches base. At the plate, Moncada is a switch-hitter who is much more dangerous from the left side.

(Video courtesy of Soxprospects.com)

As you can see in the video above, Moncada’s left-handed swing is short, compact, and has ferocious bat speed through the zone. He consistently barreled up pitches, sending lasers to all fields, and is famous for his opposite field stroke. His right-handed swing is stiffer, lacks the explosive bat speed, and doesn’t finish with the same extension as his lefty swing. Moncada is far from terrible from the right side (.243/.371/.379 in 2016) but it will be interesting to see how his swing develops or if the White Sox consider scrapping it altogether. In 2016 Moncada crushed righties to the tune of .305/.410/.539 and accumulated 43 of his 53 extra base hits from the left side.

The big risk with Moncada is he struggles to make consistent contact and his barrel control has been described as “mediocre.” He has struck out in 24.2% of his minor league plate appearances and 12 more times over 20 major league PA’s. While a high strikeout rate is probably sounding alarm bells in most White Sox fans’ ears, Moncada is a prospect who can theoretically absorb it with a high BABIP. Simply put, when Moncada does make contact, he vaporizes balls and combined with his speed, he can withstand a fair amount of whiffs and still be a successful hitter. Moncada is a patient hitter and accumulates walks to support a high OBP, but he has struggled with his plate discipline at the higher levels. A White Sox pitching prospect we spoke with who has faced him called him a “beast” and said he has a “very advanced approached” and is a “tough out.” Defensively, Moncada has split time between 2B and 3B and has been developing nicely at third since the Red Sox have given him reps there. However, the White Sox reportedly plan on playing him back at his original position of second base. Moncada has above average range at 2B, but has made mental mistakes working around the bag and sometimes is a victim of sloppy footwork.

In summary, Yoan Moncada is a physical freak with tools to match whose ambitious comparison by MLB Pipeline is “Robinson Cano with more speed.” With his raw power and speed, it isn’t out of the question to dream of Moncada maturing into an annual 30 home run/30 stolen bases threat while locking down either 3B or 2B. Combined with Tim Anderson at SS, the White have an exciting 1-2 punch to develop together during this rebuild.

Michael Kopech

While Moncada is grabbing most of the attention, Michael Kopech’s future may determine how this trade return will be remembered. Drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft as a Texas prep, Kopech has shot up prospects lists thanks to an incredible 2016 season. Featuring a fastball that has been clocked as high as 105 MPH, Kopech was electric over 56.1 innings this past season, striking out 86 batters and posting a 2.08 ERA. He followed up on that performance by dominating more advanced hitters with a 2.01 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 26 batters over 22.1 innings while walking 8. That is an encouraging sign because he has walked 4.6 batter per 9 innings over his first 134.2 pro innings. When you factor in that he was striking out an absurd 13.7 batters per 9 and his low ERA (2.61), it is obvious that Kopech’s command is lagging behind his lights out stuff. Whether the White Sox can harness his abilities is the key to unlocking his future potential.

(Video courtesty of 2080 Baseball)

Kopech’s arsenal is built around the aforementioned fastball, which he has run up to 105 MPH, but sits comfortably between 96-100 MPH. Kopech achieves this type of exceptional velocity thanks to arm acceleration that some scouts have rarely seen. Despite the outstanding velocity, Kopech features an easy delivery with no major mechanical red flags to speak of. Most of his command issues stem from timing, as his arm extension snaps across his body and drives him off line from the plate. If the White Sox are able to smooth out that issue, and perhaps back him off his fastball a MPH tick or two, he could conceivably command mid-to-upper 90’s velocity with wicked movement. Beyond the fastball, Kopech features two raw but promising secondary pitches that project plus. He throws an 86-90 MPH slider that has sharp break that he can throw for strikes or bury, especially effective against left-handed batters. Kopech’s third offering is a 91-93 MPH change-up that he has shown a solid feel for and is devastating for hitters expecting the triple digits fastball. At 6’3” and 205 pounds and still filling out, Kopech is a impressive physical specimen and an elite athlete. He is not afraid to be aggressive and go after hitters, showing a competitive intensity that sometimes gets the best of him. Kopech missed six weeks of the 2016 season after breaking his hand during an altercation with a teammate. After a 50 game PED suspension in 2015, there are some definite questions about his make-up, which is perhaps why the Red Sox were willing to deal a pitcher with his supreme talent.

As Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs summed it up, “It’s strange that one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the minor leagues is involved in this deal and yet somehow not its headliner.” Kopech is now rated as the 30th overall prospect in all of baseball and is a fantastic secondary piece in this package. Armed with a legendary fastball, vicious secondary stuff, and a strong frame, some scouts view Kopech as a potential front of the rotation starter. In order for him to achieve that, the White Sox will have to iron out his command issues and hope as he matures he can handle the mental grind of a starter’s workload. If that doesn’t work, Kopech could possibly be a thrilling high octane reliever, who would light up radar guns during late innings. Either way, the White Sox have acquired one of the most exciting arms in all of baseball.

Stay tuned for more content on the Sale trade.

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Comments

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  • Excellent write-up, Rob. Why no one comments here, I have no idea.

    Rick Hahn did well with this deal. For me, Moncada and Kopech have very high ceilings and a fairly good probability of coming close to reaching them with Moncada being the safer bet (and not just because he's a position player).

    The key, for me, to making this a VERY good trade is Luis Alexander Basabe. Hahn and Director of Player Development Chris Getz don't have a good track record developing raw, toolsy prospects like Basabe. If they can get a future all-star 2B/3B in Moncada, a #1 or #2 starter in Kopech AND an athletic CFer who can provide some offense as well as great speed, then they will have clearly won this trade.

    Getz has his work cut out for him with Basabe and Kopech. I'm a life long Cubs fan, but I follow all prospects closely, and I'll be rooting for Getz and his staff to come through.

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