Continuing the effort from my last post, I give you the second part of my mailbag effort. It’s just one comment, because I found there was a lot to be said on the topic.
If you’d like to send me your thoughts and questions, I welcome them at TheBainesHerald@gmail.com.
– CP wrote: One of the things holding Moncada back is that other than Abreu, no one in that lineup scares you. So Moncada’s probably not seeing a lot of good pitches and young players tend to chase when they first come to the bigs. Compare that situation to Gleyber Torres, who hits in one of baseball’s best lineups.
There’s a whole heck of a lot to parse about Moncada’s disappointments, but this is one angle that I haven’t seen specifically discussed elsewhere. Which is odd, given all the ink spilled on Moncada’s struggles and the fact that lineup protection and undue pressure are common concerns with youngsters.
I have a buddy who, pre-Theo, would regularly bemoan how each Cubbie prospect came up with all the weight of the franchise on his shoulders and was forced to immediately hit lead-off or third from day one. Even worse, this youngster would be surrounded by the very crap hitters who forced the organization to need a rookie in such a crucial lineup spot in the first place.
Then my buddy would contrast that with what the Cardinals would do. They’d hit their prospects #2, between some lead-off dynamo and some repeat batting champ, or #6, behind some all-world slugger and in front of a tough-out vet.
Was it any surprise that the Cubs development record was abysmal, while the Cards were tripping over breakout youngsters on an annual basis?
Look, Moncada certainly has only himself to blame for a lot of his struggles. But it hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are put in such an advantageous position when they face him.
With no one of any quality hitting before Moncada, pitchers rarely have runners on base distracting them. They’re not facing Moncada with the added pressure that a walk or hit will be damaging.
These pitchers also don’t have to worry much about who is batting behind Moncada. So again, much less pressure to make sure that Moncada doesn’t get aboard. Furthermore, because no one more dangerous is coming up, pitchers can throw Moncada their best stuff. There’s no need to hold something back for the next guy up.
Looked at this way, I do believe Hahn made a real mistake not finding a few more veteran bats to fill out the lineup this year. Aside Abreu, the only experienced Sox big leaguers were Wellington Castillo and Avi Garcia, two pretty inconsistent hitters themselves.
I haven’t heard anyone say it, but I think Hahn really failed by not going after two more respectable veteran bats. Not superstars, nor anyone you have to sign for more than two years. Just proven professional batters whom pitchers respect.
I’m talking Matt Adams, Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez, CarGo, Curtis Granderson, Jon Jay, Howie Kendrick, Cameron Maybin, Mitch Moreland, Mike Moustakas, Neil Walker. All signed for 1 or 2 years, all for under $10M per, often under $5M per.
Sure, some of these guys were garbage this season, but for that cheap and in our current situation, there was no risk involved in bringing on two of these types.
And that’s far from a complete list of options the Sox had. I just quickly skimmed the free agent list, but I’m sure I missed some guys. And I bet the Sox could have easily traded for similar quality big leaguers that teams wanted to unload just for salary relief (of which the Sox had plenty to offer).
Look, I know the defense you’d offer for Hahn. The Sox didn’t want to deny at-bats to developing youngsters, even fringe ones, in favor of veterans who had no future with the club. But there were three big mistakes in that way of thinking.
Obviously the first flaw is detailed above: how hitters develop better when the talent around them is better. If Hahn respected that enough, he would have had more than Abreu and the suspect Castillo and Avi on the roster.
I’m not saying that’s the only reason why Moncada sucked this year or that no one else really made a leap. But think of any Sox game you followed this year – how underwhelming was their lineup at just about every slot? Hahn really upped the degree of difficulty all of his hitters faced in their developments.
The second flaw is related: Hahn prioritized the long shot of developing fringe prospects over the importance of developing his cornerstones. Signing vets wouldn’t have cost Moncada and Anderson ABs, as those guys always were going to get as many starts as they needed.
Instead, Hahn prioritized allowing for all of the borderline prospect types like Davidson, Delmonico, Palka, Engel, Yolmer, and Leury to get the absolute maximum playing time possible.
That’s a mistake. You start by ensuring that your potential studs get everything they need to fulfill their huge potential. Only after you assure those two have what they need, then do you start worrying about finding time for long shots and role players.
Even if every one of these fringe types reached their potential, it won’t be anywhere near as valuable as the franchise cornerstone ceilings that Anderson and Moncada offer.
Finally, the most frustrating mistake Hahn made is that he actually could have had plenty of ABs for those middling youngsters and still found room for a pair of vets. And that the presence of these vets would have helped the development of these fringe guys.
Because injuries and disappointing play always create more opportunities for playing time than your off-season plan assumes. That’s how worthless bums like Trayce Thompson, Charlie Tilson, Ryan LaMarre, and Matt Skole earned over 330 plate appearances this year.
Or how Moncada and Anderson weren’t given enough valuable days off to just sit on the bench next to their coaches and learn from watching and listening. Or why Yolmer and Engel were given over 1100 PAs – far more than was needed for them to, at best, make their case as reasonable glove-first bench contributors.
All told, that’s easily two veterans’ worth of playing time. Two guys who could have helped set the table, protect your young hitters, force opposing pitchers to work harder, and burn through the best relievers all so the hurdles facing your developing hitters – both the cornerstones and the fringe guys – were just a little easier to clear.
And who knows, maybe one becomes a trade pieces that nets you something of impact down the road. Happens all the time.
My hope? That Hahn has learned his lesson and will put out a 2019 squad that features more proven big league bats. He doesn’t have to go nuts – if he keeps Abreu, Castillo, and Avi, then just two more guys will suffice. If one of those guys is sent packing, then add another vet to the off-season shopping list.
Because we’re getting very close to the time when we have to see Anderson, Moncada, and even Eloy establish themselves as consistent, strong major league hitters. And one way to help reach that goal is for Hahn to provide plenty of proven professional hitters around them in the lineup.
Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side. When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.