‘Motivated’ White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada feeling healthy heading into 2024

White Sox’s Yoan Moncada celebrates after a double during the second inningagainst the Houston Astros, Sunday, April 2, 2023, in Houston. (AP)

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In some ways he is a face of the White Sox’ failed rebuild – on an image with many visages – a package of talent who came to the organization as the No. 1 prospect in baseball when Chris Sale was traded to the Red Sox in 2016.

Yoan Moncada’s face is most often pleasant, one that won’t always endear him to frustrated fans who’d rather see him angrily slam a helmet or unload on an umpire after getting rung up on a borderline call.

But it’s just not Moncada’s way. He is a poster child for “chill,” as relaxed and seemingly unaffected as they come.

But he’ll have you know he cares. As he enters the final year of his $70 million, five-year contract, Moncada plans on arriving at spring training more than two weeks early.

 ”I’m motivated,” Moncada said Thursday through translator Billy Russo. “And excited. Because I’m healthy. That’s the only thing I want. If I’m healthy, I know I can do a lot of good things in the field. I’m excited right now to get to spring training and start working.”

Appearing at the Bartlett J. McCain Boys & Girls Club with teammates and Grifol Thursday, Moncada lit up when asked about 2024.

“I think God has saved something good for me,” he said.

So far, the most special season of Moncada’s career was 2019, when he batted .315/.367/.548 with a .915 OPS and 25 homers in 132 games. More of that, please, fans have beckoned. But Moncada’s best seasons games-wise are 149, 132, 144 and 104, and he played 52 in the abbreviated 60-game season in 2020. Last year, he appeared in 92 due to back problems.

Health is always the issue.

“I’ve talked to him a few times. Moncada feels really good,” manager Pedro Grifol said. “The back feels great, he’s motivated, he’s going to get to spring training early on the 31st of January or first of February, which is a great sign and he’s going to put himself in a position to have a great year. We need Moncada.”

The Sox, cutting payroll and remaking their roster after a dreadful 61-101 season that followed the huge disappointment of an 81-81 finish in 2022, would have welcomed trimming Moncada’s $24 million salary for 2024, but few are the takers for one with back problems, especially at that price.

When healthy, Moncada plays above average defense and is a threat at the plate.

“When he’s going, what he can do with the bat, it’s special,” Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi said. “And when he’s out there healthy, the plays he makes at third base ..  I’ve never seen a quicker transition from the glove to his hand on those dribblers.”

Moncada batted .260/.305/.425 with 11 homers and a .730 OPS in 92 games last season. He finished well, batting .281/.324/.464 with eight homers and a .788 OPS from July 25 after coming back from the low back problem, stemming from a disk that impinged on a nerve.

He played in 52 of the Sox’ last 63 games.

“During the first half of that season, it was painful, stressful. I couldn’t do anything,” Moncada said. “I wanted to do stuff and help the team but I couldn’t. It was a really tough time for me.

“The way I’m preparing myself for this coming season is to play 202 games.”

Which is the mindset Grifol wants from everyone.

“You’re training in the offseason and spring training to play 162 games,” Grifol said.

The focus this offseason has been on core work to strength abs, the back and legs, Moncada said.

So far, so good.

“The back is good, thank God,” Moncada said. “I haven’t felt anything during my training process this offseason. Hopefully it will stay this way.”

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