MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Who's No. 1? The case for Moncada

Jim Callis argues that White Sox newcomer should lead Top 100 Prospects list

Who's No. 1? The case for Moncada

MLBPipeline.com will unveil its 2017 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we make a case for three players -- Yoan Moncada, Gleyber Torres or Andrew Benintendi -- who could be the No. 1 overall prospect.

Can we agree that 20 plate appearances is maybe a bit too small a sample size from which to draw any significant conclusions?

Yoan Moncada ended 2016 as the highest-rated phenom among MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects and he's a strong contender to claim the top spot when we unveil our 2017 list during a one-hour show Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com. Yet naysayers will point to his first taste of the Major Leagues last fall in Boston. After collecting four hits in his first two starts, he struck out in his final nine at-bats.

Did he look overmatched? Yes. Was he a 21-year-old making the jump from Double-A -- with just 45 games of experience at that level -- and facing the pressures of a playoff race, while trying to learn a new position on the fly? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Moncada has a higher ceiling than any prospect in baseball, with scouts repeatedly describing him as a speedier version of Robinson Cano. That's why the Red Sox spent $63 million to sign him in March 2015, half on a $31.5 million bonus that nearly doubled the previous record ($16.25 million from the Reds to Aroldis Chapman in 2010) and half on a penalty for obliterating their international spending pool. That's why the White Sox made him the centerpiece of the four-player package they extracted from Boston in exchange for Chris Sale at the Winter Meetings.

Moncada has the tools to excel in all phases of the game. At the plate, he's a switch-hitter with electric bat speed, more effective from the left side yet capable of doing damage from the right. He showed the ability to make adjustments from his first pro season to his second, adding loft to his swing and displaying more patience in 2016.

Top Prospects: Moncada, CWS

Not only does Moncada possess well above-average speed, but he also knows how to use it on the bases. He has stolen 94 bases in 109 attempts and scored 158 runs in 195 games in two years as a pro.

Most scouts grade Moncada as an average defender at second base, though he has the ingredients to make an impact there as well. He's a quality athlete with quickness and a strong arm, and he's capable of playing almost anywhere on the diamond. Boston tried him at third base because it had Dustin Pedroia, but Moncada will be a full-time second baseman with Chicago.

Moncada's tools have translated into production even though he has consistently been one of the younger regulars in his various leagues. Prorate his Minor League numbers to a 162-game season and they're pretty spectacular: .287/.395/.480 with 134 runs, 43 doubles, 20 homers, 87 RBIs, 99 walks and 81 steals. He gave a national TV audience a glimpse of what he could do at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in July, when he made a nice defensive play, stole a base and hit a game-winning homer into the upper deck at Petco Park.

While Moncada should be a superstar, it won't happen immediately. He still has more refinements to make after striking out 76 times in 227 plate appearances above high Class A. He won't turn 22 until late May, so time is on his side.

Sometimes the top prospect in baseball doesn't immediately tear up the Majors. Corey Seager did in 2016, but before him Mike Trout and Byron Buxton both scuffled. Like Moncada, both Trout and Buxton debuted after jumping from Double-A, and they both hit their stride in the big leagues after getting some time at Triple-A. The White Sox would be wise to heed that lesson with the game's most gifted prospect.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.