Yoán Moncada eyes return to 2019 form with COVID-19 'struggle' behind him

Yoán Moncada eyes return to 2019 form with COVID-19 'struggle' behind him
Baseball

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Moncada eyes return to 2019 form with COVID ‘struggle’ over originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Yoán Moncada let everyone in on his “daily battle” with the aftereffects of his COVID-19 infection last season.

Even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t have been able to keep it a secret for long.

He was running the bases one night in Cleveland, and after scoring and returning to the White Sox dugout, there he was, being fanned with a towel by manager Rick Renteria. It looked like it took everything Moncada had not to pass out right there on the bench.

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Moncada played in 52 of the White Sox 60 regular-season games, as well as all three of their postseason games. Players usually describe the season as a grind, a six-month marathon — seven, for the teams that make it all the way to the World Series — taking a toll on their bodies.

Moncada was running an entirely different race. And you could see it.

“It was difficult. It was very, very difficult for me to keep playing because I wasn’t feeling like myself,” Moncada recounted Tuesday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I knew that I wasn’t 100 percent, but I had to be there, I needed to be playing in order to help the team in the capacity that I had at the moment. It was definitely a struggle.

“Sometimes when I was running the bases, I just felt short of breath, and my strength, my stamina just wasn’t there. … Sometimes I was just out of energy. I didn’t have the energy to do anything.”

Moncada tested positive for COVID-19 when he arrived in Chicago for “Summer Camp.” He rushed his way back and was in the White Sox lineup on Opening Day. He seemed fine. Until he didn’t.

The way he described it Tuesday, he started feelings the aftereffects of the infection about three weeks into the abbreviated campaign. Then it became impossible to ignore that the guy who a season prior had people talking about a future MVP candidate was struggling to do much of anything on the field.

But he did it, anyway. The numbers weren’t there. He was not the impact player in the White Sox lineup that his terrific 2019 season said he could be. He hit .225. But that he played through it all was amazing in its own way.

“There were some times, behind the scenes, talking with (White Sox infield coach) Joe McEwing. (Moncada)’d do a pregame infield drill, he’d take 10 ground balls, and he’d be gassed,” general manager Rick Hahn shared during his Monday town hall as a part of the team’s “Sox Spring Break” series. “And that’s just not what you would expect from a professional athlete, much less a 25-year-old who’s as physically gifted as Yoán.

“So his 2020 season was actually fairly remarkable, in terms of what he was able to do under the conditions. But certainly come 2021, we’re expecting him to be much closer to the player we saw in ‘19 than (the one) we saw in ‘20.”

Moncada is expecting that, too. While 2019 seems like ancient history in just about every facet of life at this point, it hasn’t been that long since Moncada had a breakout campaign, bouncing back from that 217-strikeout 2018 first full season in the majors with a .915 OPS.

He showed in 2019 that he can be every bit the eye-popping bat that José Abreu, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez are in anchoring this potent White Sox lineup.

And he’s out to show it again.

“Now I have the chance to prove that I am the kind of player that I was in 2019, that that is the kind of player that I am. And I think I can do better,” Moncada said. “I think you always learn from those bad moments. Those bad moments put you in a better position going forward. I’m going to use all that this year and going forward in my future.”

Moncada reports that he’s feeling good, physically, after what he went through in 2020 and that he’s ready for a full slate of 162 games, more than that, actually, considering the White Sox championship expectations.

If he can stay healthy — even during that breakout 2019 season, he played in only 132 games — and can be as productive as everyone at Camelback Ranch believes he can be, then look out. A White Sox lineup that flourished without much contribution from Moncada last year will be exponentially better as the team eyes a World Series.

“I feel good. I feel stronger,” Moncada said, “and I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for me to handle the season.”

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