Who is Yoan Moncada?
by: Elan Berger
You have spent your entire life on Cuba’s southern coast doing only a handful of things. Your life until this point has essentially consisted of eating, sleeping, going to school, and playing baseball. Then one day, about two years after leaving Cuba, the Boston Red Sox give you a call offering you a job. 31.5 million dollars later, you are one of the most wealthy 19 year olds in the world. The question is: What next?
Former Red Sox, now White Sox, prospect Yoan Moncada was faced with this situation in early 2015. His answer to the question of, “What now?” is best exemplified by an interaction Moncada had with Miami automobile tricker-outer Alex Vega.
Vega makes his living customizing vehicles for the rich and famous. He has worked on cars for rappers, professional athletes, and many other high-profile individuals. But most of all, Vega’s business comes from baseball players.
Extravagant would be an understatement for Vega’s projects. For example, Hanley Ramirez once requested a $550,000 Lamborghini that would unleash fire from the exhaust. However, Vega could hardly believe his ears when he received a call from 19 year old Moncada in the winter of 2015 asking for ten cars.
“Are you sure you’re ready for all this?” Vega asked the teenager.
This is a question that many are asking of Moncada. Before leaving Cuba, his main form of transportation was his sibling’s bicycle that he rode down a dirt road every day to a baseball stadium. After moving from Cuba to Ecuador to Guatemala to the US in less than two years, Moncada says, “New family, new language, new friends, new life, new rules. I knew I wanted to come here to play baseball, but I never thought about dealing with all of this.”
This season, Moncada will be with the Chicago White Sox, after being traded by Boston for pitcher Chris Sale. By making this deal, the White Sox staked their future in an infielder who the Red Sox couldn’t trust to show up for mandatory English classes, and according to his agent, sometimes plows through over 85 Twinkies in a week. And shortly after arriving in the US, Moncada was on the phone with Vega negotiating for cars most people only dream of owning, even though he didn’t have a driver's licence.
Vega says, “Usually, we come up with a bigger-than-life idea and then I make it happen.” This time however, Vega found himself having to become realistic.
“It’s a long career,” Vega remembers saying to the second baseman. “I want to work with you for a long time. We’ll get to ten eventually, but not yet. You need to slow it down.”
“No” was not an answer that Moncada was used to hearing after leaving Cuba. After a showcase in Guatemala at which representatives from all 30 MLB teams appeared, a bidding war broke out across the MLB in hopes of acquiring Moncada. His $31.5 million payday from the Red Sox nearly quadrupled the previous record for an international signing bonus. The money that Moncada made in the winter of 2015 was the equivalent of 656,250 years of work when he was playing for Cienfuegos in Cuba on a salary of $4 per month.
There were some mornings when Moncada would simply stay in bed, but once he got to practice, his teammates and coaches were thrilled with his readiness to put in extra work. “The only place I’m comfortable is on the field, so I’m always going to stay as long as I can,” Moncada says. His desire to play and his skill were soon evident, however, as Moncada stole 94 bases and had an on-base percentage of .395 in the Minors and rose quickly through the Red Sox system.
Moncada will be starting the season with the Chicago White Sox, where he has found a friend and mentor in fellow Cuban Jose Abreu. Regarding the All-Star first baseman, Moncada says, “He’s helping me navigate the game but most of all the culture. He’s a few years ahead of me in that. I try to follow whatever he does.”
Although Alex Vega could not bring himself to customize ten luxury vehicles for a 19 year old who had only been in the United States for a handful of months, he did produce a few cars for the Cuban infielder. One of these cars, a BMW X6, has Moncada’s personalized logo, a combination of his initials, on the hood. Moncada may not yet be sure what that logo represents, and neither is the rest of the baseball world, but without a doubt, everyone should be excited to find out.