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Be optimistic about the White Sox middle infield

Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson have struggled, but they’ll be fine.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The rebuild is in full effect for the AL Central cellar dwellers. Currently, they are jostling with the Phillies and Giants for the right to select first in the 2018 Rule IV Draft. Though this is well within the plan for the White Sox, it has been accompanied by a few setbacks.

Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson are two of the most prominent building blocks for the White Sox.

Anderson was drafted by the White Sox in the first round in 2013. Despite playing his first game of baseball in his junior year of high school, his skill and athleticism was quickly apparent. Anderson is easily the most prominent position player to spend their entire minor league career with the White Sox in years.

After appearing on many lists as a top 50 prospect, he was recalled last season. In just 99 games, Anderson was a 2.5 fWAR and 1.2 bWARP player with a 97 wRC+, .315 wOBA, and .248 TAv. Though there was contention about the quality of his defense, it was an incredibly positive debut year for him, despite continuing to post an incredibly low walk rate.

His double play partner, Moncada, was acquired in the Chris Sale deal. A marquee prospect who was signed by Boston out of Cuba in 2015, Moncada was the obvious headliner to the massive package that nabbed the Red Sox their ace. He spent his entire minor league career as a top 10 prospect. But, a short stay with the Red Sox in 2016 did not quite live up to expectations as he scuffled with the bat, posting huge whiff rates and strikeouts. However, most acknowledge that his struggles are little pause for concern. His incredibly lofty performance in the minors combined with his immense talent fosters quite a bit of patience in the development process.

Despite their talent, the two have scuffled this year.

Anderson was barely a replacement level player through August. During that time, he posted a 68 wRC+ and a .274 wOBA to go along with an anemic 2.4 percent walk rate and a 26.5 percent K rate. On top of that, the speedy Anderson only stole six bags and his play in the field was marred by countless errors.

Anderson’s poor performance can be traced back to a major personal tragedy this year. Branden Moss, a long-time friend of Anderson, was murdered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on May 7th. Understandably, it was crushing for him and it likely affected his performance. Rick Hahn commented on it saying, “I don’t think I’ve seen a player in my time with the club that’s been as affected by off-the-field occurrences as Timmy has this year.” Anderson said it left him feeling “numb.”

Meanwhile, Moncada’s stretch from his callup until his DL stint at the end of August was spoiled by contact problems. Though he posted a whopping 15.6 percent walk rate, he failed to really get anything going with the bat. His .188 average and 36.1 percent K rate surfaced the fears that over anxious fans had of him after his similar run in Boston last season. The talent showed in flashes, like this impressive opposite field home run against the Astros, but it wasn’t coming through at a nearly consistent enough rate.

In light of their troubles, this month has brought changes and massive improvements for the pair.

Anderson began taking steps to help him recover from the tragedy of losing his friend. His second session with a counselor took place on July 31st. Since then, he has remarked that he’s sleeping more and feeling much more like himself.

It has clearly shone through in his performance. Since the beginning of September, Anderson has been among the best hitters in the game. He currently sits in the top 25 among all hitters with over 20 plate appearances in the month in both wRC+ and wOBA. He also sits fifth in batting average and is tied for the monthly lead with seven steals. The walk rate is sub two percent; however, Anderson’s ability to impact the game through contact and baserunning seems to have returned. It’s an incredibly positive development for the young shortstop as the season runs to a close.

Moncada’s solution has been much more simple and just as impactful. Fellow Cuban signee Jose Abreu suggested to Moncada that he use lighter bats a bit into the month. He has been on a tear since then. Over the approximately 40 plate appearances since the change, he has posted a 179 wRC+ and a .438 wOBA.

Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada Time Frame Comparison

Player Time Frame PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wOBA wRC+ SB BABIP
Player Time Frame PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wOBA wRC+ SB BABIP
Anderson Pre-9/1 490 .241 .260 .386 2.4 26.5% .274 68 6 .302
Anderson Post-9/1 68 .418 .426 .612 1.5% 25.0% .440 180 7 .542
Moncada Pre-9/10 140 .179 .314 .350 15.0% 35.7% .297 83 1 .270
Moncada Post-9/10 41 .378 .439 .595 7.3% 22.0% .438 179 1 .462

The sample size is small and the starting points are somewhat nebulous, but these a big positives for players the White Sox hope will be their core for years to come. Given their prospective roles on the more developed White Sox squads of the near future, that’s invaluable.

Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.