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Yoan Moncada does not deserve Travis Shaw's job (yet)

Yoan Moncada seems to be the starting third baseman for the Boston Red Sox. But he hasn't really earned that job just yet.

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

John Farrell has made it clear: Yoan Moncada is Boston's third baseman now. He's started each of the last three games, and will start each of the next three according to Boston's manager.

The question: why?

It's easy to get carried away when talking about Moncada. He's the #1 prospect in baseball with a big bat, wheels, and the tools he needs to be a major positive in the field when he has the experience. But that last word is really the key with Moncada and the Red Sox' entire third base situation: experience. Moncada has none in the majors. Not only that, but what he does have in the minors is not the typical experience that would earn one a locked-in job in the big leagues.

Yes, Moncada's numbers in Double-A were exceptional. And no, them coming in Double-A does not preclude him from being worthy of a call-up, or even a starting role as we can see with Andrew Benintendi. But Benintendi was a bit of an exceptional case. Not only were his numbers exceptional, but so was the way he went about producing them. Anyone trying to find holes in Benintendi's game based on his Double-A performance would be awfully hard-pressed to do so.

The same cannot be said for Yoan Moncada. The young infielder was capable of bruising the ball, yes, but also capable of missing it entirely with some regularity. When Moncada was called up, the potential problem was clear: he could strike out, and strike out a lot. Not unexpected considering both his age and experience, and not damning for certain definitions of "a lot". But if something was going to sink Moncada's ship, at least on this first expedition of his, it was going to be the K.

And so far, that's kind of what we've seen. Moncada has swung the bat, stung the ball a few times, and struck out a whole bunch. The overall numbers are...fine, but in the majors the reality is that a .571 BABIP is not going to last. Moncada cannot continue to strikeout at this pace and continue to produce at acceptable levels. The strikeouts have to go down, and even if they do by a decent amound, Moncada will still profile as the sort of hitter who needs the long ball to stay afloat.

Two massive caveats:

1) The tiny sample sizes we are dealing with now will push everything to the extreme. The margin of error on that K% is big, though given his minor league numbers it seems very likely that Moncada is a strikeout-heavy player at the moment. Just that a 42.9% K-rate is no more the number we should expect he will stay at than the .571 BABIP is. Focusing in on specific figures, really, is kind of a hopeless effort. Better to simply say that Moncada is a player with some very clear whiff in his swing who probably doesn't quite have the edges of the zone figured out yet, or at least might not be giving major league pitchers the credit they deserve when it comes to their ability to hit those edges.

2) This is Moncada as he is now, not Moncada as he will be. Moncada might be a guy who strikes out 25% of the time over his entire career. Or he might cut that way down. No criticism of Moncada's game now is a criticism of Moncada's potential. There's just way too much left unsaid when it comes to his development.

For a team like, say, the Rays or Angels or Twins, none of this should really matter. Maybe Moncada isn't ready yet, but he's probably going to develop faster in the majors at this point than in Double-A, and certainly faster than he would sitting around now that the minor league season has ended.

For the Red Sox, though, Moncada's quick assumption of starting duties at third base is not only premature, but out-of-line with how the Sox have handled similar situations in years past. And this year, for that matter. When Andrew Benintendi came up, he did have to earn the full starting role, briefly splitting time with Bryce Brentz. That was a platoon situation, yes, and it's possible Moncada is in one given that the next two Red Sox opponents will be right-handed pitchers. But let's also consider the two situations here.

For Benintendi, it was a platoon that came despite no real sign of Benintendi having significant platoon splits, and came with a player who showed no great ability to perform at the Major League level. Even against lefties, Brentz was only hitting at a league-average level. Maybe if Benintendi proved incapable of hitting them at all, Brentz would get pushed back in. But it's not like there was really much opportunity cost when it came to the Red Sox handing Benintendi the full-time keys, making it all the more puzzling that it even took the week it did for him to earn the role.

For Moncada, though, things are different. There are reasons for concern with his ability to hit not just lefties, but righties, thanks to those aforementioned strikeout issues. And the player he's taking time from is not Bryce Brentz, but Travis Shaw. No, Travis Shaw hasn't turned out to be the diamond-in-the-rough he showed signs of being. He wasn't a scout darling coming up through the system and, while there's still some possibility that he has the ability to do big things (remember how awful Xander Bogaerts was in his sophomore season)? it's certainly reasonable to judge him based on what he's done this season, or even just lately.

But what he's done this season is still something in much the way Brentz' performance was not. Shaw holds a 113 OPS+ against right-handed pitchers, and if that number has fallen a long way to get to that point, it's still solidly above average. Shaw even finished off with a huge night before he was abruptly removed. That may not be enough to keep the Red Sox from auditioning his replacement, but it should earn him a split role if nothing else.

Shaw will, apparently, be getting some at bats going forward in left field, so the Red Sox are at least giving him some small opportunity to hit his way back into his old role, presumably. But it's a lot to ask to produce when you're sitting out for three or four games at a time. With the team embroiled in a ridiculously tight race for the AL East crown, they have to be giving themselves the best chance to find as reliable a full-time starter at third base as they possibly can. Instead, they seem to have crowned Moncada, and are doing themselves a disservice by doing so before he's proved himself in the majors. He should have to earn that role, and thus far, he hasn't.