AFL Spotlight: Carlos Moncrief
The “AFL Spotlight” is a weekly feature piece on a player from the Cleveland Indians farm system that is participating in the Arizona Fall League. League play wraps up on November 15th.
Yesterday marked the end of the third full week of the Arizona Fall League (AFL) season, a season that amazingly will already wrap up in just a little over two weeks thanks to a reduced schedule of games this season.
One player in the Cleveland Indians’ system that is using his time in the AFL to his benefit is outfielder Carlos Moncrief. He turns 24-years old this weekend and has a wide base of tools with the ability to hit for power, run well, and defensive skills that have a lot of people inside and outside the Indians organization excited about his potential.
At the moment Moncrief is on the taxi-squad in the AFL which means he is only active on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s, though when I spoke to him two weeks ago he said he had talked to the manager of his Scottsdale Scorpions team and was told that at some point he would be removed from the taxi-squad and start playing four games a week. To date that has not happened and he has been limited to just two games going 4-for-8 with a HR, RBI, and stolen base.
There was some concern whether Moncrief would even be able to play in the AFL this offseason because of a broken hamate bone to his right hand he suffered on August 9th in Salem.
“It was hurting for about a month and I just thought it was sore from hitting a lot,” Moncrief said in an interview with the IPI. “I took a swing in Salem and it just popped on me. I tried to bunt on the next pitch and then I had two strikes so I had to swing, so I told the trainer to take me out because it was hurting so bad.”
A couple days later Moncrief flew to Cleveland for surgery and then went out to Arizona to begin the five to six week rehab from the surgery. The Indians still kept him on the AFL roster even though his status was unknown, and a few weeks into his rehab he showed he was ahead of progress and was able to join his AFL teammates about five days into the season. His hand no longer hurts and he is able to swing with 100% force and be pain free, though it is still a little weak.
With only about two and a half weeks left in the AFL season Moncrief probably won’t get to play in a lot of games, but there is still a lot he can take from the experience this fall.
“I want to have a good experience here in the fall league and play well,” Moncrief said. “I know that I will learn more being around players who understand the game and playing against other players as well, especially facing really good pitching to get a glimpse of how it is at the highest level. I know it is not the same, but it is pretty close. I want to go out and have a good experience and just play hard.”
Moncrief is one of three Indians’ prospects playing in the AFL that has no experience above the Single-A level (Ronny Rodriguez and Alex Monsalve are the others). In years past it was almost unheard of to have any player below the Double-A level make an AFL roster except for limited exceptions to the rules, but over the past few seasons those roster restrictions have been loosened greatly.
Considering Moncrief has yet to play above the Single-A level, he is getting an early look at some of the higher level pitching he will see at Double-A Akron, the affiliate he is expected to start at next season.
“That’s the plan man,” Moncrief said. “To come out here and go as hard as I can go and see where I can get. I like competition, so hopefully I can raise my level of competition to what I am facing.”
The AFL campaign is a nice bookend to what was another successful year for Moncrief not just on the developmental front, but on the performance front as well. He played the entire 2012 season at High-A Carolina and in 101 games hit .249 with 15 HR, 53 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and .804 OPS.
“I feel pretty good about my season…minus the strikeouts,” Moncrief chuckled. “I know strikeouts are a part of the game, but that is one thing I am trying to cut down on by having an approach and plan at the plate. I started to develop that toward the end of the season so I feel pretty good about it now.”
Yes, the strikeouts are the one major concern with Moncrief as a prospect. While the power bat and arm are very intriguing, and the athleticism as a runner and defender is a sight to see, his approach and ability to make consistent contact needs to improve.
Moncrief’s strikeout and walk rates actually both went in the wrong direction this season (76 BB, 158 K, 557 PA in 2011; 46 BB, 126 K, 407 PA in 2012), but after a lot of work he feels that he finally was able to develop an approach near the end of the season that he is comfortable with and hopes it will lead to a decrease in his strikeout totals next season.
“I think [my approach now] is more like zone hitting,” Moncrief said. “For example, when I am looking middle away I am able to lay off breaking balls inside or pitches that break low because I am looking in a specific area. I am not saying hitting is easy, but it makes it easier to recognize pitches and lay off bad pitches.”
Moncrief has also only been a full time position player prospect in the system for three years now after spending the first two years of his career as a pitcher. He feels he really began to settle in as a hitter in 2011 at Low-A Lake County, but looking back on it all it has been a much harder process than he originally anticipated.
“It was a process,” Moncrief said. “I thought that I would be able to come out and just automatically hit. Even hitters that hit in college and get to pro ball, you still have a lot of work to do to understand how to hit with a wood bat and how to recognize pitches. Things change in pro ball as it is nothing like college and high school because pitchers are smarter and they make better pitchers. I think I am getting to a point where I can compete at a high level and where I am not thinking about what I am doing while I am hitting. I understand what I am doing in the cage so when I get into the game I can just let it go free flow.”
While Moncrief is still working on developing a consistent approach at the plate, his improvement as a defender and what he has become is encouraging. He gets good jumps on balls, shows good range, has a cannon for an arm, runs well, and has the versatility to handle all three outfield positions.
“I was pretty comfortable from the start in Mahoning Valley [in 2010] because I love playing the outfield and I think I get pretty good angles and jumps on balls that are hit,” Moncrief said. “I got really comfortable last season at Lake County and played a lot of center field, and this past season when Tyler Holt got called up to Double-A they moved me back to center field and things went well.”
After a long season Moncrief is looking forward to going home to spend time with his wife and two young sons, 18 month old Carlos Jr. and one month old Cordé Ace who was just born in September. But play time with the family will be short as he will quickly get to work in the offseason to come into spring training in the best shape of his career. Next year could be a breakout season for him if he shows more improvement as a hitter at the Double-A level.
“That is big for me,” Moncrief stated. “When I started playing the outfield I wanted to advance every year, and so far things have gone well. I try to compete and work hard and play hard every day like my life is on the line so I can get to the next level.”
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