During their recent half-decade plummet to the bottom of the National League standings, the Philadelphia Phillies found themselves picking at a high position in the annual MLB Amateur Draft on a regular basis.
The Phillies had such a horrendous season in 2015 that their 63-99 record proved to be the worst in all of Major League Baseball. That set the club up with the #1 overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft.
This was going to be far from a slam-dunk selection. Sure, the draft has yielded some true impact players with that first overall pick. Since the turn of the century, that top pick has produced stars in Joe Mauer, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, and Carlos Correa.
However, there have been as many misses as hits. Players selected #1 overall since the year 2000 also include Bryan Bullington (2002), Delmon Young (2003), Matt Bush (2004), Mark Appel (2013), and Brady Aiken (2014). Some were injury casualties. Some simply never developed as hoped.
Even Justin Upton, taken first overall in 2005, has to be considered an overall disappointment when considering he was the top draft pick. Dansby Swanson, the top selection in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is just emerging this year as an impact player after being traded to the Atlanta Braves.
In June of 2016, Matt Klentak was overseeing his first draft as the general manager of the Phillies. Johnny Almaraz was the club’s head of amateur scouting at the time. When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stepped to the podium to announce the selection, he called the name of Mickey Moniak, an outfielder from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California.
“Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft,” said Almaraz at that time, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He’s a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star.”
Per Salisbury, a rival talent evaluator also delivered a glowing appraisal of Moniak: “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
Moniak knew that the pressure would be on him, and seemed ready to accept the responsibility. “I am honored by this and I’m excited to prove the Phillies right,” Moniak said in an interview with the MLB Network after the pick was announced.
After passing a physical exam with the team, Moniak inked a contract that paid him a $6.1 million signing bonus. Financially set, it was time to play baseball.
Almaraz doubled down on his assessment of Moniak’s abilities, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com: “I think you’ll have a Gold Glove center fielder who will hit in the middle of the lineup and be a leader on the team,” Almaraz said.
As an 18-year-old, Moniak was assigned to the Phillies rookie-level team in the Gulf Coast League. He slashed .284/.340/.409 with 16 extra-base hits, 27 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 194 plate appearances across 46 games. It was a solid beginning to his professional career.
Moving up to Low-A Lakewood the following season, however, Moniak struggled mightily. He slashed just .236/.284/.341 in the summer of 2017 and frequently appeared to be over-matched, striking out in more than 20% of his plate appearances.
Still, the organization liked his maturity and believed he was up to another promotion for last season. It didn’t look that way early on, as things started out even more poorly with High-A Clearwater. Over his first 172 plate appearances across 43 games, Moniak slashed just .217/.233/.253, striking out in more than 25% of the time.
Then, something seemed to suddenly click. In his next four straight games, and five of his next six, Moniak produced a multiple-hit effort. He would slash .303/.346/.464 over his final 71 games and 293 plate appearances, with 30 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs. Moniak also cut down his strikeout rate to below the 20% mark over those final two and a half months.
With that performance his confidence grew, and Moniak moved up to Double-A Reading for this 2019 season. He turned just 21-years-old on May 13, and was playing so well that he was named to the Double-A All-Star team.
Unfortunately, a strained hamstring suffered while making a sliding catch in center field on June 30 has put Moniak on the minor league injured list. He will be in Richmond, Virginia for that Double-A All-Star Game on Wednesday night, but his ability to actually participate is questionable.
Moniak was slashing .266/.324/.437 with 32 extra-base hits, 42 runs scored, and nine stolen bases over 314 plate appearances in 75 games. In his last 13 games prior to the injury, he was hitting .318 with a .436 on-base percentage.
While Moniak had become a strikeout victim in 22% of his appearances this year, the now 6’2″, 185-pounder has quite obviously shown the ability to compete at the second-highest level of the minor leagues at more than three years younger than the average player age.
No, Mickey Moniak is still not demonstrating that he will be a difference-making impact player to the levels envisioned by the organization when he was drafted. But neither is he the bust that many were beginning to call him just one year ago.
“I think it’s a lot of hard work in the offseason, but it has to do a lot with the past few years,” he said per Jackson Satz of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “The seasons I’ve had, the good, the bad, learning from everything that’s happened to me throughout my professional career so far. Ultimately, that’s going to work for me to become the best player that I can be.”
Now, mission one is to recover from the hamstring and get back into action. The Phillies have advanced him in a patient, yet consistent manner. One minor league level at a time. Moniak has continued to develop, gotten bigger and stronger, and it is now finally possible to envision him wearing a Phillies uniform at Citizens Bank Park.
Fans should expect to see him finish the year with Reading, and then move on to Triple-A Lehigh Valley when next season opens. He is likely to spend most of the 2020 season continuing his development. At that point it will be all about performance and production.
It may not yet be time for Phillies fans to get excited about Mickey Moniak. But it is beginning to become possible to see him as a contributor at the big-league level within the next two years. And it remains possible that he could still become the impact player that Almanzar and others believed him to be.
NOTE: Special thanks to Cheryl Purcell for her picture of Moniak at Reading accompanying this piece, and RIP to a truly good boy, Jax: https://jack-jax.com/
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