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Joe Girardi: Phillies view Mickey Moniak ‘more as a corner outfielder’

Mickey Moniak is a former No. 1 overall pick. (Cheryl Pursell)

It was more of a due-diligence question, but Joe Girardi’s answer to a reporter’s inquiry on why the Philadelphia Phillies elected to promote Travis Jankowski to replace Roman Quinn – as opposed to Mickey Moniak – raised some eyebrows.

“His ability to play center field is probably the biggest thing,” Girardi said Sunday of what went into the decision to promote Jankowski over Moniak. “And he was probably swinging the bat the best down there.”

“We envision Mickey more as a corner outfielder than a center fielder. Travis is a true center fielder. And he’s been swinging the bat well, that’s why we went with him.”

Moniak, who recently turned 23, has played in 11 games for the Phillies in 2021, with 49 2/3 of his 57 1/3 innings coming in center field. Of the 18 games that Moniak has played at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2021, he’s started 14 in center field, playing the entirety of the game at the position on 13 of those occasions. So, hearing Girardi suggest that the Phillies believe his future is at another position was a bit jarring.

It’s not abnormal for teams to try outfielders in center only to realize they don’t profile at the position in the major leagues, but most think to believe Moniak does fit in center. Phillies Nation‘s Ty Daubert said earlier this year that Moniak is “well beyond capable of playing all three outfield spots with a solid arm and range.”

If you can find a player capable of playing in center field, typically you don’t move them elsewhere, because there are so few above-average players at the position. In the small sample size that he had at the major league level in 2021, Moniak played well defensively, posting one defensive run saved and one out above average. Nothing that the former No. 1 overall pick has shown recently would suggest that he couldn’t handle center field.

On top of all of that, there’s not yet evidence that Moniak has enough pop in his bat to be a regular starter in a corner outfield position. In 1,615 career minor league at-bats, Moniak has just 25 home runs. Typically, you want your left or right fielder to be a player capable of hitting at least 20-25 home runs per season, and Moniak may not have that ceiling offensively.

You could read into Girardi’s comment and attempt to surmise that the Phillies think Moniak may end up being more of a fourth outfielder, one that they are happy can play all three positions. We haven’t come to that conclusion, though. The jury is still out on whether Moniak can be an everyday outfielder at any position – he’s hitting just .200/.287/.373 for the IronPigs – but Girardi said at the conclusion of spring training that he believed Moniak was “an everyday player in the big leagues.” From here, that didn’t seem to be lip service, Girardi appeared pretty confident making that statement.

Left field may very well be open after the 2021 season, with the Phillies likely to decline Andrew McCutchen’s $15 million option for 2022. Placing Moniak there, however, would seem to further limit the Phillies possibilities for re-imagining their defense in 2022.

Alec Bohm – has a league-worst -8 defensive runs saved at third base – so it’s fair to assume he may be playing another position for the team in 2022. While first base is probably the most likely landing spot, some have speculated about the possibility of the strong-armed Bohm getting a look in left. That would be off the table if the Phillies plan to use Moniak on an everyday basis in a corner outfield position, because he obviously wouldn’t be pushing Bryce Harper out of right field.

Even if Bohm makes the move to first base – or becomes the DH, if that returns to the National League – Moniak taking over in left field would prevent the Phillies from making an external addition at the position, which may be necessary if they hope to be a playoff team in 2022. Should the organization believe that Moniak is an everyday player better best geared to play a corner outfield position, they probably wouldn’t sign potential free agents like Michael Conforto or Mark Canha.

If the Phillies don’t envision Moniak playing in center field every day to open 2022 – or shortly thereafter – you’re left to wonder who they do. We don’t know what the future holds for Quinn and Adam Haseley, but neither has shown to be capable of playing on a regular basis to this point. All potential free-agent options at the position – Starling Marte is probably the most notable – will be north of 30 years old.

Would the Phillies consider exercising Odúbel Herrera’s $11.5 million option for 2022 if he continues to play well? It’s tough to tell. Part of the reason that the Phillies gave Herrera a second opportunity after a domestic violence suspension is that he was under contract for $10 million in 2021, a salary he would have made whether he was on the major league roster or not. But there no doubt would be some level of backlash if the Phillies re-committed to Herrera – regardless of how well he may perform in 2021 – rather than buying out his 2022 option for $2.5 million.

For any of this discussion to matter, Moniak will need to heat up at Triple-A, which would prove that an impressive spring wasn’t a fluke. But there’s no doubt that Girardi’s thoughts Sunday opened up even more questions about the short and long-term future surrounding the Phillies.


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