Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi may have questioned Mickey Moniak’s long-term fit at the center field position, but the former No. 1 overall pick has no doubts.
“Personally, I feel like I am a center fielder,” Moniak said Wednesday afternoon from the dugout of Lehigh Valley’s Coca-Cola Park via Zoom. “I can play center field at a very high level.”
The 23-year-old’s comments came as a response to Girardi’s from May 30, when the Phillies manager expressed some surprising thoughts about the outfielder while explaining why the team promoted Travis Jankowski to the majors to replace the injured Roman Quinn instead of Moniak.
“We envision Mickey more as a corner outfielder than a center fielder,” Girardi said.
Girardi clarified last Tuesday that, while he would not hesitate to play Moniak in center if need be, he feels that the young outfielder is blocked in the depth chart by major-league center fielder Odúbel Herrera and may lack the speed of other “prototype center fielders.”
Moniak said he understands that this kind of evaluation comes with the business, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with Girardi’s statements.
“I mean, hey, it’s part of the game. It’s his opinion,” Moniak noted. “I still feel like I can play center field at a very high level.
“But, at the end of the day, he’s the manager. He’s making the decisions, and if he feels like [corner outfield]’s the best spot for me to help the team, then, hey, that’s the best spot for me to help the team win.”
Moniak has been working as a corner outfielder and center fielder for the Triple-A IronPigs since he was last sent down on May 7, focusing on improving jumps and route running each day. Overall, he’s made 19 appearances in center field, six appearances in left field and three in right in the minors this year.
In Moniak’s 11 games in two stints as a major-leaguer this season, he also played all three outfield positions. In extremely limited playing time, center field was his most productive of the three. Moniak posted one defensive run saved in 49 2/3 innings in center, zero in two left-field innings and minus-one DRS in 5 2/3 innings in right.
Although he sees himself as a center fielder, Moniak’s ability and willingness to play those corner spots do help his versatility, making it more likely for him to get another promotion to the big leagues than if he only played one spot. If a corner outfield opportunity presented itself in Philadelphia, Moniak would jump at it.
“I think a lot of guys break into the league and [do] not play necessarily their primary position,” he said. “I know [Chicago Cubs All-Star shortstop] Javy Báez broke into the league as a third baseman. You see a lot of guys playing different spots than people thought they were going to at first, and whatever role they need me to play when it’s time for me to be up there is one I’m going to take and I’m going to try to excel at it.”
That time for Moniak to be back up in the majors is largely predicated on his production in the batter’s box. The fact that Jankowski was producing offensively for Lehigh Valley while Moniak had largely struggled at the plate helped give Jankowski the nod, in addition to the team apparently preferring the veteran’s defense in center. If Moniak was outhitting Jankowski, perhaps the Phillies wouldn’t have worried so much about the slight perceived defensive advantage.
Moniak has been taking care of that part as of late, however. Over his last 17 games, he’s hitting .269/.333/.582 with a double, a triple and six home runs for the IronPigs. His minor-league OPS is at .743 for the season.
If he can keep his recent production up, Moniak should be able to see another chance at the major-league level at some point this season. And, if it comes, he won’t be too worried about the position he’ll playing when it does.
“Whatever the team needs when it’s go-time is where I’ll be,” he said.
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