Twenty-two months after getting drafted with the No. 1 overall pick, Mickey Moniak no longer ranks among Baseball America’s 100 best prospects. ESPN’s Keith Law yanked the outfielder from his top-100 list, too. And when MLB.com dropped Moniak from No. 19 before last season to No. 88, it wasn’t meant as an homage to Eric Lindros.
Yet the Phillies still gave Moniak a promotion.
Moniak opened the season with Clearwater in the Florida State League, the most advanced level of Class A ball, despite struggling for most of last season at low-A Lakewood. And through Wednesday, he was batting .213 with no home runs and only three extra-base hits — hardly the start the Phillies were hoping for from the player they deemed to be the nation’s best amateur hitter in 2016.
“I don’t know how you can sit there and watch him and say, ‘Yep, he’s the guy,’ ” one American League scout said.
Added a National League scout: “I lean toward him being an extra outfielder, not an impact centerfielder [in the big leagues].”
But the Phillies aren’t having second thoughts about making Moniak the top pick in the country or signing him to a $6.1 million bonus. They don’t even regret not sending him back to Lakewood, a decision rooted in the progress they believed he made in their instructional league last fall.
Even if the rest of baseball is beginning to doubt whether Moniak will fulfill the enormous expectations associated with being a first overall pick, the Phillies are emphasizing positivity and patience with the 19-year-old.
“There’s no doubt he struggled here in the first couple weeks or so,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development. “He didn’t quite have his timing coming out of camp, and I think it snowballed on him for a couple weeks. But I think he’s in a good place. Mickey Moniak’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to have a good, good year.”
Moniak got off to a decent start last season. Through June, he was batting .271 with 17 doubles, four triples, three homers, and a .718 OPS.
But while many young players hit the proverbial wall down the stretch of their first full professional season, Moniak smashed into it like a bird to a window. Over his final 52 games, Moniak batted .187 with five doubles, two triples, two homers, and an impossibly low .494 OPS.
“Everyone says it’s a long year, and it’s a grind,” Moniak said by phone this week, “but you really don’t realize it until you go through it.”
To better steel his body for the rigors of a five-month minor-league season, Moniak — 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, with what one scout described as “narrow shoulders” — returned to his native San Diego and worked out at EXOS Performance, a training facility for elite athletes.
And although the Phillies didn’t inform Moniak that he would be assigned to Clearwater until the final days of spring training, Jordan said the decision was all but made after Moniak attended the organization’s offseason strength-and-conditioning camp.
“If you just stopped everything on Sept. 4 or 5, or whenever last season ended, and didn’t spend time with the player, didn’t have the month in instructional league, didn’t have him back for a strength camp in the fall, you would probably say, ‘Let’s go back to [Lakewood] and let’s try to get off to a good start and promote him then,’ ” Jordan said. “I think what happened in this situation is we spent enough time with him that we just realized he was fine mentally; his confidence was good. We just had confidence that this was the appropriate challenge for him. I believe in time he will prove that to be a good decision.”
But rival talent evaluators believe Moniak’s struggles are more complex than wearing down during a long season. One American League scout observed that either the lefty-swinging Moniak or the Phillies seem hung up on getting him to pull the ball for power. The scout suggested that Moniak’s natural swing is more conducive to driving the ball to the opposite field.
Even then, some scouts doubt Moniak has the defensive prowess to stay in center field. If he moves to a corner outfield spot, he likely would need to demonstrate more power to be an everyday player.
“There’s definitely been a few games where I’ve kind of had to take a step back and rethink what I’m trying to do at the plate,” said Moniak, who went 2 for 4 and scored two runs on Wednesday. “But I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat well, making hard contact, and just the results aren’t there. The numbers don’t always show what I’m doing, but I feel confident that if I keep swinging the bat well and putting the barrel on the ball, the numbers will end up how they need to end up by season’s end.”
In that case, Moniak’s standing with Baseball America figures to improve, too. He claims not to pay much attention to outside opinions, especially those ubiquitous prospect lists (“It’s more my dad and grandpa that tell me about it.”), but says he’s using the top-100 snubs as fuel this season.
“There’s a little motivation, having a chip on your shoulder, having guys think you’re this good one year and all of a sudden only this good the next year,” Moniak said. “But more so, I’d like to prove it to myself.”
Then, maybe everyone else will follow.