CLEARWATER, Fla. — It must be a great feeling to be the first overall pick in the major-league draft, especially when the selection comes with a $6.1 million signing bonus before your high school graduation.
And it must be a great feeling to be ranked among the top 100 prospects in the game after a stellar start to your career in the low minors.
It also must be a real downer when that top-prospect status goes away, and you’re just another guy in a spring-training clubhouse trying to prove you belong in the big leagues.
Welcome to Mickey Moniak’s world, except for the part about being down.
The first overall pick in the 2016 draft out of La Costa Canyon High School in Southern California, Moniak is now labeled a potential fourth outfielder by many professional scouts, but the graduation to the big leagues is not guaranteed.
That would be a major blemish on the Philadelphia Phillies’ draft record because you only need three fingers to count the number of players who did not reach the big leagues after being selected first overall since the draft’s 1965 inception. The list: Steven Chilcott, a catcher taken by the New York Mets in 1966; Brien Taylor, a pitcher taken by the New York Yankees in 1991; and Mark Appel, a pitcher taken by the Houston Astros in 2013.
Moniak is not worried about any of it because he has learned that letting outside thoughts enter his head are counterproductive.
“When I was in Lakewood, I couldn’t tell you the exact number I was — I remember being pretty high — but I remember I got knocked down two spots after that first season, and I kind of took it the wrong way,” Moniak said after a recent workout. “I paid attention to it too much, and I let it affect me mentally.”
Moniak, No. 17 in Baseball America’s top 100 before the 2017 season, fell out of the top 100 the next year, after hitting .236 with a .284 on-base percentage and .625 OPS. He has not been back in the top 100 since. He also fell from being the Phillies’ No. 2 prospect to No. 9 after his season at Lakewood. He was No. 9 again this year, but the Phillies’ last three first-round picks, all college selections, have zoomed past him.
Adam Haseley, the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2017, is the leading candidate to be the team’s center fielder this season, while Alec Bohm, the third overall pick by the Phillies in 2018, has emerged as the team’s No. 2 prospect after hitting .305 with 30 doubles, 21 home runs, and an .896 OPS while jumping from Lakewood to double-A Reading during the course of the season.
Shortstop Bryson Stott, the Phillies’ first-round pick last year, is now considered the team’s third best prospect.
“I’m focused on myself,” Moniak said. “They are my teammates and we’re all in the same organization so I’m rooting for them. We all have the same goal and that’s to win a championship in Philadelphia. I don’t pay attention to the prospect list. I honestly couldn’t tell you what I am in any list that any one has ever come up with. I stopped looking at that after my first full season in pro ball.”
The Phillies have not given up on Moniak. He has shown flashes during his first three full seasons in pro ball that make you want to see more.
Last year, for example, he rebounded from hitting .195 in April at Reading to hit .295 with 17 doubles, eight triples, and two home runs over his next 62 games. But then he hit just .214 in his next 38 games to end the season and .186 in 17 Arizona Fall League games.
“It all comes down to being consistent,” Moniak said. “That’s the number one thing you can do as a baseball player. You have to try to be even keel. I try to come every day with the same approach, which is to get better personally and help the team win.”
Moniak, who is only 21 and younger than the Phillies’ three first-round picks taken in the last three years, did try something a little different this offseason.
“I didn’t take a break after the fall league,” he said. “I kept hitting. I usually take about a month or two off, but I felt like it wasn’t necessary. Instead of having that couple-week span where you have to find your swing again, I kind of just wanted to get in the cage right away.
“It wasn’t too crazy. I just went one or two times a week and did upkeep kind of stuff, and then I really amped it up in December and January, like I have every year. I think not taking that time off is huge, and I feel good right now.”
Time will tell whether his change in preparation leads to the consistency that has eluded him. The one thing Moniak obviously has learned is that outside opinions do not help his cause, and you should never stop believing in your own ability.
“If there are reports saying I’m a fourth outfielder, they can say that all they want,” Moniak said. “They are not signing my paycheck. They are not me. I’m preparing to play 162 games, and everyone can have their opinion, but I’m going to stay true to what I do and have the confidence to ultimately be the best baseball player I can possibly be. I’m ready to prove myself. I’m ready to go.”