Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak shrugging off pressure of being No. 1 pick

Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak shrugging off pressure of being No. 1 pick

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — A little less than an hour before first pitch at FirstEnergy Park, a handful of eager autograph seekers pushed their way toward the end of the BlueClaws’ dugout.

With the meat of the Phillies’ farm system playing at Triple A Lehigh Valley and Double A Reading, it was clear whose autograph they all wanted — Mickey Moniak.

For the No. 1 overall selection in last year’s MLB draft, it’s been just more than a year since he inked his first pro contract at age 18. And after living out of a hotel in Clearwater, Florida, for most of the past year, Moniak has settled in as Lakewood’s everyday centerfielder and No. 3 hitter.

At 19 years old, he’s just trying to enjoy the ride.

“There’s been a lot of positives and I’m excited for the future,” Moniak said Wednesday. “I’ve gotten a lot of ABs under my belt. The biggest thing for me is staying healthy and learning to play all day as well as adjusting to higher-level pitching. It’s been fun.”

When the Phils went on the clock with the first pick last June, there was no consensus top prospect. Among the top 12 selections, there were six high schoolers and six college guys taken. In Baseball America’s most recent rankings, just one player from last year’s first round sits among the top 25 prospects.

But clearly, there was something good about the kid. It would just be a matter of time to figure out exactly what that was.

“He’s really going to hit,” BlueClaws manager Marty Malloy said. “He’s just turned 19 years old a couple weeks back and is hitting third in the order in a full season for the first time coming out of high school.

“But just his work — whether it be in the weight room or his throwing program, leads and breaks at first base. … He’s going to get stronger and he’s been the same guy every day — 0 for 4 or 4 for 4, it’s the same Mick.”

After he slashed .284/.340/.409 with the Gulf Coast Phillies in 46 games, the organization promoted Moniak to Low A ball and it’s been much of the same. In 81 games so far, he’s cooled down just a bit to .267, but his strikeout rate has been just a hair higher than 20 percent and he’s slugging .386.

And fortunately for the Phils, their needs in the outfield are far from desperate. 

Although Moniak was the team’s second-ranked prospect entering the year, they just promoted Nick Williams to the big leagues, have Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens at Lehigh Valley and already have a pair of guys in their 20s roaming the Citizens Bank Park outfields on a nightly basis with Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr.

On top of that, the team just used its eighth overall selection this year to take Adam Haseley — a guy who also plays center field and is already on the fast track to the majors (more on him here).

Still, Moniak was a No. 1 pick. It’s no question why the expectations are high and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

Now, it’s just a matter of how the Encinitas, California, native is going to handle them.

“Being a No. 1 pick, you want to be that guy,” Moniak said. “I’m just trying to get better every day and not listen to too much outside. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself — that kind of ruins the fun for me.”

His coaches feel the same way.

“He’s probably more mature than most 19-year-olds would be, but it hasn’t been an issue at all,” Malloy said. “He’s handled it better probably than most as far as autographs, people calling, people coming, wanting this, that and the other from him. With open arms, I think he’s been a pro about it.”

In spring training, Moniak discussed the thing that slowed him a bit last season. No, it was not a broken bone or a pulled muscle. Nor was it a mental issue having made the jump right from high school to the pros.

It was growing pains. Remember, the kid has yet to even live for two decades. He’s about as young as they get in the South Atlantic League — the only guy younger on the BlueClaws is fireballer Sixto Sanchez, who won’t turn 19 until the end of this month.

Moniak is still developing and he’s made his health a priority. Despite taking the night off Wednesday, Moniak has played in all but nine games this season.

If he had the choice, he wouldn’t miss a game the rest of the way.

“[My biggest improvement has been] just playing every day,” Moniak said. “Taking care of your body before the game and after the game — stuff like that to make sure you can play 140 games in a minor-league season, and hopefully 162 games soon.

“A real big focus for me has been making sure my body’s been ready to go every day. I feel great right now and this next month and a half, two months are going to be fun. I’m going to do the same thing I’ve been doing up to this point.”

It’s probably unrealistic to think Moniak won’t take another night off. 

And in reality, the season isn’t about his personal goals anyways. The Phillies haven’t really hit on a first-rounder right out of high school since Cole Hamels was taken in 2002. Even he, a four-time All-Star and World Series MVP, needed three-plus seasons to make it to Philadelphia.

For Hamels, it started in Lakewood. Now, Moniak just wants to do the same.

“Growing up as a kid, you watch the All-Star Game and you think, ‘That’s where I’m going to be. That’s what I want to work for,’” Moniak said. “But right now, I’m staying in the moment. I’m in A ball. I’m just focused on getting better every day and growing and developing in the system. 

“Whenever that day comes to where I maybe get the call to go up to Philly, I want to work for it, so taking it day by day is pretty much all you can do at this point.”

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

AP Images

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies