The Phillies raided UCLA’s recruiting class for the coming year when they selected two of the Bruins’ top commits in the Major League Baseball draft Thursday night.
First overall pick Mickey Moniak of La Costa Canyon High School near San Diego was considered by many to be the best high school hitter in the country (see story).
Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gowdy of Santa Barbara High School was rated as the best high school arm in Southern California by Baseball America. He was the first pick in the second round (see story).
Now, the Phillies must sign both of these players away from UCLA.
That should not be a problem. No team would spend the No. 1 and No. 42 picks on players they weren’t pretty sure they could sign.
“I hope so. I think so,” was general manager Matt Klentak’s response when he spoke about the chances of signing both players. “That’s a big factor for us, taking players that we like that we’re pretty confident are going to sign.”
The Phillies have been allotted $13.4 million by MLB for signing bonuses in this draft. The slot for the No. 1 pick — Moniak — is $9.01 million. You can bet that the Phillies have ascertained that they can sign Moniak, a gifted centerfielder, for less than slot, a strategy that would allow them to increase the slot money assigned to the 42nd pick (just over $1.5 million) as they move to buy Gowdy out of his UCLA commitment.
“Don’t know yet,” Klentak said when asked point-blank if Moniak would sign under slot.
The draft continues with the third round on Friday. The Phillies will lead it off.
Twenty different Phillies scouts saw Moniak play this spring. Scouting director Johnny Almaraz said Moniak, ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the draft by Baseball America, started to separate himself about a month ago (see story).
“When you're scouting the entire country, you don't come to those conclusions right away,” Almaraz said. “You have to cover the entire 50 states plus go to Hawaii. Probably toward the three-quarter mark [of the season] he started to define himself as a superior talent.
“Mickey Moniak is a middle-of-the-field player. He’s going to impact the game on both sides, in the outfield and offensively. He’s a perennial base stealer. He’s got what we feel is the best hitting ability in the country this year.
“In my eyes, he can play center field probably in the big leagues right now. His ability to hit the baseball is above everybody else in the country right now and his defensive ability is about a 70 (out of 80) as far as our grades are concerned.
“He was No. 1 on my list. He was the best player in the country.
“I believe one day he will hit anywhere between 15 and 22 home runs. I think you'll have a Gold Glove centerfielder who will hit in the middle of the lineup and be a leader on the team.”
Klentak made a trip to California to see Moniak, 18.
“He’s a very good-looking kid,” Klentak said. “It’s important to note this is a middle-of-the-field player. The way baseball is today, that was a major factor for us. This is a kid who is athletic. He can really hit. One of the top bats in the country and he’s a centerfielder. That’s a pretty good combination.”
Almaraz was pleasantly surprised that Gowdy, 18, was still on the board at 42. Baseball America had him rated as the 39th-best prospect in the draft.
“He’s a young right-handed pitcher who has the ability to command the baseball at such a young age,” Almaraz said. “He has an above-average fastball and good breaking stuff. I’m a believer you can’t teach somebody how to pitch. He’s got that innate ability to pitch and get hitters out and that’s what we want in this organization, frontline pitchers.”
Four months ago, the Phillies seemed to prefer selecting a college pitcher who could rise quickly through the system with the No. 1 pick, but they didn't believe such a pitcher emerged in this draft.
So the Phillies get two high school talents — a hitter and a pitcher — from Southern California. Player development is an inexact science, but both project to be major-leaguers. When?
“Their development will dictate that,” Klentak said.