Mickey Moniak

Bryce Harper set to ramp up prep for spring debut

Bryce Harper set to ramp up prep for spring debut

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper on Tuesday continued the ramp-up toward his spring debut.

The new, headline-grabbing, shirt-selling Phillie spent some of the morning in the batter's box, tracking pitches during Zach Eflin's between-starts bullpen session. He also took some indoor batting practice before a morning rainstorm cleared out.

Harper is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut Saturday as the Phillies' designated hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.

In preparation for that, Harper will hit in simulated games on Wednesday and Thursday.

He will join Gift Ngoepe in hitting against Jerad Eickhoff in a simulated game at Spectrum Field on Wednesday morning. On Thursday, he will hit against pitchers at the minor-league complex in a simulated game. Pitchers bear down in a simulated game and throw all of their pitches without telling the hitter what is coming.

After his morning workout Tuesday, Harper joined his new teammates in the dugout for the first few innings of the Phils' Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals. Harper spent a couple of innings leaning on the railing, speaking with young outfielder Mickey Moniak. Both are former No. 1 overall picks in the Major League Baseball draft.

"It was really cool," Moniak said of his conversation with Harper. "He's very impressive. 

"He told me to be myself. He said, you got drafted where you got drafted for a reason, so be confident in the way you go about your business and always put winning first. He said, don't care if other teams hate you, all that matters is the guys in your clubhouse and having one goal with them."

Aaron Nola made his spring debut in the game and looked good with three shutout innings. He allowed a hit, a walk and struck out three.

Nola is well aware of the buzz that Harper's addition has created back in Philadelphia.

"I've heard about the ticket sales," he said. "Since 2015, I hadn't seen, maybe one time, that place sold out. All those guys that played in '08 and '09, that's what they talk about, the fan base and how amazing it is with all those people in the crowd and we're looking forward to it. It's going to be fun.

"There was a lot more people here today. It felt more like a game and I think we're going to feel it more this year. We have a really good team."

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Phillies' top pick Mickey Moniak could be poised for big leap in 2019

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Phillies' top pick Mickey Moniak could be poised for big leap in 2019

It’s not always easy being the No. 1 overall pick in the major league baseball draft. Oh, the attention is great and the money ain’t bad, but the spotlight is relentlessly glaring and it can burn a hole right through you if you don’t immediately produce.

Mickey Moniak has walked in these spikes for 2½ seasons now. He’s felt the euphoria of hearing his name called above all others. He’s also felt the glare and the burn.

And the main thing he’s learned?

“You can’t panic,” he said.

The Phillies selected the wide-eyed Southern California native with the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and lured him away from a UCLA commitment with a $6.1 million signing bonus. For 2½ seasons, the young outfielder’s every move has been closely scrutinized. That’s just the way it is when you’re a No. 1 pick. Moniak has had his ups and downs and maybe a few too many downs for some. But there are a couple of big reasons to believe that Moniak is headed in the right direction on the often fickle development curve:

• He’s 20 years old for gosh sake, and won’t turn 21 until May. If he had gone the college route, his junior season would not even have begun yet.

• And he played eye-opening ball over the final two months of the 2018 season at Clearwater of the Florida State League. Over his final 52 games, he hit .302 and with 24 extra-base hits and an .829 OPS. His strikeout rate came down and his walk rate went up. That his improvement came late in the season, after months in draining Florida heat that has eaten up more than a few players, was a promising sign.

Moniak’s late-season success was fueled by something intangible. He took a deep breath, put faith in his talent, stopped putting pressure on himself and had some fun playing ball again. It all started last summer when a group of his pals from high school in the San Diego area traveled across the country and visited him in Clearwater.

“There were 10 of us in a two-bedroom apartment just hanging out,” Moniak said with a laugh.

Moniak’s buddies came to all the games that week. They heckled him (good-naturedly) from the stands and he went on a tear at the plate. It felt like he was back in high school, playing pressure-free ball.

“Their support helped me realize that it’s still baseball, have fun with it,” Moniak said.

Moniak was in Philadelphia this week to participate in the team’s prospect education seminar. He had been to Citizens Bank Park after the team drafted him in June 2016. Back then, he was 170 pounds. He has added muscle to his frame and is now 6-3, 205 pounds. His left-handed swing has produced just 10 homers in his first two full minor-league seasons, but the added strength could one day lead to more power as he continues to climb the development ladder.

It’s unclear where Moniak will open the 2019 season. It’s possible that he gets some more time in the Florida State League with the idea of playing himself to Double A Reading before the season is over. More immediately, he will be in big-league spring training camp next month, a little reward for his strong finish last summer, and a reminder that he still has huge potential for a bright future.

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Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak is beginning to turn a corner

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Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak is beginning to turn a corner

Mickey Moniak is beginning to turn a corner.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2016, Moniak is in the midst of his most productive stretch as a pro.

Driving the ball has been an issue for Moniak, who's still 20 years old and hasn't yet fully bulked up or grown into his frame. But over these last 24 games and 104 plate appearances, Moniak has hit .303/.365/.517 with 11 doubles, a triple and two homers. Ten of those 14 extra-base hits have come in his last 16 games.

On Wednesday, Moniak received an honor not for his offense but for his defense. He was named Phillies Minor League Defender of the Month (Dylan Cozens was named Hitter of the Month).

Moniak has made 90 starts in the outfield (79 in center) this season without committing an error. He also has five outfield assists, four from center and one from left field.

Overall this season, Moniak has hit .256/.289/.365 in 94 games with High-A Clearwater. He has just 10 home runs in nearly 1,100 plate appearances as a pro.

The needle is starting to move, though.

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