Transformed Moniak emerging as CF option

2016 No. 1 overall Draft pick: 'I'm just ready for the next step'

March 10th, 2021

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- This spring’s conversations about Mickey Moniak feel different than the others.

They are less about expectations, timetables and signs of incremental progress, and more about turning a long-shot (no-shot?) bid to make the Opening Day roster into Phillies manager Joe Girardi saying several times over the past couple weeks that Moniak, who was selected by Philadelphia with the first overall pick in the 2016 Draft, is in the mix.

“The struggles and the successes I went through in the Minor Leagues got me to this point,” Moniak said recently at BayCare Ballpark. “I feel like I’m in a good position, coming into camp and building off what I’ve learned the last four or five years playing pro ball, doing everything I can to put myself in a good situation and control what I can control. And after that, you know, it’s out of my hands. I’m just ready for the next step.”

Moniak tripled Tuesday in a Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. He is 5-for-9 with one double, one triple, two home runs, two RBIs, two strikeouts and a 2.111 OPS in eight games. That showing followed impressive early work in camp, with Girardi saying that Moniak led the team in barrels in live batting practice at Carpenter Complex.

Odúbel Herrera remains the favorite to win the center-field job. Scott Kingery and Roman Quinn are trying to keep up, while Adam Haseley is expected to miss the next few weeks with a strained left adductor.

But Girardi said it is fair to call Moniak a dark-horse candidate. Moniak will not make the team as a reserve outfielder, because he needs to play every day. So he will either start the season in Triple-A or he will pull off the upset and force the front office to decide he is the Opening Day center fielder on April 1.

Moniak does not seem concerned about his short-term future. Eventually, he believes, his time will come.

He feels that way because he is bigger, stronger and swinging the bat better than ever. Moniak, 22, entered camp at 205 pounds. He still remembers stepping on the scale before he played his first professional baseball game with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Phillies in June 2016. He weighed 168 pounds.

Then there is the swing. Philadelphia selected Moniak with the first overall pick that year because he sprayed line drives everywhere. But as he moved through the farm system, he tried to hit the ball in the air more. His neutral swing turned into an uppercut.

Phillies hitting coach Joe Dillon turned back the clock last spring.

“He got me back to where I used to be my whole life,” Moniak said. “I’ve always thought: short and quick, kind of the old-school way, almost swinging down. Obviously, all the new analytics come into play. There’s more information about swings and what guys do well, and I tried to add that to my game. I think for a few years in the Minor Leagues, I got away from myself, as far as trying to do too much, trying to put power numbers up when I should have been sticking to gap-to-gap, doing what I've always done well.

“You hear guys like A-Rod and Mike Trout talk. They always talk about swinging down. They combat this new-school way of thinking. Obviously, you watch their swings and they’re not swinging down. It’s just a huge thought process. So, for me, it was getting back to staying in the middle of the field, hitting line drives. If I’m going to hit a homer, it’s going to be an accident. Hopefully, we have a lot of accidents during the season.”

Moniak batted .353 (6-for-17) with two doubles, one triple, two RBIs, five walks and three strikeouts last spring. He went 3-for-14 with four walks and six strikeouts in September for the Phillies, but everybody from Girardi to Dillon to others loved his at-bats.

“We wanted him to control his barrel, control his ball flight,” Dillon said. “Basically, do what he wants to do with the ball. You know, in BP, a big leaguer should be able to hit it where he wants to, get it to fly the way he wants to. Just from what I saw up here, it was basically a more positive path [to the ball], so it's more uphill, and then more topspin on the ball. He wasn't controlling the ball around the field like he should be able to do. And now he's able to do that a lot better. It seems like he's got a lot of confidence.”

Moniak is more confident because of how much he has learned over the past five years, including three big league camps and a few weeks in the Major Leagues.

“I’m focused on having good at-bats and being disciplined at the plate,” he said. “I’ve talked about my bat-to-ball skills always being there. But sometimes I tried to do too much. I wanted to hit .300, so I got myself out. I got into a game thinking I needed to get a hit or two, instead of saying I’m going to have good at-bats, I need to get on base. A big change in my mindset from 2019 to 2020 was -- instead of shooting for hitting .300 -- shooting for a .370 on-base percentage and trusting what I can do with the bat. I'm very confident in that.

“Trying to be perfect is something that never really happens. But you can try to work towards it every day.”