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Levelheaded Moniak stays grounded

Phillies' 18-year-old prospect showing signs of maturity beyond his years
MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Imagine, if you even can, being 18 years old and having somebody hand you $6.1 million. Even better, you got the money for being deemed the best amateur baseball player in the country. People can't stop talking about how wonderful you are.

Would your teenage ego explode like a cartoon balloon? Would your first impulse be to go on a huge shopping spree and buy a mansion and fill the garage with expensive cars and invite all your friends to move in and raid the fridge whenever they felt like it?

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Imagine, if you even can, being 18 years old and having somebody hand you $6.1 million. Even better, you got the money for being deemed the best amateur baseball player in the country. People can't stop talking about how wonderful you are.

Would your teenage ego explode like a cartoon balloon? Would your first impulse be to go on a huge shopping spree and buy a mansion and fill the garage with expensive cars and invite all your friends to move in and raid the fridge whenever they felt like it?

Mickey Moniak, from all accounts, has managed to avoid the pitfalls of sudden wealth and celebrity, despite winning the baseball lottery when the Phillies made him the first overall Draft pick out of La Costa Canyon (Calif.) High School last June.

And Moniak has been able to remain impressively levelheaded, it seems, in part because he's developed a support system that begins with his family and extends to teammates and even other Philadelphia athletes who have found themselves in similar situations.

Video: Top Prospects: Mickey Moniak, OF, Phillies

Organizations go to great lengths to guide and protect young players. But they can't monitor them 24/7. In the end, the players have to be responsible for following their own inner compass. Moniak's upbringing has helped him remain grounded.

"Family is the one thing that will always be there for you," Moniak said Wednesday at the Carpenter Complex. "If you have a bad game, a bad day, you can just call your parents. Brother, sister, grandpa."

Or, Moniak quickly added, his cousin. Tanner Gage was 20 years old and a student at Santa Barbara City College in October 2014 when he lost his balance and tumbled 40 feet off a balcony and over a cliff, severing his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

That obviously puts a slump right back into perspective.

"If you're having a bad game, things could be a lot worse," Moniak said. "He gives me a lot of strength through what he's dealing with and all the stuff he's been through."

On the day Moniak was drafted, the center fielder went to his aunt and uncle's house to wait for the news so Tanner could be part of the experience.

"He's been like an older brother to me, basically, ever since I was born," Moniak said. "We would always have sleepovers. He played baseball, too. It was huge to have him there for that. I couldn't have been more excited to have him there and I couldn't have had a prouder moment."

Moniak also has the name "Chase" tattooed onto his lower right arm, in memory of another cousin who passed away a year-and-a-half ago.

"He's always in my mind and is definitely a huge inspiration for me," Moniak said.

And the reference to calling grandpa? Bill Moniak spent six years in the Red Sox's system, where he was occasionally tutored by Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

Moniak -- who is ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the Phillies' No. 2 prospect and No. 19 in all of baseball -- is also fortunate to be surrounded by guys who can relate to his situation. Right-hander Mark Appel was selected first by the Astros in 2013. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phils' first-round pick the same year, has widely been considered the organization's best prospect for the past couple of years.

Appel counseled staying within yourself, not trying to live up to the hype. Moniak and Crawford have the same agent and live a little over an hour apart in Southern California. They went fishing together frequently and hit together in the offseason.

Moniak even learns from Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft) and 76ers forward Ben Simmons (the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft).

"I follow both of them on Twitter," Moniak said. "Just to see how they're doing and what they're doing."

Which is not to say that Moniak hasn't changed at all. When he was drafted, he weighed 170 pounds -- and it showed when he hit just one home run in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer while batting .284 with a .340 OBP and a .409 slugging percentage.

After the instructional league ended, Moniak spent three weeks in Clearwater for a Phillies strength camp. Now he's up to 185 pounds, and he can already tell the difference about the way the ball is coming off his bat.

"Not just me, but my coaches back home," Moniak said. "I take BP at my high school in the offseason, and they noticed. And back here, the coaches are definitely noticing. And I pick it up. Just the ball flies a little differently. So I'm really excited to see how that translates into games."

Ask about goals for 2017, though, and the only stat Moniak mentions is wins and losses for the team.

"Winning comes first," Moniak said. "But usually when the winning happens, all the personal stuff comes with it."

That's pretty mature for an 18-year-old who's been through the whirlwind that Moniak has in the past year. Imagine that.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.

Philadelphia Phillies