Outfielder getting accustomed to wooden bats, better pitching
By Paul Hagen
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mickey Moniak spent several minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures Saturday morning at the Carpenter Complex. He was halfway to the clubhouse when he heard a voice behind him.
"Hey, Mickey, time for one more?"
"Absolutely," he said, pivoting and signing the proffered baseball, then smiling for the camera.
Not many Gulf Coast League players command that sort of attention. Then again, the 18-year-old Phillies prospect is the only one who was the first overall Draft Pick earlier this month. So the fans show up early to ask him for an autograph when he arrives in the morning, gather along the chain link fence and ask again after pregame workouts.
His life changed forever when Commissioner Rob Manfred stood at a podium at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., and announced that, with the first pick in the 2016 Draft, the Phillies selected outfielder Mickey Moniak from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, Calif.
Since then, he's been interviewed on national television. He's signed a contract that included a $6.1 million signing bonus. He's attended a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. And, yes, he's become a magnet for autograph seekers.
Here's the thing, though. When he takes the field in the morning, all that goes away. Out there, for all practical intents and purposes, he becomes just another kid in a gray T-shirt trying to work his way up to the Major Leagues.
"Everyone comes out here, whether they're the first pick or the last pick. You're playing rookie ball right now in the Gulf Coast League," he said before Saturday's game against a Yankees GCL club at Ashburn Field was suspended with the score tied at 3-3.
"Anything you can do to move up. There are guys out here trying to take your job. You're trying to take their job. It's a good environment, getting to know the guys. But it's also a job, and you're trying to do your best and move up as soon as possible. I like the added incentives. The competition definitely fuels me. So I'm excited."
Moniak has not played yet. He spent most of Saturday's contest wearing blue workout shorts and watching from a chair behind the backstop. His last high school game was on May 27, so the Phillies are being careful to ease him in along with about a dozen other players who are in a similar position.
"It doesn't matter who the player is. We just want to make sure they don't get injured," said GCL Phillies manager Roly DeArmas.
Added player development director Joe Jordan: "We just want to make sure his legs are in shape, his arm's in shape. It's been a little while since he played. No big hurry. There's a lot of summer left.
"We're working him out every day. Once we feel like his hands are in shape and he's ready, we'll get some live BP and see how he reacts. I don't want to put him out here without having seen a breaking ball, or if he's not ready to hit a good fastball. He'll tell us. There's a leeway, but I don't think it will be a long time. We won't be able to hold him off long."
He's also making the adjustment from aluminum to wood bats. It appears that the earliest he could make his professional debut is Wednesday against the GCL Yankees in Tampa, Fla.
From what he's seen so far, Moniak knows he's going to have to be at his best.
"The talent level is definitely better than high school ball," he said. "You're playing against guys who are good enough to play professional baseball. A lot of international guys. Professional ball so far has been fun. I'm excited to continue this.
"I watched a scrimmage my first day here. The talent level is off the charts. You see guys throwing in the 90s every day. Good breaking balls. So it's definitely going to be a little bit of an adjustment coming from high school baseball, but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Said Jordan: "They're swinging wooden bats every day. There are some really good arms in this league, with not a lot of command at times. So it's just different. He'll probably face more [velocity] than what he's faced in high school day in and day out. Maybe the breaking balls weren't quite as sharp."
Moniak flew to Florida immediately after Tuesday's press conference and was on the field working out early Wednesday morning.
"I'm just getting back in the swing of things. Batting practice. Throwing. Outfield drills. Lifting," he said. "I've enjoyed it. Meeting a bunch of new guys and guys I've known and played with as well. It's been a fun experience. I'm excited and looking forward to being on this path."
He's made a strong first impression with the staff.
"I've been very impressed from the first day he came here," DeArmas said. "Very professional. Very mature kid. Hard worker. Everything that the scouts said."
The Phillies have a general idea of what's in store for Moniak the rest of the year, but are also somewhat flexible.
"It's really just getting some experience, getting oriented to our way of doing things, and just play. Just play the game," Jordan explained. "If we decide we want to see him somewhere else later this summer, that's fine. If he spends all summer in the Gulf Coast League, that's terrific. That's what we did with [2015 No. 1 pick Cornelius Randolph] last year.
"So there's really no hard-and-fast plan. Our plan is for him to play all summer. Then, he'll be in the Florida Instructional League. He's going to get plenty of baseball. And we'll see how it goes."
Better pitching. Wood bats. Being on his own for the first time. It's all a part of a normal learning curve. For Moniak, add in the attention that comes with the first overall pick. And, of course, being asked for his autograph.
"It's definitely different, but I'm getting used to it," he said. "You've got to be courteous. They come all this way. It's been fun."
Once he steps between the lines, though, none of that matters. It's all about playing baseball, and that's the way it should be.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.