Moniak trusting the process in Minors

Phillies' top prospect isn't scared of lofty expectations

Moniak trusting the process in Minors

LAKEWOOD, N.J. -- About 100 feet from the center-field fence, 70 miles east of his final destination, 1,000 miles north of his next assignment, and in his dad's words, 2,000 at-bats away from his Major League debut, a 19-year-old stood planted in center field at the nucleus of concentric circles mowed into the outfield grass at FirstEnergy Park.

Like a light at the end of the tunnel that teases yet entices, Mickey Moniak stood calmly and confidently, the encircling rings a visible radiance emanating in all directions.

It was a fitting visual.

Moniak is a prize, a centerpiece both in Lakewood and atop the Phillies' Top 30 Prospect list by MLBPipeline.com. The Phillies gave Moniak a $6.1 million signing bonus after making him the first-overall pick in the 2016 Draft to patrol that very same spit of land at Citizens Bank Park. That grass, though, is checkered.

Moniak was the first subject scouts bantered about pregame. Can the power develop? Can he become Christian Yelich? Can Moniak be better?

Before Moniak can blossom into the star scouts posit, postulate and project, he must accomplish two things in his first full professional season: Fine-tune his approach and stay injury-free.

"The power will come," Moniak said. "If you're not going up to the plate with an approach every at-bat, then it doesn't matter how good your swing is. You're not going to be successful."

Less than a year removed from growing pains that cut short his first taste of the Minors -- quite the sobering reminder of just how young Moniak is -- he needs to be on the field for that honed approach to translate into habit.

Moniak's numbers at Class A Lakewood are underwhelming for someone whose hitting was praised so highly. He's hitting .258 with an OPS of .680, but Class A numbers do not a Major Leaguer make. Moniak calls Lakewood a learning experience. A process.

Just a careful manipulation of the grassy surface that draws the eye to the unassuming 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, those layers of surrounding grass rings conjure another analogy, that of Moniak as a bull's-eye, the center of the Phillies' and scouts' attentions alike.

Despite jumping to the top of the Phillies' list, Moniak dropped from 17 to 33 in the MLBPipeline.com Top 100 rankings.

Starting 2017 as the organization's second-ranked prospect, Moniak leapfrogged his good friend, fellow southern Californian and high school first-round pick J.P. Crawford, to land the top rank Crawford had occupied since Moniak was a 16-year-old sophomore in high school. The pair, although born three years apart, playing three levels apart in the Minors, share a nearly identical backstory. Moniak called Crawford a "huge mentor."

Though the pair didn't talk much about the criticism heaped on Crawford after his slow start in Triple-A, Moniak is learning from afar as Crawford has completely turned around his season, dedicating it to proving the doubters wrong.

"I talked to him a little bit throughout the process," Moniak said. "His big thing was he got back to doing him. It worked for him. Look at him now. He's raking."

Bull's-eye or not, center of attention or not, Moniak doesn't revel in the attention. His goal isn't to disprove the naysayers. There are only two opinions of him that matter. His own and that of the Phillies.

"It's not like these are the actual teams making these rankings," Moniak said. "At the end of the day, you have to answer to your team."

Being the center of attention fits Moniak nicely. It reveals his true nature. Moniak understands the lofty expectations, but he isn't scared of them. He's confident, but not over cocky. Room to grow and a primary role to grow into invigorate, instead of intimidate, him.

"It's exciting for me knowing the possibility and opportunity I have right now," Moniak said. "It's a blessing."

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.