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?
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"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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