Almost every human emotion spilled from Mickey Moniak’s body Wednesday when the Phillies called him up to the majors.
By Thursday, the prevailing feeling was excitement.
Moniak, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, made his first major-league start Thursday night in the Phillies' series finale against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. He played left field (Andrew McCutchen was the designated hitter) and batted ninth, as manager Joe Girardi stacked the lineup with left-handed hitters, including Moniak and center fielder Adam Haseley, against Mets right-hander Seth Lugo.
“We kind of called him up thinking he would play today,” Girardi said before the game. “He’s a toolsy kid that’s been swinging the bat pretty well [at the Lehigh Valley training site], and you kind of hope to catch lightning in a bottle. He’s going to play against some righties. Roman [Quinn] is going to play against all the lefties.”
The Phillies didn’t necessarily expect to bring Moniak to the majors this season. They didn’t even add the 22-year-old to their 60-player pool until last month because he was hampered by a Grade 1 strain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when he tripped on the stairs in his home this summer.
But injuries have hit the roster lately. With outfielder Jay Bruce still a few days from returning after a recurrence of a left quadriceps strain, reserve outfielder Kyle Garlick was lost for the rest of the season Tuesday night with a strained oblique muscle in his side.
The Phillies elected to call up Moniak over fellow non-roster outfielders Mikie Mahtook and Nick Martini, both of whom have major-league experience, because he had been hitting well in intrasquad scrimmages in Lehigh Valley.
“It’s something I’ve been working for a very long time,” Moniak said. “It’s been a roller coaster of a ride since I got drafted here. Learned a lot. I think I’m a better baseball player because of it. Just very grateful to be here and be on a team that’s in a playoff hunt.”
Moniak got emotional recalling his first three calls upon receiving the news that he was getting called up. He phoned his father, who started to cry; his mother; and his grandfather, Bill Moniak, who played in the minor leagues with the Boston Red Sox from 1958 to 1963 and “kind of lives through me through this whole process.”
Drafted out of high school and signed to a $6.1 million bonus, Moniak batted only .236 with a .625 OPS in his first full season with low-A Lakewood in 2017. He has hit .256 with 22 homers and a .692 OPS in 1,671 plate appearances in the minors, including .252 with 11 homers and a .741 OPS last season at double-A Reading.
But Moniak is the 17th player among the top 30 picks in 2016 to reach the big leagues. Of that group, only five were high school picks.
“Now that I’m here, I wouldn’t say it validates the No. 1 pick, but it’s a step forward,” Moniak said. “I’m just trying to be here, help the team win, do every little thing I can to try to get this team to the playoffs and just help.”
Moniak made his major-league debut as a pinch-runner for fellow rookie Alec Bohm in the ninth inning Wednesday night.
But with Moniak getting a start Thursday night, the Phillies had four of their former first-round picks (Aaron Nola, Haseley, Bohm, Moniak) in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 26, 2006, when Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal, Brett Myers, and Chase Utley started against the Washington Nationals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Upon seeing his name in the lineup Thursday, Moniak texted family and friends.
“It was cool to be able to say, ‘Hey, turn the game on tonight. Going to get more than a pinch-run,’” he said. “Just kind of staying calm. It’s just another baseball game, I’d like to think."