READING — Without a home game to play the next day, the Phillies’ double-A affiliate Reading Fightin Phils held their Fourth of July celebration on July 3 against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Fans started to filter into FirstEnergy Stadium an hour before the 7:10 p.m. scheduled start time, and when a 30-minute rain delay pushed everything back — ceremonial first pitches, the national anthem, and the game’s actual first pitch — they stayed.
The Wednesday night spectacle that kept fans from bolting because of the weather’s inconvenience included a promise of postgame fireworks, and the opportunity to catch some of the top prospects in the Phillies’ organization. Even with all that there was to see, one notable face wouldn’t be appearing.
Although he’d been an active participant in pregame warmups all week, Mickey Moniak, the Phillies’ pick at No. 1 overall in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, didn’t take the field against New Hampshire. After injuring his hamstring in a 3-2 win over the Portland Sea Dogs on Sunday — Thursday, he was put on the minor league’s injured list with a hamstring strain — the center fielder wasn’t expected to play against the Fisher Cats. Still, he was the only player doing television interviews before Wednesday’s game.
While the 21-year-old looks the part, standing 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, Moniak’s short professional career hasn’t taken off in the way many expected of a first overall pick. Considered a central figure to the future of baseball since his high school days in Carlsbad, Calif., Moniak has been accustomed to relentless attention and scrutiny. According to Moniak, who said he’s focused on doing his best while in Reading, giving in to outside pressures and expectations “is going to hurt you more than it’s going to help you.”
He’s taken gradual steps each year, but the Phillies have never moved Moniak in the middle of the season. After completing the 2018 season with the Class A-Advanced Clearwater Threshers, where he hit .270/.304/.383 with five home runs and 55 RBI, Moniak began 2019 at the Phillies’ spring training before heading to double-A Reading. Previously, he’d spent the 2016 season with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Phillies, and he played for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in 2017.
Now over three years since he was drafted as an 18-year-old, Moniak is the ninth-best prospect in the Phillies organization, according to MLB. com’s February 2019 rankings. Ahead of Moniak are his Fightins teammate Alec Bohm, the 2018 third overall pick, and Adam Haseley, the eighth overall pick in 2017 who was called up to the Phillies in early June after Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending ACL tear. Moniak may not be where others expect him to be, but his goals are the same as ever.
Since arriving in Reading, Moniak’s game has blossomed. He earned himself an Eastern League All-Star selection, hitting .266/.324/.437 with four home runs and 38 RBI in 75 games, and will be among four Reading players at the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 10 in Richmond, Va.
Since June 1, he’s been even better, with his batting average and on-base percentage rising to .294 and .392, respectively. Moniak credits his experiences at different levels of professional baseball for building up to his 2019 output.
“I think it’s a lot of hard work in the offseason, but it has to do a lot with the past few years,” he said. “The seasons I’ve had, the good, the bad, learning from everything that’s happened to me throughout my professional career so far. Ultimately, that’s going to work for me to become the best player that I can be.”
Despite his appreciation for the lessons that he’s learned as a professional, Moniak doesn’t shy away from his ultimate goal of making it to the big leagues.
“There’s really no timeline for me,” he said. “I’m sure [the Phillies] have a timeline, but that’s something that they pay attention to, not me. I focus on playing baseball, and when they feel I’m ready, I’m ready. It’s how I go about my business and prove to them what I can do and prove to them that I’m ultimately ready to play at the next level.”
It could erode a player’s confidence to move more slowly through the organizational ranks than was anticipated, especially when other prospects who were drafted lower and in later years are already playing at equivalent or higher levels.