If Shana Stott guessed in September where her son would be playing when this season began, she admits she probably would have said triple A. But, hey, it beats Matt Moniak’s offseason prediction for his son’s 2022 opening day whereabouts.
“I thought maybe he’d get traded,” he said.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise, then, if NBC Sports Philadelphia’s cameras found Shana and Matt in the family section Friday at Citizens Bank Park. Because Bryson Stott and Mickey Moniak weren’t merely the biggest surprises on the Phillies’ opening day roster. They also were poised to be in the lineup if, as expected, manager Joe Girardi loads up on left-handed bats against Oakland A’s righty Frankie Montas.
Stott still figures to be in there, most likely at third base. Moniak, hit by a pitch in the final exhibition game, learned Thursday that he has a hairline fracture in his right hand and will miss four to six weeks, crushing news after his stellar spring.
Yet their presence on the initial opening day roster the Phillies filed with Major League Baseball may have been the most hopeful thing on the eve of the most hopeful day on the team’s calendar.
The Phillies get pummeled, deservedly so, for their recent scouting and player development. They lost 89, 89, 99, 91, and 96 games from 2013-17 and drafted in the top 10 five times. Yet they had to buy their way back to relevance, with $742.5 million in free-agent contracts for Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos.
Schwarber and Castellanos were supposed to be the stories of spring training after the Phillies signed them for a total of $179 million and pushed past the luxury-tax threshold for the first time in franchise history. Instead, Stott and Moniak — former first-round picks who each will make approximately $700,000 in base salary this year — had wildly successful camps and forced their way onto the roster.
It represented the biggest triumph in a few years for the organization’s amateur scouts and minor league instructors. More importantly, it was a momentous occasion for the Stotts and the Moniaks.
“Well, it’s very surreal,” Shana Stott said by phone this week before hopping a flight to Philadelphia. “Because in my world, he’s my little boy that plays baseball. That’s who he is. I think as a parent there’s nothing better than watching your kids live their dreams.”
Shana, a teacher at Eldorado High School in Las Vegas, was driving to work Monday morning when Bryson called. He asked about her weekend at a student council leadership conference in Reno, Nev. They joked about how neither of them likes Reno. It was a normal conversation.
“And he’s just like, ‘Oh, by the way, I made the team,’” Shana said. “He was very nonchalant. I said, ‘Well, are you happy?’ He was like, ‘Yes, I’m very happy.’ That was kind of it. I held it together pretty good until I got off the phone. And then I just sat in the parking lot at the school and cried for like 10 minutes.”
But Shana couldn’t share the news. The team wasn’t planning to make it public until the following day, and Bryson asked her to keep a secret until then. Talk about torture.
OK, so it wasn’t a total stunner. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told Stott in November to come to spring training prepared to compete for a roster spot. He competed all right. The 24-year-old shortstop went 13-for-31 (.419) with six walks and demonstrated he also could play third base.
Still, Stott is a year removed from breaking camp in A-ball. A first-round pick in 2019 out of UNLV — and Harper’s close friend — he spent most of last season in double A and played only 10 games in triple A at the tail end. Even after his standout performance in the Arizona Fall League, the Phillies could have opted to finish off his development at Lehigh Valley.
“He’s just done it so quickly,” Shana Stott said. “I thought he maybe had a chance to get moved up at some point this year. Only having one full minor [league] year, that’s a lot. But Bryson, his whole life, he likes challenges. If you tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to prove you wrong. Every time.”
Moniak, 23, can relate. How many times has he been labeled a bust since the Phillies drafted him first overall in 2016? He didn’t put up big numbers in the minors, and although he didn’t stay in the majors longer than 12 days over nine separate call-ups in the last two years, he also went 6-for-47 (.128) with 22 strikeouts.
With the Phillies looking to fill two outfield vacancies in the offseason, Dombrowski ruled out Moniak as an opening day solution, opting instead for a $1.75 million reunion with Odúbel Herrera. But then Herrera strained a muscle in his side, and Moniak, working with new hitting coach Kevin Long on moving closer to the plate, bashed four doubles and five homers in 35 spring at-bats.
People close to Moniak had a hunch he may be poised for a big camp. He changed his diet, dropped 10 pounds, and cut his body fat to 8%. He worked out at a training facility in San Diego and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. A few days before the MLB lockout ended, his agent watched him take batting practice with Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth and catcher Austin Nola and observed that it was the best he looked since he got drafted.
And those were only the physical signs. Moniak did “a lot of soul searching,” according to his dad, after last season about his predicament with the Phillies.
“He just kind of had that mindset that, ‘I’m just going to do my thing whatever happens,’” Matt Moniak said by phone. “I think part of that freed him to do what he’s done. He’s like, ‘I’m not going to worry about being sent down every game.’”
The Phillies informed Moniak last Sunday that he made his first opening day roster. He called his dad back home in southern California.
“It just brought back all these emotions, almost like it was draft day all over again,” Matt Moniak said. “It’s just so crazy, this journey. I mean, the odds of him making the team, what were the odds of that happening? It’s incredible. I’m so proud of him.”
A fastball from Tampa Bay Rays lefty Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth inning Wednesday changed Moniak’s plans. Initial X-rays were negative, but further imaging Thursday revealed the fracture.
His dad was en route to Philadelphia when the tests came back. Several of Moniak’s high school pals and travel ball coach Paul Weldon, coincidentally Long’s former teammate at Arizona State, also were scheduled to be in the ballpark Friday.
As Matt Moniak said in a text message, their presence may be even more important now.
It’s a reminder of why opening day means so much. Stott, the Phillies’ top prospect, will have to produce early in the season to stay in the lineup enough to stick in the majors. But that won’t matter Friday to Stott’s rooting section, which will go at least 30 deep, according to his mom. And that doesn’t include his vocal supporters in Harper’s family.
Shana Stott plans to be here through the middle of next week thanks to Eldorado’s fortuitously timed spring break. When she returns home, she will have more pictures to post on the “Phillie wall” in her classroom — and fresh memories from the best moment of her son’s career.
“Everyone’s like, ‘How are you feeling?’ I’m like, ‘Very numb,’” she said. “I really can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. I hope I’m not super, like ridiculously emotional. But I do know that it will be very emotional.”