Carson Wentz is gone, Ben Simmons wants out, and Mickey Moniak is finding his way with the Phillies
Moniak could soon be the last man standing from a 2016 whirlwind that brought three players who carried hope to Philadelphia. For now, he's trying to show he belongs.
Mickey Moniak was officially a Phillies player for three days when the team asked him in June of 2016 to tweet something at Ben Simmons. The Phillies had used the No. 1 overall pick to grab Moniak and then the 76ers selected Simmons as the NBA’s first choice. Two months earlier, the Eagles had selected quarterback Carson Wentz second overall.
The three teams combined the season prior for a .308 winning percentage but all that losing seemed to be paying off. It was the first time ever that the same city had a top-two pick in the MLB, NBA, and NFL drafts, and there was a buzz. So the Phillies wanted Moniak to ride the wave.
“Congrats,” the 18-year-old Moniak wrote to the 19-year-old Simmons.
It was the closest Moniak and Simmons would ever come, but both players — along with Wentz — will be forever linked by the expectations they felt five years ago and the challenges to meet them. Wentz was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in February, Simmons wants to be moved, and Moniak is still trying to find his way with the Phillies after spending most of the last five years in the minors.
Wentz helped the Eagles secure home-field advantage before Nick Foles won them the Super Bowl. Simmons is a three-time All-Star and is one of the league’s premier defenders. But Wentz’s time in Philly ended poorly and Simmons’ seems headed toward a similar conclusion.
That would make Moniak, now 23, the last man standing from an eight-week whirlwind that brought the city three players who carried the hopes of desperate fan bases. His journey has not moved as fast as baseball’s other first overall picks, but Moniak is in the majors this month.
And the Phillies could use the final weeks of the season to discern who he is.
“I think every major sport is one, a business, and two, you never know what’s going to happen. Five years is a lot of time,” Moniak said. “Playing baseball compared to football and basketball where you get into the league right away, you’re supposed to be there and help the team win right away as opposed to being an 18-year-old kid having to go through the minor leagues and that whole experience.
“It was cool to be drafted alongside them, but at the same time I felt like I was in a little different situation. Finally getting here, five years later, seeing them come and go it’s almost like they’re five years from where I’ll be at. It’s a business. Teams do what they think is best for the team, and the Sixers and Eagles did that. I’m still happy to be here. Still happy to be in Philadelphia.”
It did not take long to realize Moniak wasn’t going to blaze through the minors — he hit .236 with a .625 OPS in 2017, his first full minor league season. Yes, he was baseball’s No. 1 pick, but not every No. 1 pick is Bryce Harper or Ken Griffey Jr.
Moniak said his tough first season was the best thing to happen because he learned how to deal with failure. He moonlighted in the majors last summer, but it wasn’t until this summer that Moniak began to look like a prospect.
Moniak returned to triple A in May and posted an .822 OPS over his next 60 games. From June 16 to July 24, Moniak hit .314 with a .629 slugging percentage over 114 plate appearances. He was finally tasting success in his minor league journey.
“Once I got down there and got into a rhythm, I felt like I showed what I could do. I think the way I played down there from the middle of June on is the kind of baseball player I can be and the kind of baseball player the Phillies drafted,” Moniak said. “After this year, showing what I can do at triple A, I think I can do the same at the big-league level once those at-bats do come. It’s not my choice to say when they do, but I’ll just have to work my [butt] off every day to get better and try and build off what I did this year and last offseason.”
Those at-bats have been hard to come by in the majors. Moniak had just 18 plate appearances last summer and has started just seven games this year despite the Phillies being desperate for help in center field.
Manager Joe Girardi said in May that the Phillies view Moniak more as a corner outfielder and team president Dave Dombrowski said last month Moniak “is a few years down the road” from being a contributor. The Phillies do not seem exceptionally high on Moniak, but they also haven’t given him much of a chance in the big leagues.
“There’s definitely times where you do get a little frustrated, but at the end of the day, I feel like you have to focus on winning and what you can control,” Moniak said. “Joe and Dombrowski and [general manager] Sam [Fuld] and the whole coaching staff are here for a reason. They’re here to put a winning team together. However they’re going to use me, that’s how they see fit and that gives us the best chance to win.”
“I’m still young. I’m 23 years old. I have a lot more learning to do, and I have a lot of years of playing baseball to go.”
If Moniak went to college, he would have been first eligible to be drafted in 2019. Only two players from that draft — White Sox slugger Andrew Vaughn and Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah — have reached the majors. Bryson Stott, the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2019, is seven months older than Moniak and at double A.
Moniak has been a part of the city’s sports landscape just as long as Simmons and Wentz, but he’s only slightly older than the average hitter this season in high-A. Even Moniak said he forgets sometimes that he’s 23.
“A hundred percent,” Moniak said. “There are times where I have to take a step back and say, ‘Wow, I’m 23 years old. I got to the big leagues at 22 and not a lot of people can say that.’ I got to experience that and I have five years of pro ball under my belt. I think you have to sometimes take a step back and realize those things.
“On the flip side, being a competitor and wanting to be the best baseball player I can be, it’s hard to focus on that at times because you want to go out there and succeed and help the team win. But at the end of the day, I am 23, I have a lot of learning to do and a lot of experience to gain.”
Moniak grew up outside San Diego and his father, Matt, raised him on the Padres. His earliest baseball memories are of Tony Gwynn’s final year when “Mr. Padre” bid farewell after 20 seasons. That’s the dream, Moniak said, to play his whole career with the team that drafted him.
But seeing what happened to Wentz and Simmons provided perspective of how quickly things can change. The Phillies could look this offseason to move Moniak, as the front office that drafted him five years ago is no longer in charge. Or maybe they’ll see something this month that changes their outlook.
Moniak, unlike Simmons and Wentz, remains content to be in Philadelphia. But his major league chance might have to come somewhere else.
“Every single predraft interview I did with teams, I told them that my No. 1 goal was never to have the personal accolades or to win MVP or all these other things,” Moniak said. “It was always to win a World Series. I still think that’s still my No. 1 focus and it will be until the last day that I play. To be able to do it here would be awesome and a dream come true, but again it’s a business and you never know what your future is going to hold.”