Mickey Moniak joined the Phillies for one game last week at Yankee Stadium. Two days later, back at triple-A Lehigh Valley, he hit two home runs. He got called up again three days after that and came off the bench to hit in the fifth inning Monday night, the precursor to his return to the minors Tuesday.
Who knows where he will be come Friday?
Turn the red pinstripes on Moniak’s jersey to horizontal and the Phillies could brand him as a baseball “Where’s Waldo?” It’s the life of a minor leaguer on the 40-man roster, shuttling between triple A and the majors, there one day and here the next, depending on the organization’s ever-changing needs.
“It’s kind of been a roller coaster,” Moniak said Monday after taking batting practice at Citizens Bank Park. “That’s just baseball. Just got to ride the wave.”
And it’s about to be high tide.
The trade deadline is coming up at 4 p.m. Friday, and the Phillies — despite their myriad shortcomings and lack of prospect depth — are looking to buy because they’re 3½ games back in the NL East and haven’t made the playoffs in nine years. They made a deal Tuesday, acquiring left-hander Tyler Anderson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for two low-level prospects, pending a review of medical information, according to multiple sources.
All of this brings us back to Moniak. In his last 22 triple-A games, he’s 30-for-84 (.357) with eight doubles, three triples, four homers, a .667 slugging percentage, and a 1.049 OPS. He has even cut his strikeout rate to 20.2%, an improvement over his season average of 27.5%. It ranks among the most productive months of the 23-year-old’s career since the Phillies drafted him first overall in 2016.
It also comes at a fascinating time. The Phillies are spanning the globe for pitching help, and there are indications that Moniak is drawing interest. But they also will have at least one, maybe two openings in the outfield next season, and manager Joe Girardi said earlier this year that he believes Moniak will be an everyday major leaguer, a more bullish outlook than Baseball America and other frequently cited prospect lists.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is being opportunistic this week. He’s also realistic. The Phillies are more than a late-inning arm and a back-end starter away from winning the World Series, so they will be careful about what they give up.
“The way I would describe it is that, for a two-month rental player, I would not anticipate that we would give up premium prospects,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t think we’re there.”
But what about for a player with more than two months of control?
The biggest prize on the pitching market is Chicago Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. One NL talent evaluator suggested the Phillies might be able to lower the acquisition cost by taking on all of the approximately $7 million that Kimbrel is owed through the end of the season. (He also has $16 million team option for next year.) But the Cubs are still seeking a prospect-rich package in return. Moniak could be of interest.
It’s possible the Phillies add multiple relievers to deepen the bullpen. And if they decide to add a bat, the Miami Marlins might view Moniak as a desirable return in a deal for center fielder Starling Marte, a free agent at season’s end.
Regardless, Moniak has turned around his season after a dismal start.
He got a brief trial in center field in April after Adam Haseley left the Phillies for personal reasons, but he was overmatched, going 3-for-25 (.120) with 12 strikeouts. In hindsight, he wasn’t ready for the opportunity. Not after finishing the 2019 season in double A, arriving to the Lehigh Valley alternate site last August after recovering from a knee injury, and getting a total of 18 plate appearances in the pandemic-shortened season.
“We missed a year last year [in the minors], and I think that hurt a lot of people’s development,” Moniak said. “I think just kind of getting back into playing every day, it’s something that a lot of people don’t really talk about. Getting back to this full season, it’s been really good for me.”
Indeed, the Phillies sent Moniak to triple A to get uninterrupted playing time. And after going 17-for-87 (.195) to open the minor-league season, he’s 43-for-146 (.295) with nine homers and a .582 slugging percentage since a three-hit game on June 4.
Moniak credited his resurgence to improved timing at the plate, which typically comes from more at-bats.
“It’s just simplifying things, trying to be on time,” Moniak said. “If I’m on time, I see the ball well, and I feel like I have the ability to hit all pitches in any count. I’m just having fun, not trying to do too much.”
And perhaps turning a corner in his development. What happens next might signal whether Moniak is truly in the Phillies’ plans. If they see him as a candidate to replace either McCutchen in left field or Odúbel Herrera in center next season, they would be less inclined to discuss him in a possible trade.
Girardi said he didn’t consider starting Moniak on Monday night against Nationals right-hander Joe Ross, and the Phillies sent him back to triple A Tuesday.
“Your goal is to be in the big leagues, obviously. That’s Plan A,” Moniak said. “But Plan B, it’s what the team thinks is best. Going down and getting consistent at-bats, you obviously want to play every day and be in the lineup and work on getting better. I think down there, I was able to do that. Now I just have to go out there and play baseball and keep doing my thing.”