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How Phillies' struggling prospect Mickey Moniak turned his minor-league season around

The former No. 1 overall pick didn't start his professional career the way he'd hoped, but showed promise in the second half of last season.

New Phillies Prospects. Outfielder Mickey Moniak talks with reporters at Citizens Bank Park, Friday,  January 18, 2019.  STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
New Phillies Prospects. Outfielder Mickey Moniak talks with reporters at Citizens Bank Park, Friday, January 18, 2019. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff PhotographerRead more

Mickey Moniak was a little more than two years removed from being the first player selected in the MLB draft when he ended last June batting just .247 with a paltry .571 OPS for Clearwater.

The Phillies had targeted Moniak in 2016 because of the success they projected him to have at the plate. But now the outfielder was struggling to hold his own in single-A. Doubt was beginning to form, Moniak said Friday as he stood inside the Phillies clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. The pressure of being the No. 1 pick suddenly felt real. Moniak, who turned 20 a month earlier, needed something to clear his head.

And that something came from 2,500 miles away.

“I had all my closest friends come visit me,” Moniak said. “I think there were 10 of us in a two-bedroom apartment in Clearwater. Just hanging out. I think I hit .500 that week with a handful of doubles. That little week, having them there, and performing with them there, it was just that realization that it’s just baseball.”

With a clear head, Moniak batted .297 with a .817 OPS in the final two months of the season. It was enough to regain his confidence and keep him entrenched on the Phillies’ radar. He credits his successful finish to his ability to overcome the mental grind that had sunk him a season earlier. The mental aspect, Moniak said, is the biggest part of baseball.

“Having that experience is something that drove me to take a step back and say, ‘You’re here for a reason. You have the talent. You have the ability. You just have to grind it out day by day,’” Moniak said.

Perhaps more important, last season’s finish could be a catalyst for what the Phillies are hoping is Moniak’s breakout season. He will likely begin the year at double-A Reading and play his home games in a hitter-friendly ballpark. The 6-foot-2 Moniak has worked this offseason to build muscle and is currently at 205 pounds, 30 pounds heavier than he was when he was drafted.

“It’s good weight,” he said.

Moniak turns 21 in May. He has played just 283 professional games. He still has plenty of time to develop. But next season will be pivotal. The Phillies have a stash of talented minor-league outfielders, including two first-round picks aside from Moniak. This would be the season for the team’s first No. 1 overall pick since Pat Burrell in 1998 to separate himself.

Moniak spent this week in Philadelphia with 12 other farmhands as part of the team’s annual prospect seminar. He will report next month with a select group of prospects to major-league spring training, usually an honor reserved for minor leaguers who have at least reached double A. The Phillies have clearly invested in Moniak.

“I’m looking to go into spring training to just soak up as much information as possible,” he said. “These guys have been there. They know what it takes. Ultimately, I want to embed that into my game and hopefully that will help me get to where I want to be.”

Moniak took his high school buddies last summer on a tour of Clearwater. They ate at the Island Way Grill and checked out the beach.

“But being from San Diego, they weren’t really too impressed with the beach,” Moniak said.

The real benefit came at the ballpark, when Moniak’s visitors filled the stands of the minor-league ballpark just like they did at his high-school games. They heckled him to hit a homer and chided him for not lifting enough weights after his line drive clanged off the fence.

“Having them there just made it feel like high school, when you’re just having fun and playing baseball,” Moniak said. “It just reverted me back to how it was in high school. Just having fun playing.”