THE REALITY of rebuilding a Major League Baseball organization is that even the most meticulous of front offices needs to run into a considerable amount of good fortune. Take the Cubs, for example. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer deserve plenty of credit for the turnaround they've orchestrated. Yet for all of the shrewdness they displayed in acquiring Jake Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, it was plain dumb luck that they were able to add a hitter such as Kris Bryant to the mix. Some years, there is a Bryant available at No. 2 overall. Some years, there isn't one available at No. 1.
This year was the second kind of year, so adjust your expectations for Mickey Moniak accordingly. The Phillies made the San Diego-area high school star the first overall selection in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft on Thursday evening, and while they were thrilled to do so, they also realized that they were picking a kid who had not yet received his high school diploma (that will occur Friday). Moniak has a swing that enamored everybody from the organization who saw it, not the least of them Pat Gillick and Charlie Manuel, both of whom bird-dogged Moniak during the recently completed high school season. He can run, he can play defense (he's expected to stick in centerfield), and he can fill out his 6-2, 180-pound frame. But he is still just a kid. He looks like one, sounds like one, and texts like one (as he finished up his media rounds after his selection, he had 235 unread messages from well-wishers). Bryant was three years removed from high school when the Cubs drafted him. He was in the majors two years. That just won't be the case here.
The Phillies have long been aware of the absence of a transcendent, no-doubt-about-it talent at the top of this year's field of prospects. The hope is that they will be able to use that to their advantage by signing Moniak to a bonus lower than the recommended $9 million slot value of the pick, which will then enable them to spend more on later picks. MLB uses a pool system, assigning each team an allotment of money that it can spend on its entire draft; the less of that money spent on one pick, the more that can be spent on the rest of the picks, many of whom can use the option of going to college as leverage.
None of this should be interpreted as a diminishment of Moniak's talent, or his potential. He has plenty of both. The comparison you hear most often is Christian Yelich, the 24-year-old Marlins outfielder who entered Thursday hitting .321 with a .409 on-base percentage and .495 slugging percentage. Yelich broke into the big leagues at age 21, three years after he was drafted. In 1,678 career plate appearances, he has a .788 OPS, although most of that has come in leftfield. If Moniak is putting up numbers in that neighborhood starting in 2019, the Phillies will consider it an unqualified success.
Moniak's ceiling will depend largely on how much strength he is able to add to his long but thin frame. He did not hit a single home run his junior year of high school, then hit seven as a senior.
Moniak acknowledged the work he must do in that department.
"Just to get stronger, add more strength, add some power," he said. "But I'm going to be working as hard as I can and do anything necessary to move my way up and hopefully put on that Phillies uniform in Philadelphia."
That has not been a frequent occurrence for the Phillies over the last decade. Not in the first round of the draft, anyway. Of the last nine players they've drafted there, only Aaron Nola has made it to the big leagues. Before him, Joe Savery was the most recent to do it. Savery was drafted with the No. 19 pick in 2007.
While that factoid isn't as damning as it sounds - 2013 first-rounder J.P. Crawford is regarded as one of the top hitting prospects in the minors, and none of the six first-rounders preceding him was selected higher than No. 24 - it is certainly an indication that things have not broken as well as they could have. In fact, they've broken quite poorly.
The Phillies' first-round selections since 2007: Zach Collier, Anthony Hewitt, Jesse Biddle, Larry Greene, Mitch Gueller, Shane Watson, Crawford, Nola and Cornelius Randolph.
Of that group, only Nola, Biddle and Crawford reached Triple A. Only Watson, Crawford, Nola and Randolph are still in the organization. Randolph, last year's first-round pick at No. 10 overall, hasn't played in over a month while battling a shoulder injury.
The Phillies would love it if their luck could change now.