ANAHEIM — So far Mickey Moniak’s change of scenery has yielded encouraging results.
The Philadelphia Phillies took the outfielder with the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, but he struggled in the opportunities he’d gotten in the big leagues.
The Angels picked him up last month at the trade deadline, and what he’s shown before and after a one-month stint on the injured list has given reason for the Angels to be optimistic.
The change, Moniak said, is just a matter of how he feels since putting on an Angels uniform.
“I feel comfortable,” Moniak said. “I’m getting the opportunity to play. The organization has shown a lot of faith in me. … I think I’ve been confident in my ability to play baseball the entire time and it just hasn’t really gone my way to start my career. But I think the comfort level is a huge factor in having success. I feel that here. And things are going well.”
Moniak, 24, has hit .250 with three home runs and an .881 OPS in his first 37 plate appearances with the Angels, after hitting .129 with a .386 OPS and one homer in 105 plate appearances over three seasons with the Phillies.
There are still some issues, such as his 12 strikeouts and no walks with the Angels, but overall the performance has been more in line with what the Phillies hoped after his spring. Moniak hit .378 with six homers and a 1.351 OPS in 15 spring training games. He had earned a spot on the Phillies’ Opening Day roster, but he broke his right hand during their final exhibition game.
“I think as far my swing goes, I think it was it was ready to go coming into spring training,” Moniak said. “Obviously the unfortunate setback I had with my hand to start the year and then just kind of working my way back. Trying to get comfortable there. It didn’t really seem to happen for me.
“I can only look in the mirror. I can only control what I can control, and I didn’t get it done there.”
It certainly didn’t help that Moniak was not getting it done in the spotlight that followed him because of his draft position. The Phillies plucked him out of La Costa Canyon High in Carlsbad and signed him for $6.1 million.
Moniak had a .749 OPS at rookie ball in his first summer, and then he started off the following season at Class-A with decent numbers, but late that season he went into a tailspin, hitting .139 with a .386 OPS over his final 20 games.
“It’s a long season and nothing really you can prepare for, dealing with 140 games and being 18 years old away from home for an extended period of time for the first time,” Moniak said. “Then when I struggled, like I did the second half of my low-A season, all the criticism comes from outside. When you’re 1-1, you’re expected to be the next big thing, the next superstar in baseball.”
The Phillies continued moving Moniak up, to high-A in 2018 and Double-A in 2019, even though his numbers were pedestrian at every stop. The minor league season was lost in 2020, and Moniak made his major league debut without ever playing Triple-A. He split 2021 between Triple-A and the majors, still failing to put up the expected numbers.
The first sign that he was truly approaching his potential was this spring.
“Coming into the year I was pretty confident in where my swing was,” Moniak said. “I was just kind of getting back to what got me drafted, just simplifying things in the swing and going back to being a put-the-barrel-on-the-ball kind of guy. It’s worked out.”
He didn’t get much chance to show what he could do with the Phillies in between returning from his broken hand and being traded to the Angels.
The trade brought him back to California and to play for Phil Nevin, who he had known since he played with Nevin’s son, Tyler, as a teenager. Nevin also could identify with Moniak’s journey. Nevin was the first overall pick in the 1992 draft, but he didn’t begin to find his big league footing until after the Houston Astros traded him to the Detroit Tigers.
Nevin said he believes that Moniak has a new “comfort level” since getting to a new organization.
“Philly can be a tough place for a lot of people,” Nevin said. “It’s a special city, a special place to play, but it can be tough. I think the comfort level he’s getting to right now is going to benefit him a great deal, and we’re going to see the best version of what he is.”
Moniak is now in a platoon with Jo Adell. As the left-handed hitter, he figures to get most of the playing time over the final three weeks of the season. So far he’s made the most of the opportunity, including a homer and a double in Wednesday’s loss in Cleveland.
“It’s definitely a fresh start,” Moniak said. “I couldn’t be more grateful for everybody (with the Phillies), the staff in the minor leagues, every coach I’ve had or guy I’ve played with. Those are memories and relationships I will cherish for a lifetime. I still stay in contact with everybody over there. They were nothing but good to me in that organization. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get it done over there. Obviously, sometimes a fresh start is needed. Getting that that fresh start with the Angels, and also being close to home, definitely helps.”
Angels (RHP Michael Lorenzen, 6-6, 4.70) vs. Mariners (LHP Robbie Ray, 12-9, 3.56), Friday, 6:38 p.m., Bally Sports West, 830 AM
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