“Oh my God, this could be an easy fix”, said Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long to Jim Salisbury about Mickey Moniak’s swing. Since being drafted first overall in 2016, virtually nothing has come easy for Moniak, who played only 21 games for the Phillies last year and hit just .091. The 23 year old looked overmatched and out of place – few at bars generated hard contact and most ended with a soft roll-over ground ball or a flailing strikeout.
Moniak’s future seemed over before it ever really began – perhaps the most prominent bust in the Phillies’ sordid history with the amateur draft.
Spring is a season of hope and renewal, however, and in the month of March, no one in the Phillies organization embodied that more than Moniak. With both a renewed mind and body, Moniak has torn through opposing pitching in Spring Training, sporting 11 hits in 32 at bats – five of them home runs. He’s driven in nine runs and stolen one base. He’s regained some of the speed and confidence that had made him the first overall pick in 2016. Most of all, Moniak has shoehorned himself into making his first opening day roster with the injury to maligned center fielder Odubel Herrera.
Does Moniak’s spring training success mean that he can finally, nearly six years after being drafted, become a productive member of this major league team?
Perhaps. But as baseball at its highest level is so impossibly difficult, the factors to sustained success so widely varied, one can never truly be sure if a strong spring training is indicative of a strong regular season.
Moniak’s success, however, does mean that he’ll get a shot – which may be more than can be said for third-baseman, Alec Bohm.
Bohm’s dastardly performance in his sophomore campaign – in which his confidence both at the plate and in the field abandoned him – along with steady rise of infield prospect Bryson Stott, has jeopardized the 2020 rookie of the year candidate’s chances of making the Opening Day roster. Hitting just .244 in Spring Training hasn’t helped his cause either.
While a poor showing in spring training – in contrast to Stott’s electric performance at the plate and in the field – isn’t likely to be the deciding factor in a demotion to Triple A, would a dominant performance have helped his cause? Would hitting at a higher clip and playing with an elevated level of confidence have caused the organization to push Stott back down to AAA, instead of being forced to decide between one young player or the other?
Or has the downfall of Alec Bohm been in the cards since last year – when Bohm was sent down to AAA during a particularly meaningful stretch of games in August? Has Bohm’s progression from golden child to potential bust been on a one way track ever since he became one of the worst fastball hitters in the game last season and anxiously sputtered his way into becoming a defensive liability?
Regardless of its origin, Bohm’s downward trajectory in the organization has gotten him to where he is now – fighting for playing time. Even if he makes the Opening Day Roster along with Stott, he will be on a short leash. With Didi Gregorius seemingly entrenched at shortstop, Bohm will now have to compete and/or platoon with Stott at third – all to keep his head above water and not be dunked into the depths of AAA.
What’s unfortunate for Bohm is the timing of the situation. Even though it felt like he has been given every chance to fail, he still has only had 597 at-bats at the big league level – hardly enough to call it quits on the third overall pick of the 2018 amatuer draft. Until the signing of Bryce Harper – and this year’s subsequent money dump into free agency – Bohm would have been left free to figure things out. Instead, a string of poor at-bats, a few errors in the field, and the player once crowned “a future MVP candidate” by Bryce Harper, could find himself labeled a bust after two short years.
The Phillies, post-season starved as any team in the league, are in win-now mode. They cannot afford sub-optimal production from any position on the team, no matter how high a draft pick that player might’ve been. In the vacuum that is the N.L. East playoff race, past investments are worthless if they don’t equate to immediate success.
Unlike Moniak – who is attempting to rejuvenate his career after already being labeled a bust – Bohm still has a slim window of opportunity to prove his worth. It may not be a fair shot – for as much as the organization has hyped Stott, they’ve left Bohm bereft of confidence and direction just as much – but it is an important chance for both parties: if Bohm cannot contribute and is sent down to AAA, he will be the fourth out of the team’s five first-round picks since 2019 to fail at the big league level.