ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Mickey Moniak can attest the path to the majors isn’t always smooth, even for a top pick in the amateur draft.
Nearly seven years after he was selected first overall, Moniak hopes his early success with the Los Angeles Angels isn’t fleeting.
“It’s been special. I’ve always believed it was in there, but you never know,” said Moniak, who is batting .419 with four homers in 10 games since his May 12 promotion. “I’m enjoying it and having fun.”
Fun has been in short supply for Moniak since Philadelphia selected him in 2016. But after 6 1/2 years primarily spent in the minors and only 35 big league games, he was traded to the Angels at last year’s deadline for Noah Syndergaard.
Moniak’s trade paired him with a manager who knows about the pressure of being selected first. Angels skipper Phil Nevin was the top pick in 1993 by Houston, the same year Derek Jeter went sixth overall to the New York Yankees.
Nevin is in his first full season managing the Angels and is the first No. 1 pick to manage at the big league level.
Nevin said the pressure he felt — not only being the top pick but sometimes being compared to Jeter — was much different.
“You certainly have a little more attention as you go through the minor-league towns and spring training. I don’t necessarily feel like I felt that pressure except for when I first got into games with Houston,” Nevin said.. “It’s much worse now with social media and the way it’s covered. He hears it all the time. Even now, six, seven years later, it’s still talked about.”
Moniak played against one of Nevin’s sons at the high school level. Moniak also worked out with Tyler and Kyle Nevin during the offseason in San Diego.
“I’ve always been impressed with his talents. Some people, it just takes a little longer to grow physically and mentally in this game,” Phil Nevin said.
Moniak, a 25-year-old outfielder, didn’t make his big league debut until 2020.
“I remember getting drafted, and even family and friends coming back from my first year in rookie ball, they’re asking, so where are you Double-A or Triple-A? It’s different. There’s no direct line to the big leagues. I think that everyone has their own journey,” Moniak said.
Moniak had a .129 average in parts of three seasons with the Phillies. After last year’s trade, he was 4 of 14 with two home runs in his first five games with the Angels before breaking a finger while attempting a bunt.
He returned to play 14 games in September but batted .174.
Moniak hit .409 during spring training but began the year in Triple-A. He batter .157 in the major leagues entering this year with 66 strikeouts in 153 at-bats (39.8%).
With three leadoff homers, he is tied for the major league lead and has emerged as a solid leadoff hitter, with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani following in the lineup.
“There’s a couple of mechanical things I’ve done that have allowed me to see the ball better. You’re only as good as the pitches you swing. So if you’re going up there chasing bad pitches, it tends to be me speeding myself up and trying to do too much,” Moniak said. “This year, I understand that my role on this team is to get on base and to be on base for those big dogs behind me.”
Moniak’s most noticeable improvement has been facing changeups. He is 4 for 10 this season after he had a .229 average against the off-speed pitch from 2020-22.
If Moniak wants to emerge as an everyday player, instead of facing only right-handers, he needs to improve his strikeout rate drastically. He has 11 in 31 at-bats this season, with the 34.4% rate being way above the major league average of 22.7%,
“He’s still got a lot of growth to go. So what we’re seeing right now, I think is certainly not the surface. He’s just starting to scratch it, in my opinion,” Nevin said.