Former LLC baseball star Mickey Moniak adjusting to pro ball

Even in one of the nation’s most competitive regions, high school baseball was almost too easy for Mickey Moniak.

Moniak made the varsity team at La Costa Canyon as a freshman and hit .444 (156 for 351) in a four-year career that included him leading the Mavericks to two Open Division championship games and vaulted him to elite status as one of the nation’s most highly regarded prep stars.

The first overall pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2016 amateur draft is now wrapping up his first full year of pro ball and, for the first time in his life, the game Moniak dominated in local circles hasn’t been so easy for him of late.

Moniak is batting .241 (102 for 423) with the Class-A Lakewood (New Jersey) BlueClaws. His average has dropped every month after hitting .284 (23 for 81) in April. He was hitting .136 (8 for 59) through his first 15 games in August.

At 19, Moniak is one of the younger players in the South Atlantic League. It’s his first year away from home and the first time he’s playing a full 140-game season.

And it’s also the first time he’s ever experienced failure – something those in player development circles preach as being one of the most important parts of the development process.

“It’s been different,” Moniak said in a telephone interview from Lakewood. “Growing up you really don’t deal with a lot of failure, especially as much as you do in professional baseball. Guys are here for a reason.”

Moniak isn’t panicking. He’s focusing on the process, not the numbers, listening to coaches and roving instructors in the Phillies’ organization.

“There’s nothing that can really prepare you for a 140-game season until you’ve been through it,” Moniak said. “I think going through it this first time has been a huge learning process, just preparing me for further along in my career.”

Moniak said his experience at LCC played a big role in his development, noting that Mavericks coach Justin Machado created a winning culture that’s given him confidence to meet challenges and handle pressure.

He also credits Machado with opening up the team’s training facility to professional players looking for a practice field in the offseason. Moniak said he picked up pointers from current and former major leaguers Stephen Strasburg, James Shields and Heath Bell, among others.

“It was huge for me, just being around a head coach like Machado who held you accountable and made sure you were you were on top of your stuff but gave you the freedom to be your own player, and grind it out,” Moniak said.

Moniak still values the friendships and camaraderie from his playing days at LCC. He said the program emphasized playing for something bigger than yourself, something he’s tried to bring to his professional career.

“I think high school for me was more about playing with my friends and enjoying baseball and not putting too much pressure on myself,” Moniak said. “There were a lot of personal accomplishments that I achieved during my high school career, but I’d say the highlight would just be playing baseball with my friends every day, just going out there and enjoying the game.

“Learning to play the game the right way prepared me for where I’m at today.”

Moniak admits there has been added pressure playing pro ball. It’s something he knows comes with the territory after receiving a signing bonus worth approximately $6.1 million, according to published reports. Playing in the backyard of a parent club in an East Coast market has brought more scrutiny too.

He’s learning to tune it out.

“Obviously, being the No. 1 pick there’s going to be some added pressure,” Moniak said. “Maybe I get looked at differently than other guys would, but I’ve always been the guy to put pressure aside and just go out there and have fun. Being my first full year you feel that pressure here and there, but I’ve learned to put that aside and realize that the outside pressure isn’t going to help me succeed in this line of work.”

Copyright © 2018, Encinitas Advocate
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