Mickey Moniak could win Phillies center field competition

Competition for who will be named the Philadelphia Phillies starting center fielder on Opening Day is heating up. Since spring training began, no one has emerged as the clear standout quite yet. However, former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak is playing great and stating his case to open the season as the team’s starter.

Moniak had a rough go in his first taste of big-league action last season. I graded Moniak this past winter and I gave him a “D” to reflect the difficulty he had adjusting to MLB. In limited playing time, he looked lost in every facet of the game. He wasn’t fielding well (2 errors in just 14 chances) and struggled at the plate — having double the number of strikeouts (6) than hits (3).

Given his performance last September, the areas Moniak needed to improve at the plate felt clear. He needed to cut down on strikeouts and make better contact — if only it were that simple. Since being drafted in 2016, Moniak has struggled to live up to the hype, underwhelming in the minors and advancing far more slowly than fans or the front office would like.

To his credit, Moniak has looked like a different player this spring. So far he’s gone 5-12 at the plate, good for .417 with 2 home runs. He’s looked stronger, as he has been hitting the ball harder and with better results. His exit velocity (EV) has been up significantly, too. In 18 at-bats in 2020, his average EV was 88.2 miles per hour. This spring, he’s already had multiple hits up over 100.

Mickey Moniak is quietly having the best spring of any Phillies center fielder.

The race for the starting center field job is crowded, though it lacks a heavy favorite — with a platoon of some sorts still the most likely outcome. Scott Kingery has had a slow start, batting just .158 while leading the Phillies with a whopping nine strikeouts in a team-high 19 at-bats. Adam Haseley will remain out for at least another few weeks with a groin injury.

Roman Quinn is having a nice spring — hitting .333 — but at this point, the Phillies know exactly what kind of player Quinn is at the majors. He is far better-suited for a bench role, as opposed to being an everyday starter.

Meanwhile, on the field, Odubel Herrera has managed to hold his own amid his return to the big league club. However, he has a long way to go personally and professionally before he can demonstrate he deserves another chance. Herrera has been an MLB-level All-Star before. Given that both Quinn and Moniak have had better springs, a trade might be the best solution for all parties involved — regardless of Herrera’s ceiling (or floor) this season.

Moniak is subtly, but clearly, having the best spring of any of the aforementioned players — which is what makes it so bizarre that manager Joe Girardi hasn’t thrown him into the starting lineup quite yet. More confusing still is that Moniak has seen the bulk of his time out in left field, fielding just four innings out in center all spring, to date.

Of everyone competing for the privilege to patrol center field this season, Moniak has the highest batting average. On top of that, he also leads all Phillies in slugging percentage and OPS, while tied for the team lead in home runs, triples, and hits this spring. He’s also looked better in the field than he did during his September call-up and seems to have better timing with his swing.

Moniak is making the most of every opportunity — something that fans have to feel good about. However, regardless of how good Moniak’s spring is, he may not be able to do enough in the time he’s been given to earn the starting nod. Given available options, Moniak is making an extremely strong impression and deserves more consideration.