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June 21, 2016

'He's going to be something special' - Phillies introduce top pick Moniak

Mike Garcia understood all of the talk. There wasn’t a surefire No.1 prospect in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft.

No Bryce Harper or Ken Griffey Jr. or Stephen Strasburg, the once-in-a-generation type talents bad teams dream about.

But that didn’t make him any less excited about the prospects that his guy, talented left-handed hitting Mickey Moniak of La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, Calif., could be selected by his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, with the first overall pick in the draft two weeks ago.

“I loved him,” said Garcia, a Phillies area scout in Southern California. “I wanted him. Even if we didn’t get him, I loved the kid, period. He was always there when I need to talk to him or to work something out with him, always there, him and his parents.

“You’re getting a major league player, that’s what I see. And I got to see Bryce Harper in my area (when he was in high school). I got to see (fellow San Diego native Stephen) Strasburg. All of those guys, those two guys right there, like Mike Trout, you don’t see that often. But (Moniak) has got the potential to be like that. Maybe not with the power, but the overall game that he’s going to have, his abilities in center field, he’s going to be something special.”

The Phillies official introduced Moniak, the player who very well may be their star center fielder of the future (watch your back, Odubel!), on Tuesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Moniak and his family arrived in his town to finalize the 18-year-old’s first professional contract a day earlier.

Later Tuesday night, Moniak was scheduled to leave Philadelphia en route to Clearwater, Fla., where he’ll become acclimated into the Phillies program and eventually begin playing games (first in the Gulf Coast League and, perhaps, later this summer at short-season Williamsport).

But in the dozen days since he was drafted with the first overall pick in the draft on June 9, and before beginning the lengthy process as a recent high school graduate beginning a pro baseball career, Moniak has tried to spend the last week or so relaxing with friends and family and becoming acclimated with his future big league city, too.

“I don’t know too much about the city other than that the sports fans are some of the greatest in the world,” said Moniak, who brought his parents, grandparents, two brothers and sister to Citizens Bank Park with him on Tuesday.

His little sister cradled a Phillie Phanatic doll throughout her older brother’s press conference.

“It’s a great organization to play for, a lot of history,” Moniak continued. “I’m just excited to be a Phillie and be a part of this organization and hopefully bring a winning tradition here to the city of Philadelphia.”

The Phillies could obviously use a talented bat in their lineup as soon as possible. Moniak is years away from that reality, but a career has to start somewhere and that place was a conference room at the team’s 13-year-old South Philly ballpark on Monday, when the No. 1 overall pick signed his name to a $6.1 million signing bonus.

It’s nice money for a teenager. Or, for anyone. It’s also nearly $3 million under the recommended slot value for the draft’s top pick.

But it’s not unusual for teams to sign players under slot, especially when there wasn’t an obvious, clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in a draft. And the savings the Phillies got in getting Moniak to sign will immediately transfer to their current negotiations with the next two players they drafted two weeks ago, second-rounder Kevin Gowdy, a right-handed high school pitcher from Santa Barbara, Calif., and third-rounder Cole Stobbe, a Nebraska high school shortstop.

Both are expected to sign above slot. Both could sign as soon as this week.

“We’re negotiating as we speak right now with the second pick, third, fourth (junior college left-hander JoJo Romero), fifth (Oregon left-hander Cole Irvin),” amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz said. “And hopefully, within the next few days, we’ll wrap things up. Some of them may be flying up here in the next few days for physicals and then we’ll confirm the signings after that.”

“I think it’s reasonable to expect something else later this week,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Moniak will be looking forward to their arrivals to Clearwater. He played with both Gowdy, a fellow UCLA commit, and Stobbe last summer on the United States under-18 national team.

Moniak said he has kept in contact with both players “every day” since the draft.

“Some of my best friends,” Moniak said. “Gowdy is a UCLA commit, I got to know him real well, playing him over the summer and then through UCLA going on an official visit with him. Great guy. And Cole Stobbe is one of my best friends to this day. He was my roommate in the (USA Baseball’s) Tournament of Stars last year, which is happening right now. I stayed with him at his hotel in Long Beach in the Area Code Games so I didn’t have to make the drive.

“And in between Area Codes and the All-American games, he stayed at my house for a week. So we spent the whole month of August together last year and we’ve stayed in touch ever since, I talk to him every day. He’s one of my best friends. I was excited to hear those guys. I played with them last summer and now to start a career with them, it couldn’t be scripted any better. It was awesome.”

In the coming days, Moniak will say goodbye to his family for awhile, staying in Florida on his own as they depart for California. And then he’ll wait for his old friends and new teammates, beginning the journey of trying to get back to where he was at on Tuesday: Citizens Bank Park.

“To play baseball as a job,” he said, “is a dream come true.”