There are always going to be holes in a team’s lineup. Even the most perfectly executed offseason plan is probably going to be short in some areas. The hope is that the team’s other pieces they’ve acquired can do their job well enough that those holes aren’t exposed too much, lest the team need to depend on that player(s).
With the Phillies, it was obvious as the offseason eventually unfolded that plugging all the problem areas on the team wasn’t going to be able to be done, but that the most glaring issues needed to take precedence over others. Offense was the biggest issue for this team headed into the offseason and I think it’s fair to say that they addressed that issue. Defense was also something be discussed, but it was (wisely?) put on the backburner in favor of being able to score runs.
Also pushed to the backburner was what the long term answer is for center field. Due to both the lack of options that would represent a clear upgrade on the free agent market and the sky high prices demanded in return for trade of All-stars, the Phillies decided a reunion with Odubel Herrera was best (re: cheapest) option to pursue. Pairing him with Matt Vierling seemed like the best way to not shoot themselves in the foot offensively while also having at least average defense to roam in between left and right fields.
Then Herrera got hurt, the team traded Adam Haseley and another option presented itself.
Moniak has been the poster child, fairly or unfairly, of the Phillies’ failed plan of rebuilding through the farm system, as well as the lack of production from the player development system in general. The story of how he struggled throughout the minors after being selected first overall in the 2016 draft is well known and doesn’t need to be repeated. He’s never lived up to that draft spot and likely never will, but in fairness, neither have many of the other players drafted after him. 2016 is now almost infamous for being a bad draft overall, but that “1:1” tag is one that is difficult to shake. That player will always be judged differently since he was the first one taken over hundreds of other players.
This spring, Moniak has been on fire, hitting his fourth and fifth home runs off the month on Sunday and likely earning himself the stronger half of the planned platoon in center field. It’s been a pretty surprising thing to happen this spring, even if the only way he got as many reps as he did was due to injury. When asked about his spring, Moniak was pretty open about working with Kevin Long was what has gotten him going:
“I always knew it was in there...I put a lot of work in the offseason. The swing felt good. It was just a small adjustment that [hitting coach Kevin Long] brought up that really put things on the fast track.”
Seems so simple, doesn’t it? There was something that Long suggested Moniak do and he did it. As trivial as that may be, we have to wonder why these adjustments were never suggested prior to this offseason and spring training. Did the coaches in the minor leagues never see what Long has seen? Did they see it, make the suggestion and Moniak simply didn’t listen? We’ll be left to wonder that, but whatever has happened with Moniak this spring, if it takes hold and keeps during the entire season, the Phillies will reap those rewards.
What the team is probably hoping for is that Moniak does in fact take hold of the center field job and keeps it outright. It’ll require his continuing to make the adjustments as he goes through the National League, as well as continue to show that the adjustments he has already made will work once he faces top level starters and bullpen regulars all the time. It’s easy for a player to look good in spring training against would-be minor league arms; it’s another thing to do it against consistent major league level pitching.
Moniak has a golden opportunity in front of him. Herrera wasn’t given a big enough contract that he is guaranteed a starting job whenever he does recover. Oblique injuries are notoriously fickle, so it’s likely the team will take it slow with his recovery. Matt Vierling has been the offseason darling of many people looking for a breakout candidate, but he’s also probably best suited to be in a fourth outfielder role, maybe the short half of a platoon. So long as he can keep hitting the ball with as much authority as he has this spring, the opportunity for consistent playing time will present itself. It becomes up to Moniak to seize it and keep hold of it.