The Phillies started this season 5-1, but had scuffled in the weeks since and were facing a possible 8-10 record if they were swept by the Giants on Wednesday. Instead, they came back to win in walkoff fashion and, if there's anything to be taken away from it, the look has to be in the direction of a promising youngster and a veteran superstar.
They took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. It came via a three-run shot for Mickey Moniak, the significance of which we'll explain after letting you watch the pertinent evidence of such an occurrence:
Pretty nice piece of hitting there by Moniak. The pitch from Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani was a two-seamer with its proper sink and run away from the lefty. Moniak stuck with it and popped it the other way with authority. It was an encouraging swing and result, even if it's just one swing, concerning Moniak and the Phillies. Could he be the missing piece they've needed for a while in center field? That would sure help matters in Philly.
Let's also point out someone that it absolutely not a problem in Philadelphia.
Bryce Harper, long maligned by far too many people for basically existing (oh and having the audacity to make a lot of money), is currently on a hot streak. In his last five games, he's 11 for 17 with two doubles, two homers and four RBI.
Later in Wednesday's game, the Phillies' bullpen (and defense) blew a lead. Harper was around to tie things back up, though:
Harper then led off the ninth with a walk and came around to score the winning run. He had some fun in the process ...
Bryce what are you DOING dude lol pic.twitter.com/5rNQR0fmOM— Paul (@paul_boye) April 21, 2021
Uh oh, more ammo for the legions of Harper Haters.
He's now hitting .357/.493/.625 on the young season. Since coming to Philly, he's carrying a 140 OPS+ (which means he's 40 percent better than average at getting on base and hitting for power) with per-162 game averages of 36 homers, 108 RBI and 106 runs.
The Phillies have issues and Harper should be the absolutely last thing on anyone's mind concerning the team. That is, unless, of course, you're reminding people that he's an absolutely incredible offensive talent. Feel free to join me in doing that.
Something that does need to get fixed for the Phillies is center field.
Phillies center fielders prior to Wednesday had gone 4 for 54 on the season with zero extra-base hits. They were outhitting their pitchers .074 to .069, but a Zack Wheeler double meant the Phillies' pitching staff were out slugging their center fielders. Obviously this was a small-sample extreme, but the general feeling of center field being a problem was carryover.
In 2020, Phillies center fielders were their worst hitters by position, slashing .246/.303/.333. The average MLB center fielder hit .243/.322/.412, good for a 98-point OPS difference.
Enter Moniak, the former No. 1 overall pick. The Phils took him first in the 2016 MLB Draft out of high school. After hitting .236/.284/.341 in Class A in 2017 and then not showing a ton of improvement the following season in High-A, he'd fallen off every top 100 prospects list. It would be easy for the masses to proclaim Moniak a "bust" at this point. He was the top overall pick in a first round that had the likes of Ian Anderson, Kyle Lewis and Will Smith and he wasn't even a top-100 prospect and, unfortunately, lots of people like to make noise about high draft picks being "busts."
The thing is, Moniak was so young when he was picked and far too much casual, mainstream approach to baseball drafts is to view them like NBA or NFL drafts. That's ignorant to how baseball works, regarding the amateur draft and minor-league system of development. If he went to college for four years, last year would've been his senior year. He's still only 22 (he turns 23 next month). In Double-A in 2019, he was still more than three years younger than the average player in his league. He made strides in 2019 in Double-A and we don't really have much idea how the lack of a minor-league season affected him in 2020. For whatever it's worth, in 26 spring training plate appearances this year, he hit .273/.385/.727.
All this is to say, it's entirely possible Moniak still makes good on being a major-league player.
These Phillies would love nothing more for him to be the remedy for the center field headache.
In looking at the organization, there isn't really anyone else inspiring confidence to hold down the job as a regular starter moving forward. In looking ahead toward the trade market, it seems unlikely there would be a huge needle-mover available and the only free agent this coming offseason that would turn heads is Starling Marte, who heads to his age-33 season.
This isn't to say there is no other option than Moniak for the Phillies in center field in the near future. It is simply to say that if he panned out as a quality big-league starter, it would sure make things a lot easier on the franchise in constructing a winner. After all, he was once the number one pick of the draft.
Choose your own path on Wednesday's Moniak homer. It could be the start of a nice career with the Phillies, answering a glaring question they've had the past year or two. Or it could just be a fun, "first career home run" highlight in which the ball may or may not have been feasted on by a young child.
As for Harper, just respect the man's game. They don't win Wednesday without him and that's the case many times a year.