La Costa’s Mickey Moniak finds success, comfort on Angels’ star-studded roster

Mickey Moniak (16) celebrates in the dugout.
Mickey Moniak (16) celebrates in the dugout after hitting a home run during the first inning of Thursday’s game against the White Sox.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Former No. 1 overall pick relishes opportunity in Anaheim, bonds with his manager, former Padre Phil Nevin


In the spring of 2016, La Costa Canyon High School’s baseball field was the place to be.

Scouts by the carloads came to see Mavericks center fielder Mickey Moniak. Scouts soon gave way to cross-checkers. That morphed into general managers and even team owners.

Days before that year’s draft, LCC baseball coach Justin Machado predicted the Philadelphia Phillies would take Moniak with the first overall pick.

“You don’t send the big boys flying across the country like they did without knowing they’re going to take him,” Machado said.

The Phillies indeed took Moniak. Then they traded him.

Monday, the 25-year-old Moniak will make his first appearance as a professional at Petco Park. He’ll play alongside Angels stars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in a Fourth-of-July holiday series against the Padres.

Despite battling a hip injury, Moniak comes into the series hitting over .300. He’s had a five-hit, four-RBI game against the Colorado Rockies and a three-hit game against the Texas Rangers.

“Being healthy has been a key to success. And I’ve been able to lock down the mental side of the game,” Moniak said. “I have nothing bad to say about the Phillies. They gave me a chance. I debuted with them. But there was never really an opportunity there.”

The Phillies made Mickey Moniak the No,. 1 overall pick in the draft.
The Phillies made Mickey Moniak the No,. 1 overall pick in the draft.
(U-T file photo)

‘No better leader’

During his senior season at LCC, the fleet-footed, left-hand-hitting Moniak hit .475 with seven homers, four doubles, 12 triples and 46 RBIs. He struck out just six times in 143 plate appearances.

“As an individual, there was no better leader,” Machado said. “You can’t believe the pressure Mickey was under.

“Every day — game or practice — there were scouting directors, general managers at the field. There was a lot of hoopla, but all he wanted to do was play baseball with his friends. He dealt with a lot of adversity, carried a lot of luggage, but he never lost focus.”

Moniak never lost touch, either.

Moniak watched the draft with his family and friends at the home of his cousin, Tanner Gage.

Gage had broken his back and severed his spinal cord in an accident. Moniak, who said Gage was “like an older brother,” insisted on watching at the Gage home because it was equipped with ramps that Tanner could negotiate.

The first person Moniak hugged after his name was called was Tanner.

“Shows you something about Mickey, doesn’t it?” Machado said.

Mickey Moniak throws the ball into the stands during a spring training baseball game against the Yankees in 2012.
Mickey Moniak throws the ball into the stands during a spring training baseball game against the Yankees in 2012.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

A deal, and a chance

After a steady climb through the minor leagues, Moniak was called up to the major leagues by the Phillies in 2020.

He played in eight games, hitting .214. In 2021, he played in 21 games for the Phillies, hitting .091 — 3-for-33.

“That was a tough year,” Moniak said. “I was up and down nine, 10, 11 times. I wasn’t playing. I was sitting on the bench, and I put a lot of pressure on myself.

“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some doubt whether I could play.”

Moniak posted a spectacular spring in 2022, hitting six homers. He was scheduled to make the Phillies’ opening day roster. But he broke his hand on his final at-bat of the spring, eventually missing 10 weeks. He made three minor-league rehab stops.

Last August, Philadelphia traded its former No. 1 overall pick to the Angels for pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

“Breaking my hand was tough,” Moniak said. “But it led to the trade with the Angels. The trade was a fresh start, a new home.”

While the Padres are struggling, the Angels are in the thick of the American League playoff race.

Moniak — and of course, Ohtani and Trout — have had a lot to do with that.

A perfect fit

Injuries — a broken hand, some broken fingers — marred Moniak’s season after the trade to the Angels, and he hit .200 over 19 games.

This time, however, Moniak was playing for Phil Nevin. And perhaps nobody in baseball knows more about the pressures of being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Nevin was the first pick of the 1992 Draft by the Houston Astros. Like Moniak, Nevin struggled early in his career, bouncing from the Astros to the Tigers to the Angels before being traded to the Padres in 1999.

Moniak and Nevin, another San Diego resident, knew each other fairly well. The young outfielder played against Nevin’s son, Tyler, when the two were in high school. The Rockies made the younger Nevin their first-round pick in 2015. Tyler Nevin, a Poway High School grad, has spent time in the big leagues with the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.

“There was a comfort level there” with Phil Nevin, Moniak said. “(Nevin) had been through some of the same struggles that I faced. I’ve been able to pick his brain on a lot of things.

“It has been a great fit.”

Phil Nevin, who spent seven seasons with the Padres, hitting 156 home runs, said he knew the Angels and Moniak would be a good fit.

“This is a place Mickey can relax and just go out and play,” Nevin said.

Despite the comfort level, Moniak was on the outside looking in when it came time for Opening Day.
Between Trout, former Padre Hunter Renfroe, Taylor Ward and Brett Phillips, the Angels had a crowded outfield.

So Moniak and highly touted prospect Jo Adell were sent to Triple-A Salt Lake.

“After a great spring training, Mickey went down with a great attitude, put up numbers and did everything he was asked,” Nevin said. “I know he was disappointed, but he did a heck of a job in Salt Lake.”

A hot start, hitting .308 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 33 games, and injuries at the big-league level, prompted the Angels to call Moniak to the big club on May 12.

“Mickey and I were drafted in the same position,” Nevin said. “You don’t think about the pressure every day, but you’re reminded once in a while.

“You can say it doesn’t matter, that there is no pressure, but there is. You get mail, cards to sign, interviews. That all adds pressure.

“We don’t need Mickey to carry the club, just relax and contribute. And he has done that.”

Moniak credits his skipper for some of his success.

“It has been incredible to play for Phil,” he said. “He’s a manager who has our backs as players. Playing for him, playing with Trout and Ohtani is incredible. Getting a chance to play regularly is the cherry on top.”

Mickey Moniak (16) doubles during the sixth inning of a June 7 baseball game against the Cubs.
Mickey Moniak (16) doubles during the sixth inning of a June 7 baseball game against the Cubs.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

A return home

It has been seven seasons since Moniak last played in San Diego and eight since he played in Petco Park. He was part of the 2015 Perfect Game All-American Game that also featured Padres prospect Jay Groome.

Moniak said it’s going to be “special to play in Petco” as a big-leaguer.

“I’ll have a ton of family and friends there,” he said.

Moniak professes to being a Padres fan.

“I was in the stands for all the playoff games last season … Dodgers and Phillies,” Moniak said. “It was raucous, crazy. Not the typical Padres crowd.

“It was fun to sit in the stands, watch baseball and relax.”