NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016.
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."
Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.
“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”
Jorge Alfaro, one of the Phillies' most highly regarded prospects, is off to a big start at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
He entered Wednesday night's game hitting .377 (23 for 61) with a 1.003 OPS in his first 15 games. He had a double, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs. Team officials would surely like to see the strikeouts (17) come down and the walks (1) go up, but no one is complaining about the production.
"I just looked at his numbers," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's doing very well — knocking the cover off the ball."
Alfaro, 23, is widely considered the Phillies' catcher of the future. He's an athletic talent with huge upside. Many scouts believe he could be an All-Star if he puts it all together.
Defense is the area where Alfaro needs the most work. Yes, he's got a "howitzer" for an arm, as Mackanin called it, so that doesn't need much work. But there's a lot more to catching than throwing. There's game-calling, receiving and blocking.
Alfaro made a cameo with the big club last September and did not impress club officials with his receiving or blocking. Instructors focused on improving those areas in spring training, and Mackanin reports that Alfaro has shown progress in the early season.
"We get a complete game report on what everyone does offensively and defensively," Mackanin said. "Apparently he looks very good defensively.
"He had some issues defensively. He wasn't getting down enough and he worked on that all spring. He's a big guy and it's a little more difficult for a big guy to get low.
"And we wanted him to just be a little more quiet behind the plate, less movement. He had a tendency to be moving while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch. We just want a guy sitting back there nice and quiet with a good target. That might seem pretty elementary, but if you're not concentrating on doing that you might not realize the importance of it.
"He's doing well blocking balls. He's doing everything well right now and hitting on top of it, so that's a nice sign."
Pitcher Clay Buchholz made his first appearance in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday since having surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm last week.
Many initially believed Buchholz would be out for the remainder of the season -- and he still might be -- but he expressed optimism and believes he can return to the mound in September.
"My goal right now is to let this heal," Buchholz said. "Get it well and if this team keeps playing like they're playing right now, we'll be playing in September, October, so that's my goal."
Buchholz said he wasn't feeling 100 percent leading up to the April 11 game against the New York Mets when manager Pete Mackanin pulled him in the third inning.
"I told [general manager Matt Klentak] that I was sorry, and the guys in here," Buchholz said. "I was brought here for a reason. I wanted to pitch, I wanted to be good. I guess it's a good thing we have a good farm system here because they've been able to step up and fill in."
Buchholz had a similar issue with the Boston Red Sox in July 2015 and missed the rest of the season.
In his two starts with the Phillies, Buchholz allowed 10 runs and 19 baserunners over just 7 1/3 innings.
Buchholz, 32, will become a free agent at the end of the season. Given his age and the possibility that he won't return this season, the injury could significantly affect his value heading into the offseason. He's the second-highest paid player on the Phillies' roster at $13.5 million
But Buchholz wants to build the strength in his forearm and continue to pitch in MLB following this season.
"There's a lot of guys that come back," Buchholz said. "I have a lot of buddies that played this game that have come back from major surgeries and played for eight or nine more years. It's all about once I do get healthy, being prepared and building a strong foundation around my muscles."