For the next two weeks, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round of next Thursday's draft. For a complete listing of these interviews, see click here.
Our first installment of the series comes at the top of the draft board, as we spoke with La Costa Canyon High (Cali.) outfielder Mickey Moniak. Moniak, who stands 6-foot-1 and 175 lbs., is regarded as a five-tool prospect from San Diego who is almost a sure bet to land in the top 10 overall picks. Be sure to check out his scouting report over at Minor League Ball.
Moniak was pegged as the 1st overall pick in Baseball America's mock draft on Friday, and was ranked as the 6th overall pick by both MLB.com and ESPN.com's latest predictions. He spoke at length with MLBDD Tuesday night:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize this was something you would be passionate about?
"I think I started getting into baseball when I was like 2. My dad grew up playing baseball, he played at San Diego State. My grandpa played for the Red Sox, he was signed in 1958 out of high school. I grew up around it, all my cousins played baseball. I just played it my entire life and never really thought of playing another sport. Once I got into high school, after I made varsity my freshman year, that re-assured me that I could do this long-term. At my high school, there have only been four freshman who have made varsity. That was a big deal for me."
Who was your favorite team growing up? Favorite player?
"Padres, for sure. I grew up a big Padres fan. I guess right now my favorite would be Melvin Upton, Jr. Going with the hometown guy who has kind of picked it up this year. I love Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, those guys are definitely two guys I look up to forming my game."
Growing up in San Diego and playing high school ball there, it must be beneficial to play year-round. There have been five 1st overall picks from San Diego since 2000. What is it like playing in that environment and having such good competition at home?
"You can't ask for much better. Obviously being in Southern California you get to play year-round, it's baseball all the time. All the competition you're seeing down here definitely pushes you. Some kids, the best competition they're seeing is out-of-state, but I see great competition here with tournaments like the Boras Classic up in Orange County against the top schools. I'm grateful for it and it has definitely helped me as a player."
Scouts have said you have shined brightest against the best competition, whether with Team USA or the showcase circuit. Is there something to that for you? Does the best competition bring out the best in you?
"Absolutely. Knowing you're playing the peak competition pushes you to be better and play your best game. I like the spotlight; I've always liked it since I was younger. Whether it be a championship game in a tournament or whatever, it's more fun. It's not that any game doesn't matter, but those games are more special."
When was the moment that you realized a pro career was possible?
"I've been scouted since my freshman year, lightly. I played for the 15U USA team, which was a big confidence booster and got my scholarship to UCLA. As I grew up and played over the years, I've progressively gotten better and better and gotten seen. After this past summer, I proved to myself that I could play against the best competition in the country. That's when I started getting looked at the most. It's been an awesome experience to go through."
Why did you pick UCLA and what other schools were interested?
"My freshman year, I got my first letter from UCLA. That was really special to me, because I've always loved UCLA, and southern California. I was getting looked at by USC, Tennessee and Pepperdine but after I met with Coach [John] Savage during my first visit he sealed the deal with a homey environment and making me feel like I was part of a family. Not to mention the academics at UCLA, the baseball program is second to none. It was right after they had won a National Championship so that was a big plus."
How will you ultimately weigh the possibility of going to UCLA against going pro? Will it depend primarily on where you get drafted, or are you leaning one way right now?
"It definitely depends on where I get drafted. It's got to be an easy decision either way. If you get drafted in the right spot, high enough, then that's a huge plus. That would be jump-starting a professional career, which I've always wanted to do. Obviously, the ultimate dream is to be a major-leaguer playing for a World Series title. I think if I get drafted high enough and the options are there, that's something I've always wanted to do. If that opportunity doesn't come, then UCLA is not a downgrade whatsoever. I'd be happy to go there."
Baseball America's latest mock draft has you going first overall. What does that mean to you, to be mentioned, at least in some circles, as the best player in this draft class?
"It's unreal. Thinking about this four years ago, I never thought I'd be talked about in that conversation. It's awesome, it just goes to show a bunch of hard work is finally paying off. To be talked about in that scenario, it's unreal. I'm excited for these next couple of weeks."
Do you have an expectation on where exactly you will land? Any teams showing particular interest?
"I've heard from teams. You can't expect anything or assume where you're going to go. You have to just enjoy yourself. I'm enjoying the rest of high school, and when June 9 comes around I'll be waiting for my name to be called. It's exciting, it has been a great experience to this point."
What's your biggest strength as a player?
"It's got to be my hit tool. I take pride in hitting; when you're an offensive guy, that's what you look forward to the most."
What is your biggest weakness? What is the knock you hear from scouts?
"Obviously, the big knock is my power. That will come, I've been growing into my body. I'm continuing to grow, continuing to go to the weight room to try to put on muscle and add strength. That's definitely been talked about, it's something that I definitely think will come. I don't think it's too much of a weak point."
Scouts say that you're a five-tool guy, how important is it to have a balanced game and not be one-dimensional?
"I think balance is huge. Being the guy to get on base whether or its a base hit, a double, a triple or whatever it may be. Having that speed is a huge advantage on the basepaths, getting in scoring position, stealing bases, scoring runs. That's a huge plus. On the defensive side of things, it's a huge thing to cover ground and to not let any ball drop out there. My speed really helps with that."
Which major leaguer, current or former, do you compare your game to the most?
"I've heard, and I agree with this-- Jacoby Ellsbury. He can hit for power, hit for average, steal bases and stick in center field."
Do you think you'll stay in center long-term? Is that where you want to be in the pros?
"I started playing center when I was 13, making the transition from shortstop. Ever since then, I've loved playing center field. I like covering the gaps, roaming out there. I definitely think I can stick in center field with my speed. I think that's a huge plus for me."
Has your meteoric rise in the last year been a distraction? Are you able to be a team player and a normal high schooler with all of that going on?
"Not a distraction at all. My whole thing playing baseball is to win. I'd rather go 0-for-4 and win a ballgame then go 4-for-4 with four home runs and lose. I think, once I get on the field, the main thing is to win. I'm going to do whatever it takes to help my team win. You can't focus on all the outside stuff, you have to focus in-game. Whatever happens outside, you can deal with afterwards. Once you're inside the lines, it's game time. You can't put too much pressure on yourself. You have to go out there, have fun and hopefully help your team win."