When Carlos Moncrief took the field at the start of the Aeros’ game against the Erie SeaWolves on Monday, he didn’t trot out to his usual spot in right field at Canal Park. Instead, Moncrief settled in at center field — for the first time this season.
This being the development-minded Double-A level, odds are Moncrief’s recent play caught the attention of the Indians’ minor-league brass, which appreciates versatile players and perhaps looked to challenge him while he was hot.
Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying Moncrief’s recent play has begun opening eyes across the Eastern League. Moncrief hit the game-winner Saturday and Sunday and has displayed his cannon for a right arm.
“It was a Carlos Moncrief weekend,” first-year Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez joked after Moncrief’s play stole the show for a second game Sunday in the Aeros’ second consecutive victory over the Bowie Baysox.
“He did the same thing last year,” said Rodriguez, who managed Moncrief last season at high Class-A Carolina. “He started slow offensively and defensively and then whenever he settled down, his abilities started taking control of the game. That’s what we’re seeing here in Akron now.”
The left-handed batting Moncrief fought off a handful of pitches in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s game against a Baysox left-hander. Finally, he got a hanging slider he could handle and deposited it into deep right field for the game winner. Moncrief had entered the game 3-for-24 against left-handers, but his last two hits Saturday were off lefties.
“That game really boosted my confidence going into [Sunday’s] game,” Moncrief said. “I’m figuring out a lot of hitting is confidence. To get that walk-off hit [Saturday], my confidence went up more for Sunday’s game.”
Sunday, Moncrief was hitless in his first two at-bats before blasting a towering home run over the 60-foot batter’s eye some 400 feet to deep center field. The hit itself was something to see, but was all the more impressive in that it broke a 1-1 and stood up to give the Aeros a 2-1 victory.
“Coming into the game, I wanted to remain confident and try not to give [the Baltimore Orioles top pitching prospect and Bowie starter Kevin Gausman] too much credit, even though he’s a really good pitcher. I’m learning I need to make pitchers give me credit, that’s my mindset,” he said.
But Moncrief isn’t just developing into a dangerous hitter. He routinely guns runners out on the bases from right field, like Sunday, when he easily threw out a runner tagging up from second base at third base by three feet.
About the only person not highly impressed by Moncrief’s play as of late has been Rodriguez, who insists Moncrief’s monster longballs are routine.
“I had him last year, so what he did [Sunday’s homer], that doesn’t really impress me,” Rodriguez said. “He had three or four home runs last year that were pretty much the same, straightway to center field. In Carolina, we had a big wall there about 30 feet.”
So while Moncrief’s teammates in the dugout got all excited about Sunday’s monster shot, Rodriguez acted been-there, done-that.
“Everybody else was high-fiving him and he looked at me expecting me to, too,” Rodriguez said. “I said, ‘What? I’ve seen you do that before. You’re supposed to do that.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you know me.’ ”
But did you know the Indians drafted Moncrief as a pitcher in the 14th round of the 2008 draft out of Florida’s Chipola Junior College, where he played both ways?
“I had a slight shoulder problem as a pitcher in 2009,” Moncrief said. “And I’d always felt I wanted to be a position player even when I got drafted as a pitcher because I was a two-way player in high school and college. So when I had the shoulder issue and I was rehabbing over the offseason, I told our rehab coordinator at the time that I wanted to be a position player and I wanted to hit.”
Moncrief said there was a moment of silence first, then this: “Well, let’s concentrate on getting your arm back first.”
By the next spring training, Moncrief was in a one-on-one meeting with farm director Ross Atkins when Atkins said, “I guess we don’t need to talk about your pitching, I understand you want to hit now.”
Moncrief’s response: “Yes, sir. If you just give me the opportunity to hit, I won’t let you down. Please, my heart’s not really into pitching. But I’ll work hard as a hitter.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.