Outside of Travis Moniot’s Indio home hangs a green and electric yellow Oregon University flag, swaying back and forth in the summer breeze.
But the flag’s days labeling the Moniot abode as Ducks territory could be numbered.
Next week, 30 Major League Baseball organizations will attempt to sift through thousands of high school grads, junior college players and college juniors in search of the next Kris Bryant in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Moniot committed to play college ball in Eugene, Ore. back in July when he assumed his professional baseball dreams were at least four years away. But, over the last 12 months, Moniot put on loads of muscle, played in fall leagues affiliated with two MLB teams and met with scouts of 21 pro teams in his own home.
Sometime between Monday and Wednesday, one of those teams may make the decision to extend Moniot his golden ticket to the big leagues, along with a signing bonus that would make most 17-year-olds ecstatic.
Then, Moniot will have a decision of his own.
Hard work pays off
Over the past six years, the Palm Desert baseball team has been an elite group, reaching the CIF Southern Section title four times. To spark such an impressive dynasty takes plenty of senior leadership.
Normally, freshmen have to wait their turn, but not Moniot.
Still, the recent Palm Desert grad wasn’t always the dominant middle infielder and switch hitter that he finished his high school career as just over a week ago.
As a freshman, Salazar said, Moniot didn’t always get the start in the field, and when he did, “We DH’d for him almost every time…He was our third middle infielder, so he came and played a lot when we had other guys pitch or there was an injury.”
You could say he didn’t exactly have the confidence of an MLB prospect, either.
“(Once) we had to put our second baseman in to pitch, so we moved him (Moniot) to second base,” Salazar said. “The first guy up hit a hard groundball right at him, and he said his knees were shaking so badly cause he was so scared. But he made the play.”
Moniot came in his freshman year one of five or six other guys- some seniors at the time – hoping to seal up the starting shortstop spot for the Aztecs, but assistant coach Chris Clapinski recognized early on that Moniot understood just being on the field was the most important part.
“One thing that was reiterated over and over and over again was ‘There’s only one spot. You’ve got to want that position. There’s only one shortstop job,’ ” Clapinski said. “Through it all, Travis did whatever it took to be on the field, with the ultimate notion of ‘I want to be the shortstop. If that means I’ve got to start out here or there and work my way into it, then that’s what I’m going to do.'”
Like most things Moniot sets his mind to, a dream soon became reality. He had little trouble becoming the team’s trusted shortstop for the bulk of his high school career.
College programs started to come around during Moniot’s junior season, with his first offer arriving from Hawaii in March of last year. Multiple schools were interested in his on-field acuity and ambidexterity at the plate, and a day after the Aztecs fell to Bishop Amat 4-3 in the CIF SS Division III championship, the Ducks came knocking with an offer Moniot couldn’t refuse.
Family atmosphere in the dugout. Rising baseball powerhouse. One of the top sports business MBA programs. Moniot visited in July and committed on the spot.
“I had a few other visits lined up, but once I got there and met the coaching staff and saw the players, it just felt right,” Moniot said. “I just stuck to my gut and committed.”
At the time, Moniot thought that was the end of the tough decisions he’d have to make for a while.
A dream becomes reality
At the advice of his Palm Desert coaches and hitting instructor Pat Evans at The Hitting Zone in Palm Desert, Moniot had added 15 pounds of muscle to his once wiry frame over the summer.
Evans helped Moniot earn a spot on the Tampa Bay Rays scout team in the fall where he played with some of the top talent in southern California on Saturdays and Sundays around Orange County.
On Wednesday nights, he headed to Angels Stadium to play on the Angels Elite Scout Team.
The same talent and hard work that earned him a starting spot on Palm Desert and a scholarship at one of the top Pac 12 programs, combined with a newly toned body, got the attention of scouts, and they started to come up to Moniot and his father Gavin expressing their interest.
One of the best players in the valley was soon becoming one of the best players in southern California.
“That’s when it started to feel more real,” he said.
Since the fall, Moniot has spoken with representatives of all 30 MLB teams, and 21 of them were eager enough to schedule in-home visits.
Between November and February, the Moniot home became a revolving door for baseball scouts, sometimes hosting their own version of two-a-days.
His parents Gavin and Traci were overwhelmed with joy for their son, but it wasn’t always easy to process it all.
“We didn’t know anything about the draft. Insurance? Just parent questions. Where will he be living? Where does he go? How does he get there?” Traci said. “Then it started to become more that we judged them by what they asked him, because we knew what other teams asked and how they got to know him.”
As Moniot’s senior season amped up, talks slowed down. Teams did their best to allow the Aztec superstar to focus on his final days of high school, still keeping tabs from afar.
In the back of his head, Moniot knew every swing of the bat of fielded grounder could and would be scrutinized, but he did his best not to force his performance and steal the show.
“If they draft me, it’s for the way I play, not the way they want me to play,” he said. “So I just tried to help my team win. I wasn’t trying to be selfish. I wasn’t trying to do too much. I just was trying to help my team.”
Now just 48 hours left with the Arizona Diamondbacks on the clock, there’s no more baseball to play.
All that’s left is the waiting.
A tough call
If Moniot is drafted, to some it may seem like an obvious choice. In very few situations would it be logical to receive a job offer to your dream corporation – even at the ground level – and turn it down for three years as an intern somewhere else.
For Moniot and thousands of other draft hopefuls next week, it’s not that easy.
For better or worse, Clapinski never experienced what it was like to be drafted. The Palm Desert grad played three years at Cal Berkley, but went undrafted in 1992. The MLB’s newest organization at the time, the Florida Marlins, signed Clapinski as an undrafted free agent. He worked his way through the minors before seeing big league action in 1999 and 2000.
Clapinski understands what it’s like to play in college and spend years waiting in the minors and the pros and cons of both.
“He’s going to travel better at Oregon. He’s going to have better food at Oregon. He’s going to have better facilities at Oregon,” Clapinski said. “Most of the fields he played on in high school are going to be better than what he’s playing in if he goes to the New York-Penn League of the Pioneer League (both rookie leagues).”
In college, it’s chartered flights to games rather than bus rides that seem to last forever. It’s swanky hotels over the nearest Motel 6.
Is Moniot mature enough to do his only laundry, cook his own meals, take care of all his bills, keep track of a credit card and pick out an apartment?
The 17-year-old thinks so.
On the field and in the locker rooms, though, the differences between the life as a college freshman or a rookie leaguer are stark.
At PK Park in Eugene, Moniot likely would play in front of near-sellouts on a regular basis.
In Single-A games? “You’re going to play in front of five moms and dads who came out for the week,” Clapinski said. “You’re going to play at noon. It’s going to be 100 degrees out. You’re going to get up at 6 a.m. and work out from 8-11:30 and then play for three hours…And no one is going to care what happened.”
From a team aspect, at least. At Oregon, George Horton and the rest of his coaching staff was hired to, among other things, take the Ducks to the College World Series. The athletic department at Oregon will make sure Moniot goes to and is excelling in each of his classes. They’ll provide tutors. Oregon will want to make sure the freshman’s move to the upper northwest is as smooth as possible.
It’s their job.
Minor league coaches don’t have time to babysit. They’re employed by the major league organizations to develop the team’s top prospects and turn them into the next Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw.
The rest are really just there to fill out a roster for those hopeful stars to play on, Clapinski said. Meanwhile, your teammates see you as the obstacles standing in the way of their dreams.
Next week’s draft consists of 40 rounds, with each pick in the first 10 assigned a specific signing bonus. Whoever the Diamondbacks select with the first-overall pick will receive – before taxes, of course – more than $8.6 million. The last pick of the 10th round will be given just under $150,000. The rest of the signing bonuses are left up to the team and the player.
But if you’re going to make it as a pro, Clapinski said, you shouldn’t prematurely begin a career swayed by dollar signs.
“If you sign for $1 million…all it does is give you more time to show if you’re going to succeed or fail,” he said.
But for teams with payrolls of several hundreds of million, that’s chump change. What matters most is entering into an organization on the highest rung possible, even if it means waiting three more years.
Former Indio star Tanner Rahier was selected in the second round of the draft three years ago, coming right out of high school.
Had he gone to college, he’d be up for the draft again this year. Sure, he was picked much higher than Moniot will likely go – if he does at all – but Rahier’s journey is the cautionary tale. He hasn’t played at all this season. Granted, he had a run-in with police in March, but even then he was still stuck in Single-A, where Moniot would likely start next spring.
“Three years from now, if he’s a better player, he’ll get drafted again, and if he’s not a better player, realistically, he shouldn’t have signed in the first place.”
Plenty of potential
Still, the pros are Moniot’s dream.
“If he wants to be a professional baseball player, he should sign,” said Andrew Starke, president of the Palm Springs Power and an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. “A couple thousand dollars between signing and not signing isn’t going to make a big difference in what they make over their career as a professional.”
Starke has seen Moniot a handful of times over his high school career and admires his switch-hitting abilities, as well as the potential he’s shown over the last four years to put on bulk and increase his strength.
And with the minor league system in place, teams aren’t drafting players on their current skills, because they aren’t headed straight to the big leagues.
“They’re not looking at how good is his bat today…They’re looking at what can he do in five years,” he said.
Moniot has all the enthusiasm a team could want, too. He has for years. He’s no stranger to playing with teammates and opponents much older.
In fact, he started his young baseball career playing on his brother Jeremy’s seven-year-old teams little league teams, while the younger Moniot was just four.
“We’d sneak him into games. He’d get out there and hit the ball. He had a great time,” said his dad, Gavin. “He’s always played the game like he was eight. I always tell him play the game like you’re eight. Just go out there and have fun.”
To be a professional, baseball isn’t just part of your life. Baseball is your life. When, what and where you eat, sleep and breathe all goes back to America’s pastime.
Moniot’s parents said he’s already living it. He gets up and works out before school. Sometimes, he heads to The Hitting Zone after. When he’s doing his homework, MLB announcers and the crack of the bat are his white noise.
“It’s what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, and hopefully the day is finally here,” Moniot said.
The right decision
Maybe the decision will be made for him. Moniot wasn’t listed in Baseball America’s top 500 prospects, and Jim Callis, the senior writer for MLB.com, had to admit Moniot’s name didn’t register.
Clapinski warned to be wary about high expectations on draft day, a trap he fell into 23 years ago. Salazar said he’s had a pitcher who could throw 94 mph and never got the call.
Moniot said he’s hoping for the best and expecting the worst.
“The draft can’t be predicted. That’s why when I look at mock drafts or the top prospects, those organizations…they don’t have a pick in the draft, so I don’t pay much attention to those,” he said.
Moniot kept his plans close to the vest, but it was clear any decision he makes will come with plenty of input from his family and his own advisor he’s hired to help lay things out.
In a game where failing 70 percent of the time at the plate is praised, Gavin isn’t worried about his son making a wrong choice. To him, there really isn’t one.
“Whatever decision he makes is going to be right because he’s making it,” he said.
Past Valley players drafted by the MLB
2014: Nick Baker, 29th round, Diamondbacks, PDHS
2012, Tanner Rahier, 2nd round (78th pick), Reds, PDHS
2012, Ryan Garvey, 33rd round, Rockies, PDHS
2012, Ricky Gingras, 18th round, Astros, PDHS
2011, David Schuknecht, 12th round, Rockies, PDHS
2011, Ryan Garvey, 15th, Phillies, PDHS
2010, Nick Baker, 44th, Dodgers, PDHS
2007, Randall Yard, 37th, Braves, PDHS
2002, Ryan Broderick, 20th, Angels, PDHS
1994, Kevin High, 63rd, Mariners, PDHS
1994, Canaan Price, 78th, Astros, PDHS
1991, Chad Bumgarner, 50th, Royals, PDHS
1991, Kerry Cosgrove, 72nd, Dodgers, PDHS
1990, Trenton Hauswirth, 34th, Expos, PDHS
1989, Rollie Jacobson, 67th, Astros, PDHS
1997, Jason Farmer, 31st, Marlins, Indio
1996, Jose Pimentel, 44th, Rangers, Indio
1987, Robert Pickowitz, 14th, Mets, Indio
1983, Todd Jackson, 4th, Rangers, Indio
2013: Morgan Earman, 21st, Mets, Desert Christian Academy
2005: Anthony Claggett, 11th, Tigers, Palm Springs (played in majors)
1994, Marcus Scott, 91st, Astros, Palm Springs
1986, Jeff Goodale, 19th, Brewers, Palm Springs
1984, Tony Perezchica, 3rd, Giants, Palm Springs (played in majors)
1983, Boris King, 6th, Pirates, Palm Springs
1983, Ivan Hyso, 17th, Pirates, Palm Springs
1975, Happy Vincent, 18th, Red Sox, Palm Springs
1969, Jerry Lewis, 18th, Pilots, Palm Springs
1966, William Hathaway, 11th, Palm Springs
2006, Abraham Gonzalez, 48th, Angels, CVHS
1997, Rolando Garza, 9th, White Sox, CVHS
1982, Richard Flores, 2nd, Dodgers, CVHS
1967, Larry Price, 7th, Giants, CVHS
1967, Joseph Sanchez, 15th, Phillies, CHVS
1967, Gilbert Marrujo, 52nd, Indians, CVHS
1965, Richard Totten, 20th, Angels, CVHS
*Palm Desert’s Chris Clapinski went undrafted in 1992, but was picked up by the Marlins as an undrafted free agent. He played parts of two season in the majors.