Top prospect Alex Mooney focuses on Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, not growing MLB Draft buzz

Mooney, a shortstop at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, could become the first Michigan…

Top prospect Alex Mooney focuses on Orchard Lake St. Mary's, not growing MLB Draft buzz 1

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Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Alex Mooney sees bright future in baseball

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s baseball coach Matt Petry and senior shortstop Alex Mooney talk about Mooney’s future in baseball, which could include a selection in the first round of the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft.

Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

There’s been a lot of buzz about Alex Mooney since he was a freshman, when a professional scout came to a game to see another player and ended up talking with Mooney afterward.

Since, the hype has only grown to the point where, as much as he tries to downplay it and focus on his Orchard Lake St. Mary’s team, it’s been nearly impossible to ignore.

That’s why when some Major League Baseball Draft experts started to break down his game and question his lack of power, Mooney got to work. That was last spring, his junior baseball season was suddenly canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and, frankly, he had nothing else going on.

So he got to work.

“I was just so bored. There was nothing to do,” Mooney, the starting shortstop who also can play some second and third, said after practice the other day, with a laugh. “We have a weight room in our house, and when it was snowing out and stuff, I really just woke up and did my schoolwork (remote learning) and then worked out. Once it got a little warmer, we built a cage in our backyard and I hit every day.

“Sometimes I’d even lift twice a day, just to go out and do something. I’d work out, go hit, and if I had time, I’d work out again.

“I was doing everything I could.”

The short-term result of all the workouts — focusing at least twice a week on upper body and twice a week on lower body — was an extra 10 to 15 pounds to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame.

The less-short-term result could be a place in the first or second round of the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft, as scouts from nearly every organization have flocked to see St. Mary’s and Mooney, who on April 6 at Portage Northern had a doubleheader for the ages.

Mooney, 18, homered in his final at-bat of the first game, then homered in his first at-bat of the second, and then his second, and then his fourth — for a four-homer day. His fourth homer was a grand slam. He had a double in the second game that nearly went out. St. Mary’s assistant Brian Sakowski caught the blasts on video and shared them on social media.

Amazingly, Mooney started the day 0-for-4.

“Something he prides himself on, and something you’re looking at as a coach, are his in-game adjustments,” coach Matt Petry said. “Just his ability to not only make adjustments day to day, but also in-game with how pitchers are attacking him, it’s just a credit to him.

“It was a special moment. … The games were a little bit out of hand (St. Mary’s won 20-2 and 17-2 against the defending, or 2019, Division 1 state champions), so we couldn’t show too much emotion just out of respect for your opponent.

“But that was pretty exciting.”

According to record books listed on MHSAA.com, Mooney tied the record for home runs in an inning with two in the nightcap, and tied the record for home runs in a game with three. Through eight games, and entering the ninth and 10th Wednesday (both wins, to push St. Mary’s to 10-0), Mooney was batting .583 with five home runs, three doubles, a triple, 18 runs scored and six stolen bases.

Two months from now, the baseball state finals will take place in East Lansing, with St. Mary’s trying to repeat (from 2019) as Division 2 champion and win its fifth title overall, and third since 2015.

Three months from now, MLB will hold its draft — the first July draft — with Mooney possibly poised to join a prestigious list. Since the MLB Draft began in the 1960s, only 16 Michigan high-schoolers have been taken in the first round of the “regular” June draft.

The most recent was Birmingham Brother Rice outfielder Nick Plummer, who was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015. The roster also includes Baseball Hall of Famers Derek Jeter (1997, New York Yankees) and Ted Simmons (1967, Cardinals), who will be inducted this summer, and other stars like Steve Avery (1988, Atlanta Braves), Frank Tanana (1971, California Angels), John Mayberry (1967, Houston Astros) and Bernie Carbo (1965, Cincinnati Reds).

Mooney, though, isn’t thinking about all that, knowing the baseball draft can be fickle. One scouting service can have you a first-rounder, another can have you outside the top five rounds. Perfect Game might drool, Baseball America might yawn. And teams have varying opinions, too, based on what they’re looking for.

And so, he’s committed to Duke, should he not get his, or his parents’ Joe and Jennifer’s, preferred draft slot and bonus in July. First-round slot values range from about $2 million at the bottom of the competitive-balance round, up to $8.4 million for the first overall pick. Second-round picks are all valued at $1 million or more.

“You know, for me, I try to not worry about it,” said Mooney, who started getting college offers as an eighth-grader, including from Michigan and Michigan State. “You control what you can control. I’m focused on helping our team win, and if I play well and help our team win, everything can work itself out.

“I feel like if you pay too much attention to it, it gets to your head.”

And very little seems to get to Mooney’s head. Petry calls him a great teammate, “a pleasure to be around.” When asked about losing his 2020 junior season to COVID-19, Mooney expressed disappointment for his seniors, who wouldn’t get a chance to defend their state title. He said nothing about his lost opportunities, knowing the most important time frame for a draft prospect is the summer before senior year.

That’s when top prospects make the travel rounds, and that’s why Mooney put in all that time with the weights and with the Spinball machine, which his family had bought for the school but ended up setting up in his garage, then his yard. It can crank up to 105 mph, control spin rates, and throw sliders and curveballs.

“It’s an awesome machine,” Mooney said.

It helped prepare Mooney for a summer circuit that included showcases in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. With three hits, including a triple, and three runs scored, he was named MVP of the Perfect Game All-American Classic in Oklahoma City. He was ranked the No. 2 standout player by MLB.com draft guru Jonathan Mayo, who only ranked Texas high-school shortstop Jordan Lawlar, a likely top-five pick, ahead.

Mooney is ranked the No. 1 high-school prospect in the state, Duke coach Chris Pollard calling him “one of the most-talented student-athletes I have ever recruited,” and Petry calling him “the best professional prospect we’ve had,” in a program that has had a lot of great players over the years.

Petry said it’s not unusual for 15 to 20 scouts to be at a game, which is the most he’s seen in the area since Plummer was rocketing up draft boards en route to being taken No. 23 in 2015 (and signing for a bonus of more than $2 million). Mooney headlines an impressive class of Michigan high school draft prospects, including Trenton pitcher/first baseman Micah Ottenbreit and Portage Central pitcher/shortstop Luke Leto.

Scouts have timed their trips to try and see all three while in Michigan, plus a few others.

Mooney’s creating the most buzz, though, in no small part to that four-homer day — he can’t specifically recall ever hitting two in a game, though he might have in Little League.

“He’s certainly aware of people that are out to watch him, but he doesn’t press or anything like that,” Petry said. “The biggest credit to him is he doesn’t try to do too much. That’s what I always tell him and other guys. These guys are out here watching you because of who you’ve been and who you are. They’re not trying to see something that you’re not.”

Mooney is a baseball junkie, something that he’s been since a very young age, thanks to a family passion. Dad Joe played baseball under Bill Freehan at Michigan. Older brother Jack played at St. Mary’s, and younger brother Ryan now plays at St. Mary’s.

But Mooney has other passions. He likes to fish when he goes to his parents’ summer place up near West Branch. His best prize, personally, is a 5- or 6-pound bass, though his family once caught bigger, “a giant barracuda,” during a deep-sea fishing excursion in St. Thomas. He’s taken up golf, though he tries not to play much in-season, because it might mess up his baseball swing. He still plays rec basketball with some buddies, though, he quit organized basketball after his freshman year, and football after sixth grade.

He liked all the sports, but it became pretty clear pretty early he excelled most at one.

As a freshman, starting at second base but shifting to short because of injury, Mooney batted .358 with 10 doubles, one homer, 22 RBIs, 41 runs and 24 stolen bases. As a sophomore, back at second with the starting shortstop healthy, Mooney batted .462 with 17 doubles, seven homers, two triples, 45 RBIs, 52 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. The seven homers are a single-season program record in the dead-bat era.

He lost his 2020 season, of course, but is quickly making up for that, and a whole lot of folks are noticing.

“It’s a special thing, but my parents always said you don’t want to take things for granted,” Mooney said. “I try to soak it all in, and realize just how special it is and how blessed I am. But, again, I’m just trying to focus on what I can control.

“Baseball’s a team game. One guy isn’t going to win a game.

“You’re not really anything without your team.”

Young guns

Michigan high-schoolers taken in the first round of the June regular Major League Baseball Draft:1988

2015: Nick Plummer, OF, Birmingham Brother Rice (Cardinals; bonus: $2.124 million)

1997: Ryan Anderson, LHP, Dearborn Divine Child (Mariners; $2.175 million)

1992: Derek Jeter, SS, Kalamazoo Central (Yankees; $700,000)

1988: Steve Avery, LHP, Taylor Kennedy (Braves; $211,500)

1985: Dan Gabriele, RHP, Walled Lake Western (Red Sox; $100,000)

1979: Chris Baker, OF, Livonia Franklin (Tigers; $54,000)

1977: Kevin Richards, RHP, Wyandotte Roosevelt (Tigers; $43,500)

1977: Dave Hibner, SS, Howell (Rangers; $49,500)

1976: Jim Parke, RHP, Utica Ford (Pirates; $47,500)

1975: David Johnson, LHP, Gaylord (Cardinals; $30,000)

1971: Frank Tanana, LHP, Detroit Catholic Central (Angels; $50,000)

1971: William Daniels, RHP, Detroit Mackenzie (A’s; $25,000)

1967: John Mayberry, 1B, Detroit Northwestern (Astros; $40,000)


1967: Ted Simmons, C, Southfield (Cardinals; $30,000)

1966: Rick Konik, 1B, Detroit St. Andrews (Tigers; did not sign)

1965: Bernie Carbo, 3B, Livonia (Reds; $30,000)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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