Little-known Monzon a key to 66ers' second-half

As the season winds down for the Inland Empire 66ers, injuries have plagued the team who is fighting to secure a playoff spot. Pitcher Troy Cate has shut it down for the season. Tanner Watson is hoping to get back out to the mound soon. But the biggest injury that could potentially hinder the Sixers' playoff run is that to infielder Erick Monzon.

Erick Monzon? Who is Erick Monzon?

Monzon is not listed in the Seattle Mariner's media guide. Even various stat services have his incorrect age and no background history listed in his stats pages.

To say that Monzon came virtually out of nowhere to play is first professional game with Advanced-A Inland Empire on June 25 would be an understatement. But just because it looks like he magically appeared on a minor league roster, that doesn't mean it came easy for the 22-year-old.

The native of Puerto Rico was nearing his first draft opportunity in 1999 as a high school athlete, but four months before the draft Monzon injured his thumb and was forced to have surgery to repair the damage.

After recovering for the injury, Monzon returned to his high school team to bat over .600 in the final two weeks of the season, right before the draft.

"Scouts told me that they could not draft me because they did not know if the thumb was going to bother me," said Monzon, reflecting back.

Monzon did end up getting drafted, though, in the 1999 June draft, but not until the later rounds. Instead of signing the contract and beginning his minor league career, Monzon chose to go to junior college.

After two strong years at a JC in Clearwater, Flordia, there was still no interest from any organization. Monzon then transferred to the University of Tampa, hoping it would lead him somewhere. Because of a dislocated shoulder, the infielder was forced to redshirt his first season, which didn't exactly allow him to showcase his talent. That all changed in his last two seasons, when Monzon strung together solid years and in his last season batted close to .320.

"The day after the season ended, I received a call from Seattle asking if I wanted to sign and take a shot at the pro level," said Monzon. "I told him why not and I went to Peoria for a month."

Due to some roster moves, Monzon was then sent to the High-A level in San Bernardino. Though he admitted he was a little worried about being able to hit with a wood bat in a minor league system, a place he had never been, Monzon was more worried and concerned about another aspect of the minor leagues.

"Politics," Monzon said, staring onto the field from the dugout. "I'm a free agent. I knew if I wanted to play everyday I would have to play hard and beat some one out for that spot. There are some who get paid way more money than me and signed for more as well. That was my impression when I first got here."

But times have changed since then.

"Now I don't feel that way," said Monzon. "I think I proved that I deserve a shot."

Monzon proved to every one that he does indeed deserve a shot. Over a course of a 29-game period in late July and into August, Monzon had one of the biggest stretches of any Sixers' player this season.

During that span, he played in 22 games and hit .371 with seven home runs, 16 RBI and 20 runs scored in a mere 89 at bats. The team, during Monzon's stretch, snapped out of a month-long hitting slump and went 16-6 when Monzon was in the lineup (18-11 overall).

"I wasn't really surprised because I knew I could hit," said the middle infielder. "In college I was the leadoff hitter or second hitter so I had to do the little things then. As far has the home runs, I was in a spot in the lineup were I could take a rip and still do my job."

Unfortunately, Monzon's season came to a premature end when he caught his spikes in the dirt and strained his MCL in his right knee against Modesto on Aug. 20.

Manager Daren Brown has already said that Monzon is done for the year and may not want to risk any further damage by trying to get him ready for the playoffs. If that is the case, Monzon's promising season appears to have ended a month early.

But that does not damper any future plans for Monzon.

The Puerto Rican plans on going back to Puerto Rico in the off-season to rehab his knee and quite possibly play in a winter league to prepare for next season.

Monzon has battled back from injuries in his baseball journey before and proven he can come back stronger than before.

"I can really play in this league," he said. "I can work hard and if I'm back at this level next year I will try to get my job back."

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