Name: Max Muncy
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 205
How Acquired: Drafted by the A’s in the 5th round in the 2012 draft
A lot has been written about the talented Oakland A’s 2012 draft class. While there are several highly regarded prospects among that group, the prospect that is arguably closest to the big leagues is 2012 fifth-round pick Max Muncy. Where Muncy fits in defensively will go a long way towards determining how quickly he takes that final leap to the majors.
Muncy arrived in pro ball after an accomplished three-year career at Baylor during which he never had a season with a batting average lower than .300 or an OPS lower than 866. The A’s felt Muncy was so polished coming into professional baseball that they moved him to full-season ball right away. He appeared in 64 games for Low-A Burlington during his pro debut season and put together a solid .275/.381/.432 line in a league that favors pitchers.
In 2013, Muncy began the season with High-A Stockton, and he put up big numbers in 93 games with the Ports. Muncy homered 21 times, drove-in 76 runs and posted a .285/.400/.507 line. He was a mid-season Cal League All-Star, the only Ports’ position player to earn that honor in 2013.
That performance earned Muncy a late-season promotion to Double-A Midland. Although Muncy didn’t hit for the same power that he showed with Stockton, he still handled the often-difficult jump from A-ball to Double-A well. After a slow start, he finished his first taste of Double-A with a .250/.340/.413 line in 47 games. All told, his completed the 2013 regular season with an 857 OPS, 25 homers and 100 RBI.
That performance earned Muncy a trip to the Arizona Fall League. He appeared in 15 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. He didn’t get many hits to fall, collecting just 11 in 49 at-bats. However, Muncy walked 10 times, leaving him with the unusual line of .224/.479/.265.
"Honestly, I think he was better than what his numbers showed offensively [in 2014]." - 2014 Midland manager Aaron Nieckula
In 2014, Muncy returned to Double-A Midland, and he would spend the entire season with the RockHounds. He missed three weeks in May with a finger injury sustained during a freak play on the bases, but he was otherwise a regular presence in the middle of the Midland offense. He led the Texas League in walks (87) and OBP (.385), while posting a .264/.385/.379 line. Muncy homered just seven times during the regular season, but he added two homeruns during the post-season, helping the RockHounds to a Texas League crown.
Aaron Nieckula, who served as the manager for the RockHounds during Muncy’s time with the team, raved about how Muncy handled the ups-and-downs of the Texas League season.
“It was fun watching him develop over the course of the year,” Nieckula said. “He was probably one of our more consistent hitters. He had a few ups and downs here and there. It’s very tough to be a left-handed hitter in Midland with that wind blowing in. It can be very frustrating and disappointing. Honestly, I think he was better than what his numbers showed offensively.
“He was probably one of the best defensive first basemen in the league. And I think he’s probably athletic enough where if he had to make the switch to the other side of the diamond and play third base, I think he could handle it. As a matter of fact, he did play a handful of games at third base for us and it went very well. He just needs to work on his mechanics and reading the angle of the ball and that sort of thing. You could even put him in the outfield if you wanted to. Max developed well in all facets of the game. He’s just a fine young man and was a pleasure to coach.”
The biggest question with Muncy’s projection is whether he has the power to be an everyday corner infielder in the big leagues. He has above-average plate discipline and the ability to use the whole field. Muncy had a better-than-league-average line-drive rate and outfield flyball rate with Midland last year, which could mean he will see better power numbers in a league where the ballparks tend to play more fairly. Muncy is also a rare middle-of-the-order hitter who doesn’t strike-out a lot. His K-rate has been lower-than-league-average every year of his career thus far. Muncy struggled badly against left-handed pitching last season. Any improvement in that area would strengthen his numbers considerably.
Former A’s minor league hitting coordinator and current A’s assistant hitting coach Marcus Jensen believes that the power will be there for Muncy as he advances.
“He’s going to be fine,” Jensen said. “He’s a guy who is showing some other intangibles: getting on-base, drawing the walks, putting up quality at-bats. The power is not a concern because it is there. It’s just a matter of trusting. Trusting it and not trying to do more.”
At 6’0’’, Muncy is a bit undersized for a first baseman, although he has an excellent glove at the position. He is a good enough athlete that the A’s have thought about moving him around defensively a little bit. He played some third last season. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Muncy in other defensive spots this year (perhaps even second base, a position he played some in high school). The A’s have several top prospects at first base, and given that Muncy’s plate discipline is ahead of his power, he would likely have a clearer path to the big leagues with the A’s at a different position. Muncy is, in many ways, a similar player to former A’s first baseman Daric Barton, although Muncy is a better athlete than Barton and is better suited to play positions other than first base.
With nearly 170 Double-A games under his belt, Muncy appears poised to make the jump to Triple-A in 2015. He is a non-roster invitee to big league spring training. The A’s could have as many as three other players with a lot of experience at first base on their Triple-A roster (Anthony Aliotti, Rangel Ravelo and Nate Freiman), so for Muncy to find regular playing time, he will likely need to move around the diamond some. With a big season, he could be a candidate for a September call-up. He will be 24 until late August.