Name: Max Muncy
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 205
How Acquired: Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB draft
Max Muncy was anticipating a significant jump in 2015, but he never could have dreamed how high he would have to leap when he started spring training as a non-roster invitee to big league camp. Muncy had a steep learning curve in learning a new position and moving up two levels in 2015. Can he take what he learned last year to make a permanent home in the big leagues in 2016?
The A’s have never been afraid to challenge Muncy. The A’s 2012 fifth-round pick became the first member of his A’s draft class to play for a full-season affiliate when he was assigned to Low-A Burlington after signing out of Baylor. The A’s believed that Muncy’s advanced approach at the plate would play well in the Midwest League right off the bat, and they were right. He slashed .275/.383/.432 in 64 games in the MWL.
Muncy joined 2012 A’s top pick Addison Russell on the 2013 Stockton Ports, and it was Muncy who put together the most productive offensive season of any Port that year. In 93 games, Muncy hit .285/.400/.507 with 21 homers before earning a mid-season call-up to Double-A Midland. Muncy’s numbers fell off with the RockHounds, but he still held his own in his first taste of Double-A, batting .250/.340/.413.
Max Muncy Stats
In 2014, Muncy returned to Midland and he remained with the club all season, helping lead the RockHounds to a Texas League title. Muncy didn’t hit for much power with Midland (.379 SLG and seven homers in 435 at-bats), but he led the Texas League in walks (87) and posted a .385 OBP. He also homered twice in nine post-season games.
The A’s weren’t particularly concerned about the drop in Muncy’s power numbers in 2014. The RockHounds’ home ballpark, in particular, is tough on left-handed power hitters. Muncy has never projected as a power-first hitter, but the A’s still believed that he was capable of more power in a different hitting environment. The A’s also began exposing Muncy to different positions in the field to increase his versatility. He played in one game in right field and 22 games at third base. It was the first time in his pro career that Muncy had played anywhere other than first base or DH.
Muncy was one of several prospects invited to A’s big league camp last spring as a non-roster player. With Ike Davis, Billy Butler and Nate Freiman ahead of him on the depth chart, Muncy wasn’t expected to get a long look in the spring. Injuries opened up opportunities for Muncy to play both at first and third, and he took full advantage. He hit .364 with two homers in 23 games and held his own with the glove. Although he was sent down to Triple-A to start the year, Muncy moved himself onto the short list of players to be recalled to the big leagues in event of an injury.
Muncy didn’t have to wait long before he got that call to the big leagues, as it turned out. When Ben Zobrist landed on the DL with a knee injury, the A’s turned to Muncy to fill Zobrist’s roster spot. Muncy had played only at first base during the first three weeks of the season with Nashville, but he made his first MLB start on April 22 as a third baseman. He had a hit (a single) in four at-bats in a 9-3 A’s loss to Houston.
Muncy would come off the bench in several games after that, but he didn’t receive another start until May 7. Muncy remained with the A’s from April 22 until June 28. During that time, he had only 88 plate appearances. For a player who has always played every day, Muncy admitted it was a struggle to get used to the inconsistent playing time. He was sent down on June 28th with a .203/.273/.367 line.
At the time Muncy was recalled to Oakland, he was hitting .293/.408/.466 in 15 games with Nashville. He struggled in July after returning from the big leagues, but finished strong, hitting .327 in August and .308 in September. Muncy spent five days with the A’s near the end of August and he returned to Oakland for good on September 8. He would finish his first season in Triple-A with a .274/.350/.406 line in 60 games.
Because of the time Muncy spent on the bench with the A’s, he accumulated only 314 at-bats for the year. The A’s had hoped that Muncy would be able to make up for those lost at-bats this winter in the Mexican Winter League. Muncy got off to a solid start for the Charros de Jalisco, but he was sidelined with a rib injury after just 25 at-bats.
Given the inconsistent playing time and the fact that he was thrown into a new position in the field, it is understandable that Muncy’s numbers at the big league level weren’t particularly strong. The sample sizes are small, but Muncy hit much better in the big leagues as a first baseman (741 OPS) than he did as a third baseman (583 OPS), perhaps because he was able to be more relaxed on days that he was in a familiar position defensively.
Muncy has always been a good defensive first baseman in the minors and that carried over to the big leagues, where he posted above-average defensive metrics. As a third baseman, he rated below-average, although he looked better at third than one would expect based on his lack of previous experience at the position. By the end of the year, the general consensus around the A’s organization was that Muncy had improved his defense at the hot corner considerably.
Unfortunately for Muncy, his bat doesn’t profile ideally at the big league level as a first baseman. While he should hit for more power than he showed this season, he doesn’t project to be a 20-homer hitter in the big leagues. What he does do well is control the strike-zone. The A’s have certainly carried first basemen of his profile (good glove / good OBP / below-average power) in the past, but with power hitters such as Matt Olson and Renato Nunez in the A’s system, the A’s should have better power options for first base in the near future. The A’s also have a lot of upper-level system depth at third base, but Muncy’s bat does play more favorably at third than it does at first. Muncy was a second baseman in high school and there was talk of him working at that position this winter in Mexico before he got hurt. If Muncy can add second base to his resume and continue to improve at third, he could make himself a very valuable player with his versatility and approach at the plate.
Video of Max Muncy taking BP during spring training 2015 (video by Chris Lockard)
Muncy doesn’t have the typical body type of a utility player, but A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens says Muncy is a lot more toolsy than he looks.
“Seeing him play defense right away when he joined the organization, he moved his feet well and his throwing arm has always been graded as a solid average major-league throwing arm, which is really good,” Owens said. “Not a lot of guys who play strictly first base have an average to above-average major-league throwing arm. Max has that ability.”
The A’s projected 2016 Opening Day infield depth chart is a bit of a toss-up right now. Oakland has added veteran infielders Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso while letting go Ike Davis and Brett Lawrie. As it stands now, Muncy could be in the mix with Eric Sogard, Tyler Ladendorf and Joey Wendle for a back-up infield spot. However, all three of those guys have the advantage of being able to play an up-the-middle position. If Muncy starts the year in Nashville, expect him to move around the diamond, as he will likely be on the same roster as corner infield prospects Olson, Nunez, Rangel Ravelo and Ryon Healy. He could see time in the outfield, as well as second base and both corner infield spots.