Name: Yairo Munoz
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 170
How Acquired: Signed as an international amateur free agent in Jan. 2012
Yairo Munoz’s first year playing full-season baseball was filled with ups-and-downs. Munoz’s overall numbers weren’t spectacular thanks to the valleys of his season, but the peaks were demonstrative of what the now 21-year-old shortstop is capable of doing long-term.
Munoz signed with the A’s at age 17 in January 2012 to a bonus worth roughly $280,000. A product of the Dominican Prospect League, Munoz spent his pro debut season in the Dominican Summer League and came to the States in 2013 to play in the Arizona Rookie League.
Although his performance in both Rookie-ball leagues was relatively non-descript, Munoz played well enough at extended spring training in 2014 to earn a spot on the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters’ roster. Munoz’s assignment was supposed to be temporary, but he played so well for the Lake Monsters that he remained with the team the entire season. He would win the team’s MVP award and was a mid-season New York-Penn League All-Star.
Yairo Munoz 2015 Stats
Coming into the 2015 season, Munoz looked ticketed for the Midwest League, but he almost played his way into a higher league assignment thanks to an impressive spring training. He spent most of the spring playing with the Double-A and Triple-A squads and more than held his own with the more advanced competition. At the end of camp, the A’s decided to send Munoz to Beloit after all so that he could remain on a separate roster from fellow shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto.
Munoz got off to a solid start with the Snappers. Through the end of May, he was batting .274/.305/.425 with five homers. He earned a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game. Things changed for Munoz in June, however. He managed to hit only .173 for the month and looked lost at the plate. He improved some in July (.224 for the month), but he still didn’t look anything like the player he had been the first two months of the season. There were rumblings that he wasn’t putting in full effort, although it may have been more that he was weary from the grind of his first full season.
An injury to Barreto in Stockton shifted the complexion of Munoz’s season. Although Munoz was locked into a two-month slump, he was given the opportunity to shake it off with a change of scenery and a promotion to the California League. At the time, A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said the organization wasn’t sure how Munoz would respond. He acknowledged that Munoz could benefit from the hitter-friendly environment of the league, but said Munoz would need to be more selective at the plate against more advanced pitching.
As it turned out, Munoz did what he did in the spring – play up to the challenge of more advanced competition. He homered in his second game with the Ports and never looked back. In 39 games with Stockton, he hit .320/.372/.480 with four homers and 12 doubles. His walk rate jumped 1.2% from 5.5% in the Midwest League to 6.7% in the Cal League and his K-rate dipped more than 3% (from 15.5% to 12.1%). Munoz also found better luck with the Ports. He had a .257 BABIP with Beloit but that jumped to .346 with Stockton. Part of the reason his BABIP improved with Stockton was that his line-drive and flyball rates improved, a sign that he was selecting better pitches to hit.
Yairo Munoz homers for Stockton (video by Melissa Lockard)
Selectivity at the plate is going to be the key to whether Munoz reaches his potential as a hitter.
“He is a kid who swings early and swings often, but he doesn’t swing-and-miss much,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “The strike-outs aren’t very high for a guy who has such an aggressive approach. He is able to hit the ball to all fields. He’s got surprising power.
“He’s got to tighten the approach some. Even though he isn’t a swing-and-miss guy, at some point he’s got to tighten that approach and take a few pitches. He did mix in a few walks at the end of the year.”
Munoz has the tools to be a special player. His bat-to-ball tools are above average and he has surprising power for a player his size. Munoz also has above-average speed, and he used it wisely in 2015, swiping 11 bases in 14 chances. Defensively, Munoz racked up 34 errors, but he showed some range and a plus throwing arm that is one of the strongest in the A’s system. He is an excellent athlete and much more nimble than his body type (thick lower half) would suggest.
“I believe he got voted the best throwing arm from an infielder in the Midwest League by their managers in a couple of publications,” Owens said. “He has the tools to stay at that position. He runs well. He’s got a chance down-the-road to hit 15-20 homeruns and he might even surprise with a few more. He’s got electric tools.”
Munoz has played the majority of his games at shortstop since turning pro, but he has seen some time at second base and third base, as well, and should be able to handle either of those positions should the need arise that he move off of shortstop. As it stands now, however, Munoz has a chance to become an excellent defender at short, although he may eventually get too big for the position. His body type is similar to that of a young Miguel Tejada, although Munoz is a few inches taller.
It will be interesting to see where the A’s start Munoz in 2016. He didn’t get a full half-season in the California League, but he showed enough during his six weeks in the league that he could be moved up to Double-A at the start of the year. However, if the A’s plan to keep Barreto at shortstop all season, it wouldn’t make sense for the A’s to pair Munoz and Barreto on the same Midland roster. If Munoz does return to Stockton to start the 2016 season, he will be a strong candidate for a mid-season promotion if he gets off to a good start. Munoz has shown a propensity for rising to challenges, so look for the A’s to continue to challenge him over the next two years.