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Thoughts on Dodgers infielder Max Muncy

He’s one of the best hitters in baseball this year. Who is this guy?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

From the Minor League Ball Mailbag, a question regarding Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers:

Hey John,

Long time reader- was wondering if you wouldn’t mind on taking a closer look in an article at Max Muncy? I know he’s not a traditional “prospect” in any way at this point, but he had minimal MLB experience going into this season and has had a very interesting rise to where he is now. And the “now” being one of the best hitters, to date, in the league, makes me think that it would be a very interesting piece to have your take on him.

Thanks!

-Brent J

Good question, Brent. Let’s take a look.

As you point out Muncy isn’t a prospect in the normal sense; he exceeded rookie limits back in 2015. But he’s certainly in the midst of an excellent season (.259/.406/.596, 16 homers, OPS+ 171) so reviewing his background is appropriate.

Muncy was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2012 out of Baylor University, a fifth round selection. He moved up pretty quickly, reaching the majors in 2015 and exceeding rookie limits. He bounced between Triple-A and the majors for a couple of years but never got established with a full job in Oakland.

The Dodgers picked him up as a free agent in April 2017 and he put in a solid campaign in Triple-A, hitting .309/.414/.491. He entered ‘18 as Triple-A bat/MLB bench depth but he’s exceeded every expectation.

Looking back, I did two significant write-ups for Muncy when he was in the Athletics system, the first one in August 2012 shortly after he was drafted: Key excerpt:

Muncy is a 6-0, 190 pound left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, born August 25, 1990. He has a mechanically-sound swing, and enough bat speed to pull the ball frequently. On the other hand, his swing doesn’t have much loft to it. . .Muncy wasn’t a big home run hitter in college and I don’t think he’ll be one as a pro, either, looking more like a doubles guy. He controls the strike zone well and draws his share of walks, which helps, but as a first baseman without big home run power, it will be tough for him to force his way into a job.

Although he’s not a superfast runner, Muncy is athletic and well-coordinated. He has quickness on defense, showing good hands and surprising range. He’s athletic enough that his college coaches considered a switch to second base at one point, and he has some experience as a catcher, too.

A second report in April 2014 made similar points about both the relative lack of power as well as his strong sense for the strike zone and his defensive versatility.

A lot of that hasn’t changed. Muncy still controls the strike zone well, always has and always will. The Dodgers have made good use of his multi-position abilities, giving him innings at first base, second base, third base, and left field this year. First base is his best position but he’s playable everywhere and that kind of flexibility will help keep him employed.

What about the big power surge? Some bullet points:

****He’s 27, the stereotypical season for a power surge;

****The game is much more power-oriented today even compared to 2014;

****He’s a Dodger now, the team that took Justin Turner and his .380 SLG and turned him into a power hitter;

****Looking at swing videos going back to 2012 and my old notes from seeing him in college, honestly his swing doesn’t look significantly different to me; there might be a tad more loft now but it is hard to tell without access to video tools that I don’t have;

****His exit velocity is up significantly, 90.8 mph compared to 87.8 in 2015 and 83.2 in 2016; getting into the whys of that is beyond my paygrade;

Anyway, my basic take is that he isn’t a fluke. My guess is that his power is maxed out now and certainly higher than predicted four years ago, but his combination of OBP and defensive vestatility will keep him in the majors for years even if the power fades.