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Thoughts on St. Louis Cardinals infielder Yairo Munoz

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Cardinals rookie off to decent start in the majors

Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

From the Minor League Ball Mailbag:

“Why doesn’t Yairo Munoz get more attention? He has been very good for the Cardinals and I’d like to know your take.”——Jack R., Kankakee, Illinois.

I agree, Munoz needs more attention. He’s past rookie limits now and he won’t be showing up on prospect lists so let’s take a look.

Munoz has been quite solid for the Cardinals so far as a hitter, batting .285/.339/.417 in 151 at-bats since being promoted from Triple-A. His defense has been more questionable but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, background review.

Originally signed by the Oakland Athletics out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, he came over to the Cardinals in the off-season Stephen Piscotty trade. Munoz ranked eighth on the pre-season Cardinals Top 20 Prospects list with this comment:

8) Yairo Munoz, INF, Grade B/B+: Age 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic by Oakland Athletics in 2012, traded to Cards in Stephen Piscotty deal; fine season in high minors, hit .300/.330/.464 with 13 homers, 22 steals, 21 walks, 81 strikeouts in 446 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; pretty good defensive shortstop despite gaining 30 pounds since signing, more wiry when I saw him in ’15, more solidly built on ’17 view; range isn’t great but fairly reliable, can also play second, third, and even center field; power has increased with maturity, has lost a bit of speed with age but still an efficient stealer; main issue is low walk rate but does a lot of other things well; ETA 2018.

Offensively, I think Munoz has been almost exactly as expected so far. He’s hitting for average and showing some occasional pop but doesn’t draw a huge number of walks. His .285/.339/.417 slash line is very much what you’d expect looking at his Double-A and Triple-A numbers from last year and projecting them into a major league context. His wRC+ of 105 is quite good for a 23-year-old middle infielder.

I don’t think this is a fluke and while we’ll likely see some ups-and-downs in batting average, all told I think he’ll settle in around .280/.330/.400 with higher peaks.

Defense is an issue. He’s played mostly shortstop for the Cardinals but his work there has not impressed the advanced metrics; by Fangraphs measures his glove has been bad enough to reduce his overall value to replacement level despite the decent hitting. Lack of range seems to be the biggest problem though his error rate has been higher than it was in the minors as well. My guess is that the errors will improve but that range will always be a problem at shortstop.

That doesn’t kill his value; he is versatile enough to see innings at second, third, and the outfield. Second is probably the best bet long-term but ultimately he could be an attractive super-utility guy, covering multiple positions but providing more offensive value than the stereotypical reserve infielder. If he maximizes his offensive ability he could force his way into a regular job at any of these positions.