St. Louis Cardinals Player Projections: Yairo Muñoz

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 8: Yairo Munoz #34 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates his second inning home run against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on June 8, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 8: Yairo Munoz #34 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates his second inning home run against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on June 8, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

Yairo Muñoz is another player that the St. Louis Cardinals have for the super utility role but last year found his defense lacking. Will he improve in 2019?

Yairo Muñoz was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason in the trade that sent Stephen Piscotty to Oakland for Muñoz and fellow prospect Max Schrock. Muñoz was viewed as the better piece in the return and while Schrock has a good hit tool, Muñoz was definitely the better piece.

The plan may not have been originally for Muñoz to start the season with the Major League team, but after a great spring (.376/.423/.625), Muñoz left Jupiter with a 25 man roster spot. Even without a real role, the Piscotty trade looked great at the time.

Unfortunately though, the hot Spring Training didn’t carry to the regular season as after starting the year 2-20 over 11 games, Muñoz was sent back down to AAA Memphis. He was only down for about a month as he replaced Paul DeJong when he got hurt. Yairo Muñoz was a frustrating player in 2018. As an observer, it was easy to see the potential that the 23-year-old had, but he was a bit of a streaky player and was wholly inconsistent with the glove. Here’s arguably his biggest moment as a rookie:

Man it’s nice to watch baseball again…Muñoz also hit two homers in one inning at one point too. Back on track, Muñoz fills about the same positions as Jedd Gyorko, except for switch outfield for Gyorko’s first base ability. As a minor leaguer, Muñoz was good but not great with the glove while still possessing a cannon of an arm.

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Last year in the MLB though, he was pretty bad in the field no matter where he was. In my opinion, the majority of the misplays that Muñoz had were the result of rushing himself and then messing up. This year was his first year in the MLB, and it’s understandable that young players feel rushed and pressured to perform. It happens all the time.

Regardless of the reason, Muñoz played every position on the field last year except first base, pitcher and catcher, and was a -6 DRS defender at both shortstop and second base, then was only a positive 1 DRS at third base and right field. He committed a rough 18 errors in total last year. I don’t personally think that he is that bad in the field and expect him to be more comfortable this year.

With the bat, Muñoz was a 109 OPS+ hitter with a .350 OBP and .413 SLUG in just under 300 at bats. I feel like this is right around what he should be, much like what we see from Jedd Gyorko consistently.

Yairo Muñoz .253 .304 .386 11 55 850.133 0.7

ZiPS doesn’t project defensive stats, only offensive, so there is no way to know if Muñoz is a projected better fielder for sure, but ZiPS definitely projects a backslide for Muñoz. The good thing about Muñoz this year is that the Cardinals don’t necessarily need as much production from him as they did for the majority of 2018. Muñoz started a lot of games at shortstop last year because of DeJong’s injury and barring another freak injury, he shouldn’t get that many innings there again.

Offensively, a backslide this small wouldn’t signal that Muñoz’s career is over, or even that he won’t still be valuable for the team. This year he is the second utility man. He is Greg Garcia of last year. The most important thing for him is to settle down his defense and the Cardinals will take the offense as much as they can.

Muñoz may be a prime candidate to start the year at AAA just because of how many bench players the St. Louis Cardinals have. The Cardinals acquired Drew Robinson to be the left handed bench bat that they have wanted for a while, and that could leave Muñoz out. While I would love to see Muñoz improve on his 2018 batting numbers, this output would be just fine for Muñoz. I am not gonna make my own prediction for him for this reason.

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Yairo Muñoz was more or less a lottery ticket that the St. Louis Cardinals traded for when they gave up Stephen Piscotty. He was a really promising ticket, but still nothing was guaranteed. 2018 saw Muñoz show some rookie jitters, but also him performing in big spots coming through for the team. Hopefully he can build on his 2018 performance in 2019 and take advantage of the playing time he gets.