The St. Louis Cardinals may have had Yairo Munoz on the bench the past two years, but looking at options for 2019, there may be a better choice for his spot.
The last decade St. Louis Cardinals baseball has featured some of the best bench players the team could’ve asked for. From (that one season of) Pete Kozma, to Daniel Descalso, Jeremy Hazelbaker, and Jedd Gyorko, the team has always gotten unexpected contributions from players off of the bench.
When Cardinals acquired Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock for Stephen Piscotty before the 2018 season, it looked like one or both of them could keep building that legacy for the team. Then in 2018, Munoz and his league-minimum salary made Jedd Gyorko and his large paycheck seem unnecessary.
In 2018, Munoz played every defensive position except first base and catcher while hitting .276 with a .763 OPS. He showed some pop hitting eight homers in very limited time and was overall 9% above average with the bat. This seemed like a coming-out party for the then-23-year-old to secure a bench spot regularly going forward.
He wasn’t spectacular at anything, but when Munoz was on the field, it didn’t feel like there was an abyss in the lineup which is all you can really ask for from a bench bat.
Then in 2019, Munoz fell off a cliff. It may have been due to getting about half as many at-bats as he did in 2018, but Munoz went from that 9% above average player with the bat to 29% below average. He didn’t walk at all (3.9% walk rate) and almost all of his power disappeared.
ISO is a stat that measures a players’ power output by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. This is an easy way to look past the baseline statistics and see more about a player. A .140 ISO is considered average from FanGraphs and .250+ is considered excellent. In 2018, Munoz’s ISO was .137, which is right at average. In 2019, Munoz’s power drought dropped that number to .087. That’s not gonna do for a below-average (albeit versatile) defender coming off of the bench.
In all, Munoz’s 2019 netted him a -0.4 bWAR which leads to the question, could there be better options? More specifically, I want to look at one option: Edmundo Sosa.
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Sosa has been in the Cardinals system for what seems like an eternity, which fits because he signed internationally back in 2013 when he was just 17 out of Panama. The wiry infielder can play any infield position except first base and do so pretty well. While his glove and arm is his best tool, his bat has been coming along nicely.
Sosa hit well in the lower levels of the Minors then struggled some once he got pushed a little he would struggle some. He’s never got on base much, never hit consistently above .300, has some speed and some occasional pop. Sosa is exactly what a bench bat should be. Consistently average. For a bench spot, that’s really all you can ask for too.
Sosa made his debut last year and got three at-bats then returned this year and got eight at-bats. He hasn’t been given a shot at the MLB level as a bench guy, but I would expect the 23-year-old will get his shot to compete with Yairo Munoz in Spring Training this year.
Sosa has been playing in the Dominican Winter League and has kept up the solid offensive numbers that he put up at AAA, batting .283 with 14 RBIs and three homers in 41 games.
Those stats are courtesy of William Boor of mlb.com but the main point to make is that Sosa has continued to hit.
Munoz has a higher offensive ceiling than Sosa, but seemingly that ceiling comes with a much lower floor too. Sosa may never be a starter, he may never bat over .270, but when it comes to what it takes to be a bench bat in the MLB, you either need to hit a lot or for power, or play good defense. As a player with speed, above-average defense, and consistent offense, Sosa fits that bill very well.
I am not sure the Cardinals are sold on Munoz’s defense or offense following 2019 and I think a lot of fans would pick Sosa over Munoz at this point.
This decision won’t be decided until Spring Training, but this will definitely be a position battle to watch. Sosa brings consistency and defense, Munoz brings a ceiling that’s higher, but with more volatility. It’ll all come down to how they play once games start again but I would bet Sosa will leave Jupiter with the Cardinals.