Morning, everybody. How are you?
So spring training is a couple weeks old now, and approaching the tipping point where the novelty of having baseball back begins to wear off, and meaningless exhibition games begin to feel like a slog. Amazing how quickly that happens every year, isn’t it? We’re all so amped up for the return of baseball, and within a couple weeks I, and I’m sure many of you, am done, ready for actual real games to be on, rather than midday matinees full of lineup changes and roster filler surrounding the real team and the occasional future star you really care about watching.
Anyhow, while we are approaching the point where spring baseball becomes tedious and real baseball still feels forever away, I don’t think we’re quite there just yet. I’m still seeing new things from players, new tweaks, new mannerisms, and a couple of new bodies, all of which I’m still interested in as of this moment.
While I’m thinking about it, we’re far enough into training camp now that a spring surprises update is probably a worthwhile topic. On the pitching side, we haven’t really had any huge breakouts yet, I don’t think, with the possible exception of John Gant and his nine strikeouts in just five innings. Mike Mayers has had a couple nice outings (I really hope they see his best possible fit is in the bullpen at this point), my pick, Sam Tuivailala, has tossed a couple impressive innings, and Dominic Leone has looked good, but none of the starters have really jumped off the page yet, and overall we just haven’t seen enough of the pitchers in general to have a big story developing just yet. Gant is probably the clubhouse leader right now, though, with what looks like an even more impressive changeup than he has possessed in the past.
On the hitting side, though, we have more of a sample size, and a few guys who have very much made an impression. Luke Voit has hit pretty well. Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena both jumped out of the gate very, very fast. Harrison Bader is having a nice spring. Ditto Oscar Mercado, who is showing he has the wheels and instincts to potentially make an impact stealing bases at the big league level, as well as impressing on defense. Tommy Pham has a look about him this spring that suggests to me he should ditch whatever walkup music he was planning on using this year and replace it with the Farmer in the Dell, then instruct John Ulett to announce him as, “Shit! Pham comin’, yo!”
Really, though, of all the players making big impressions this spring, I don’t think anyone can argue against Yairo Munoz. You hit two homers in an inning, you get noticed. And Munoz is actually one of the two players I really mean to talk about this morning, but I’m going to take a quick diversion first.
The subject of that diversion is Edmundo Sosa, about whom I wrote as part of the VEB Top Prospects list, and at the time I wrote his entry I was unsure what to really do with him. To do an absolutely insufferable thing and quote myself:
The reason for my lack of surety at the time was the fact Sosa appeared to have, at some point last season prior to appearing in the Arizona Fall League, remade his swing, incorporating a pronounced leg kick and altering his bat path to one more conducive to getting the ball up in the air. I honestly wasn’t sure at the time if it was a permanent change, a momentary flirtation, a work in progress, or what, which made him tough to have much feel for in terms of ranking.
Well, the good news is that having seen Sosa this spring, the swing change does not appear to have been a temporary thing, as he is swinging the bat down in Jupiter much the way he did in Arizona. He’s hit very well this spring, but more than that I’m just excited about the actual mechanics of his swing now.
Here is Sosa early in the 2016 season, via JW Fisher:
That is very much a throw-your-hands-at-the-ball sort of swing, the kind of approach speedy middle infielders with little power have been coached into since time immemorial. Just make contact, put the ball on the ground, and run, goes the conventional wisdom on this one. The problem, of course, is how limiting that kind of approach is. Even if a player doesn’t have much in the way of pop, he’s basically locking himself into being strictly a slapper swinging that way.
Now here is Sosa this spring;
Now, admittedly, the angles being so much different makes it a little tough to make exact comparisons, but those swings are also different enough we don’t really need exact comparisons, now do we? This version of Sosa’s swing, I think, may even be a little better than what I embedded in the scouting report I wrote this winter, as he now appears to be loading his hands back a bit more, rather than bringing them up to begin his swing and potentially getting too steep swinging down into the ball. I particularly like the way he’s rotating his shoulders and torso back, showing his numbers to the camera, before exploding forward. He’s no longer initiating the swing with his hands, now using the leg kick as a timing device to trigger himself. I would personally like to see him close up his front foot a little more toward home plate, but I’m not going to complain if he just continues to swing exactly like this going forward. There’s a little Alfonso Soriano in that swing, and I mean that very much as a compliment.
Onward to Yairo Munoz, now, who has also caught my eye with some changes he’s made to his swing this spring. Compared to what Sosa has done to his swing over the past year, Munoz’s changes are a bit less drastic. However, I think what he’s done has the potential to drastically improve his offensive game.
First off, here’s Munoz in the Arizona Fall League in 2016. There is plenty of video from last season, but this is really good because we get that fantastic open-side camera angle that’s so important in evaluating hitters.
Munoz looked pretty much exactly like this last year, too, for the record.
Now, on to Munoz’s recent day to remember against the Orioles, via MLB:
Okay, so lots to unpack here. Obviously, it’s easy to find video of a guy looking good on a day when he collects three hits, including two homers, but just ignore the results. Focus on the swing itself. I’m not going to break out the yellow dots, lines, and angle measurements; hopefully you don’t mind and can see what I’m talking about fairly easily.
If we go back to the video of Munoz playing for Oakland in the AFL, look at how spread out he is in his stance. His feet are significantly wider than his shoulders, almost to what looks like an uncomfortable degree. His hands are very high, and almost right out in front of his head. As he initiates his swing, he drifts back, actually stepping backward slightly with his front foot, and his hands travel a long way to get the bat back into a loaded position. The swing path itself is pretty good, and should produce plenty of loft, yet Munoz has always hit a ton of ground balls.
When I wrote Munoz up this winter, I focused on how much his body and head moved during his swing, and how he had a very long way to go with his hands, and lots of other stuff that bothered me about his swing. Eric Johnson, former prospect writer here at VEB, made the point in the comments that Munoz just never really gets off his back foot. I mention that because I want to give credit where it’s due, and what Eric said was arguably a much better, more direct way of getting at the root of Munoz’s issues than the way I was going about it. The fact Munoz never really did get his weight moving in the right direction and get off his back side was the biggest, more elemental problem, whereas the head and shoulders moving so much was more symptomatic of what he was doing wrong. Yes, those are problems, but the bigger issue was just that he never really got his weight going forward, rather than drifting back and just staying there.
On the other hand, if we look at the swing of Munoz this spring, we see some key differences. First off, take a look at the stance. It’s easiest to see toward the end of the video, when we get the open-side view of him hitting the homer. Look at his feet. Whereas before they were far, far wider than his shoulders, this spring his stance is probably six inches narrower. His feet are only slightly wider than shoulder width, which is a good thing in my opinion. Wide stances aren’t automatically a problem, but if it keeps a player from being able to get a good weight transfer going in his swing then his stance is too wide.
Now watch as Munoz begins his swing. He picks the foot up, then steps forward three, maybe four inches. No more than that, and probably closer to three, but it’s enough to allow him to actually get his weight moving forward. He no longer finishes the swing on his back foot.
Now look at his head and shoulders in the second swing versus the first. He now has the bat back over his shoulder at address, actually resting it on his right shoulder as he waits for the pitcher to deliver the ball, and he’s not drifting backward and down with his whole body and head. There’s some head movement, of course, but that’s due to physiological reality dictating that the head has to move during the swing, rather than him moving his entire torso and altering his eye level with it. The swing now is so, so much more direct, and there’s so much less wasted movement going the wrong direction. The momentum is now working for Munoz, rather than against him. Honestly, I don’t think I would change anything at all about his swing now. Whereas before he had an uppercut that nonetheless put the ball on the ground because his weight and body were moving in the wrong direction, almost like a bad golfer chili dipping a long iron trying to help the ball into the air (there are several people in the audience nodding their heads at this, I guarantee it), this Yairo Munoz has a swing built to take advantage of that natural loft, and his natural bat speed.
I’m not going to say Yairo Munoz is going to take shortstop away from Paul DeJong, or that he’s going to make Jedd Gyorko expendable and Josh Donaldson unnecessary. I’m not even going to say I think he’s going to make the team right out of spring. But having watched him take a handful of at-bats so far in camp, I have to say I am much, much more excited about his offensive upside than I was even three months ago. Something really interesting is going on with a couple of the Cardinal hitters, and Munoz is one of the most interesting.
Now, if only he would take a walk now and again....