By Jack Stephens, from Cardsblog.com
The Cardinals are set at shortstop. Paul DeJong clearly proved himself last season, and will keep his position for the foreseeable future. Pending injury or some unpredictable dip in performance, it seems that there is no reason to worry.
Though I agree with the above statements, I will say that DeJong could, in theory, move to third base at some point in his career. Not necessarily a "great" defensive shortstop, it is a storyline with faint possibility. As such, the door is not completely closed at shortstop. For this reason, I think its valuable to look at other options, some players that could fill the void if DeJong is moved or injured sometime in 2018.
Thankfully, the Cardinals have some talent in the system. Of course, Delvin Perez comes immediately to mind. The uber talented prospect, he is (fingers-crossed) the shortstop of the future. For 2018 though, he is a long way off, still having to prove himself in the lower levels of the minors.
Beyond Perez, there is Tommy Edman and Kramer Robertson, two college prospects with polish and (some) big league promise. Furthermore, there is Edmundo Sosa, the Panamanian 21 year-old coming off a solid year in high A.
Needless to say, the Cardinals have, and have had, some promising prospects at shortstop. Realistically, however, none of the above players are close to ready. Should something go wrong in the big leagues, these guys would not be viable answers; at least not yet.
Enter Yairo Muñoz. A 23 year old out of the Dominican Republic, Muñoz was a byproduct of the Stephen Piscotty deal, coming to the Cards via the Oakland Athletics.
Especially given the significance of the aforementioned deal to Piscotty specifically, there was not much talk about the prospects received. Between Muñoz and Max Schrock, the Cardinals got two solid middle infielders. It just took a while for people to realize.
Before moving to the present, let's talk a little about Muñoz's past performance. Whilst with the A's, he was relatively inconsistent in his ascension from the low levels of the Oakland organization.
Importantly, though, he had an incredibly solid 2017, beginning in AA and closing out the year in triple. Across these two levels, he slashed .300/.330/.464, mashing 13 bombs, 26 doubles, and driving in 68 runs. Incredibly productive at the plate, the Cardinals received a gem.
Fast forward to Spring Training. A member of big league camp, I'm not sure there were many with high expectations for Muñoz. Especially considering the expectations surrounding another big year for DeJong, I did not expect Muñoz to catch any level of attention. Boy was I wrong.
In his first 20 at-bats this Spring, Muñoz already has two home runs, seven hits in total, and five runs driven in. Speaking of those 2 home runs, they actually came in the same inning. Craziness of those bombs aside, Muñoz has been incredibly productive. I understand its a small sample size, but it is nonetheless impressive. He's red-hot, and will hopefully remain in this state.
Perhaps even more impressive than this burst of production is Muñoz's versatility. In the game in which he hit two home runs, he was actually playing right field, showing off a strong arm and solid range. On this same note, he played five positions last season in the Oakland organization, playing both outfield and infield positions.
If Muñoz can continue this production, there are some interesting implications for the Cardinals. Beginning with the overall theme of this article, Yairo Muñoz is perhaps the best candidate as a backup plan at short. If DeJong is moved or is unable to play, Muñoz has proven, and will hopefully continue to prove, that he has what it takes to fill in.
Beyond shortstop, Muñoz could possibly fill in at second if Kolten Wong falters, or spot start in the outfield for rest purposes or a spurt in the lineup. In an era where the "utility player" is becoming more and more valuable, Muñoz's stock is rising. IF Yairo Muñoz continues to perform at this rate, it will be hard to envision a Cardinals squad in which he is not a significant contributor.