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Buffa: Who is Yairo Munoz and what can he do for the Cardinals?

Munoz's hitting this spring is unprecedented in regular season action, minors or lower levels. The sweet of his promise is also the bitter. There's no way to tell if it will hold up, but the Cardinals taking a chance on a suddenly producing utility guy isn't a bad gamble.
Credit: Kim Klement
Mar 3, 2018; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA;St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz (62) smiles as he scores during the sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Academy Award snub for Best Picture, Kindergarten Cop, I would ask the newest St. Louis Cardinal, Yairo Munoz, one simple question: who are you and what do you do?

Munoz is the latest Cardinal to come out of nowhere, hit like never before, and make the Opening Day roster. He's the new kid on the block, even if he has been playing in the professional ranks for six years. Munoz took his first at-bat in the Dominican Republic Summer League in 2012 at the age of 17. In 32 games, he had 24 hits and a .649 OPS for the Oakland Athletics Freshmen Rookie League.

The last five years of Munoz's career have followed a colorful if unspectacular trend. Tracking his career and whereabouts is like listening to that Johnny Cash song, "I've Been Everywhere.” The Arizona League, New York-Pennsylvania League, California League, Midwest League, Texas League, Arizona Fall League, and Pacific Coast League all preceded his work back in the Dominican Fall League this past winter. You have to consider the possibility that even Munoz was ready to call it when he got an invite to Jupiter with the Cardinals.

He has to be the oldest 23-year-old around camp this spring. Munoz also happens to be one of the hottest hitting Redbirds on the field as well. He is the reason Harrison Bader and Luke Voit were sent to minor league camp before the end of the month. In 56 plate appearances, he'd hitting .365 with a .411 on-base percentage. He's also slugging .596, thanks to three home runs.

The power isn't entirely new for the minor league journeyman. He managed 13 home runs in High-A ball back in 2015 and hit 13 last year split between AA and AAA. Munoz has never been able to put together a year that screams at a Major League Baseball Organization, "take me over him!" He's never made a team feel regret for choosing the guy on the other side of the traveling bus. He's tasted over 1,900 innings of minor league ball without one single MLB at-bat. That's a special kind of endurance.

Munoz's career slash line in the minors is unremarkable without terrible enough to start selling life insurance in Arkansas. In 473 career games, you have a .267/.308/.408 line with 41 home runs and 315 strikeouts. Stay seated if you can as this baseball card washes over you.

The versatility in the field definitely serves as an ace in his deck of skills. Munoz has spent the majority of his playing career at shortstop, where he isn't that good. There's a lot of innings split between second base and third base with some lunch time spent in center field. A quick glance at his defense would suggest he fares best at second. In other words, he does the least amount of damage there.

Munoz's hitting this spring is unprecedented in regular season action, minors or lower levels. The sweet of his promise is also the bitter. There's no way to tell if it will hold up, but the Cardinals taking a chance on a suddenly producing utility guy isn't a bad gamble. Look at Jose Martinez, a guy who toyed in the minors for a decade before finding a way in and refusing to leave. Munoz doesn't have the flash of "Café,” but he may be able to provide a spark to a team looking for extra electricity in a toss-up season.

The Cardinals' lineup is set in many ways, but the bench can always use some low liability flair. If Munoz tears the National League up in April, the Cardinals are brunch lovers who didn't party too late in order to get the first table at Russell's on Macklind. If the guy flops, he goes back to Memphis and keeps swinging. Bader gets daily reps and stays sharp instead of watching his blade go dull on the bench. Munoz is younger than Bader, but when it comes to promise and future projection, he may as well be a 33-year-old aging talent.

The Cardinals can use a good story or two in 2018. Picture this for a second as you set up your Saturday moves. Mike Mayers starting an inning with Jose Martinez at first base and Yairo Munoz at third base. Forget what happened to the others. Just think about the wickedly unpredictable nature of baseball, and sports in general.

Munoz is the latest case of "you never know" for the Cardinals. Let's see how far this fairy tale goes.

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