Muno Makes Sense on the Mets Bench | Astromets Mind

Monday, March 30, 2015

Muno Makes Sense on the Mets Bench

It appears likely that Danny Muno will head North with the Mets out of camp if Daniel Murphy is not ready, which has caused some controversy among Mets fans who think Matt Reynolds should get the nod. But does Muno have a case for the bench regardless of whether Murph can go?

            Daniel Muno might not have been on the radar of many Mets fans or beat reporters coming into Spring Training, and he didn’t make many prospect lists over the winter, but he’s been one of the hottest topics of discussion as the Mets finalize their roster. I had him at #30 on my top 83 prospects series, under the category of “Future ‘impact’ utility infielders,” and said “I’d be surprised if we don’t see him in Queens at some point this year” – I just didn’t expect it so early in the year. Since Daniel Murphy is still not running with a week left in camp, it's likely the Mets will need another middle infielder for at least the first 6 days of the season, and sources suggest the Mets prefer Muno to Reynolds. Many fans would prefer the Mets choose Matt Reynolds, who is a younger and better prospect, but who management wants to see him playing everyday somewhere. Regardless of whether Murphy is ready, or Reynolds is given a week at 2B to start the season, Muno has made a strong argument that he can be an impactful bat on the Mets bench. Of course spring stats are always to be taken with a grain of salt, and his .400+ BABIP isn’t going to stay this high during the regular season, but other than the high BABIP, this spring has basically just been Muno doing his thing – strong K: BB and an average-ish ISO. This isn’t even the hottest I've seen Muno, as he maintained a ~.250 ISO for ~150 PA in the middle of 2014 with Las Vegas, and finished the season with a .207 ISO over his last 268 PA there.
            The Mets drafted Muno in the 8th round of the 2011 draft from California State University Fresno, where he was a switch-hitting shortstop. At 26, he’s a little old to still be considered an interesting prospect, which is part of the reason why he’s considered a good option for the bench. He’s naturally right-handed, but his Dad had him batting left-handed since age 11, and he only went to switch-hitting full time for his sophomore season in College, so it’s no surprise he’s been better from the left side throughout the minors – check out some gifs of him hitting with Las Vegas last year. The Mets have used him at 2B (239 games), SS (108 games), and 3B (26 games, 24 in 2014) in the minors, with 2B looking like his best position. He’s a sure-handed fielder, he’s just light on range and has an arm better suited for 2B. Still, his range is good enough for a backup SS role, and his arm is capable of making the long throws from the left side, just with less zip than the top fielders.
Muno could be the main backup option at SS if the Mets were OK with no above average defensive middle infielders on the roster. The only two SS options that fit the description of ‘above average’ defenders ready to help the Mets are Ruben Tejada and Wilfredo Tovar, and neither projects to provide much offense. The main backup SS role is currently Tejada’s, but unless the Mets are planning to use Tejada as a late-inning defensive sub often, that roster spot would be better served going to a backup who will provide more offense. Muno has the type of approach this front office loves, and provides solid power for a middle infielder, so he’s capable of providing more offense than Tejada. Of course, there’s no guarantee he’d have immediate success as a rookie, especially since he’d be used as a bench player. ZiPS projection system does like Muno’s bat (91 wRC+) more than Tejada’s (84 wRC+), but projection systems are less reliable for minor league players – it seems they’re even worse when the minor league is coming from the PCL. It would be a gamble, but an added benefit of the Mets choosing Muno over Tejada is that it would save them about $1 million – Mets would still owe Tejada 1/6th of his $1.9 million salary.
Alternatively, there is another bench spot that Muno can make a case for – the one currently being reserved for Eric Campbell. Soup gets rave reviews for his defensive versatility, but other than 1B, LF, and maybe 3B, he’s no more than an emergency option who the Mets would prefer not to use at 2B, SS, C, or RF. Since the Mets already have multiple backup OF and 1B options, much of Soup’s versatility is actually redundant, and the Mets are extremely unlikely to use him at C. Because of this, Muno’s defensive versatility in the infield is actually more useful to the Mets. Also, the Mets bench is looking very right-handed, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis the only lefty likely to make a spot – Johnny Monell does have a decent shot of knocking Anthony Recker to Las Vegas. The switch-hitting Muno, who is better from the left side, would help balance the bench. Campbell bat does have the edge in ZiPS projection (101 wRC+ for Soup), but the difference is mostly BABIP and Soup’s projected edge in K%.

Whether as a more offensively capable main backup infielder (compared to Tejada/Tovar), or a more defensively capable secondary backup infielder (compared to Soup), Muno has made his case for a Mets bench spot out of Spring Training. I didn’t address the question of Muno vs. Reynolds for a bench spot because I think Reynolds should be playing everyday somewhere to start 2015, and because the Mets will have him playing everyday somewhere to start 2015. The Mets would be gambling by taking Muno north over Tejada, but if they believe he can outhit Tejada, they’d save ~$1 million while maximizing the teams offensive output. If the Mets are looking for defensive versatility, Muno is actually more useful than Campbell, as the Mets can play him at 2B and SS with confidence, which are the positions that have the least depth on the 25-man roster. The Mets have shown they will use Soup at those positions, but Soup has shown it’s not the best idea to put him up the middle, and he’s unlikely to be subbed in at his best defensive positions. I think the Mets should be looking to maximize the value of all 25 roster spots, so unless Tejada is going to make a lot of defensive substitutions and starts for Wilmer Flores this year, the superior offenses of Muno and Campbell would be more useful off the bench. If the Mets aren’t comfortable losing Tejada initially, Campbell has all of his options, and the Mets have open spots on their 40-man roster.

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