With a young starting staff, the San Diego Padres need bullpen help. Could fireball right-handed pitcher Andres Munoz be an option for the team soon?
Going into the season, the Padres’ bullpen was projected to be their biggest strength. A month into the season this hasn’t been the case. Is it time to deploy their triple-digit-throwing secret weapon?
In 2018, the Padres had one of Major League Baseball’s most reliable and effective bullpens, totaling 8.6 fWAR, good for second in MLB to the league leader, the New York Yankees.
Now, a lot of that WAR was accumulated based on the sheer amount of innings that Andy Green relied on his pen for as their 635 innings pitched as a unit were third in baseball, but they were still a very useful stable of arms. Their 3.31 FIP was second best in all of the majors, and their 10.20 strikeouts per nine were fourth.
This year, however, the bullpen has been pretty average, posting the league’s 17th highest WAR and 16th highest FIP at 0.6 and 4.25 respectively. They’re still striking out plenty of batters with their collective 10.65 strikeouts per nine coming in at second best in the majors, but something is currently missing, as evidenced by the middling overall numbers of the 2019 pen.
The answer to the Padres’ questions may well be found in Double-A San Antonio, where relief prospect Andres Munoz has pitched thus far in the 2019 season. Munoz, a Mexico native, was considered to be the Padres’ 24th best prospect according to both Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline, both lauding his tantalizing fastball while noting his spotty control.
Andres Munoz. 100 MPH. Inning OVER! pic.twitter.com/aeG7LAoeXt
— Amarillo Sod Poodles (Blue Checkmark) (@sodpoodles) May 4, 2019
The 20-year-old Munoz has a fastball that sits 97-99 miles per hour and breaks triple digits daily. That fastball, a consensus 80-grade offering, offers glimpses of Munoz’s tantalizing potential as a bullpen anchor, but his control is far from refinement, something that will stunt his growth. In 12 innings this year, Munoz has struck out 18.75 batters per nine innings but also posts a ghastly 8.25 walks per nine. Is he the answer to the Padres’ mediocre bullpen play just yet?
That 25:11 strikeouts to walks ratio are not ideal for a potential lockdown closer, but there is a clear argument that Munoz should be called up this season despite his one glaring flaw. Although Fangraphs dubs his slider as “inconsistent,” they mention that as long as he can improve either his command or that slider, he could still be a high leverage arm at the game’s highest level. MLB Pipeline agrees, stating that even minimal improvement to with his control could put him on the fast track to a closing job at the Major League level.
The key to Munoz’s success correlates directly to his ability to harness his elite stuff. Although this is no easy task, he is still a year away from Rule 5 eligibility and should stay down in the minors until he has shown improvement in that area. It’s easy to watch him hit 103 on the gun and think he’s ready for the majors and he has dominated the minors over multiple appearances, but he’s still figuring it out and will need a bit more time before he’s considered a true option for the Padres.
Now, that isn’t to say he won’t make an appearance on the big league squad in 2019. It’s easy to look at hot streaks such as this one where Munoz has been straight up dominant and think he’s ready, but low-control fireballers have to prove that they can consistently post streaks such as these to force the team’s hand.
.@Padres prospect Andres Munoz tossed another scoreless inning last night in Corpus Christi.
Last 7 appearances for Munoz: 8 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 18 K, 4 BB
Consistently hitting 98-101 MPH with his fastball. He’s really found a groove.
— Sam Levitt (@SammyLev) May 10, 2019
A.J. Preller’s front office has been very aggressive in their promoting of prospects, and they have surprised us before, but now isn’t the time for Munoz to receive the call. He’s a high effort pitcher that has some kinks he needs to work through before he can be considered a major leaguer.
That being said, he’ll be up soon, blowing pitchers away with his blistering fastball late in games. Just not yet.