Double-A Amarillo reliever Andres Munoz might have the tools to become the next flamethrowing closer, much like All-Star Edwin Diaz.
Andres Munoz is starting to build some hype down in Double-A Amarillo this season. EVT’s Ryan Davis elaborated on the possibility that Munoz could be called up before season’s end. The numbers don’t disagree, as he currently leads the entire Texas League with a 19.3 strikeouts per nine innings rate and a 46.2 percent strikeout rate with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings pitched.
This was after he had a 0.95 ERA in 20 appearances last season for Double-A as well.
There was once another flamethrower who went straight from Double-A to becoming a dominating presence in a major league bullpen. Edwin Diaz started the 2016 season as a starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners’ Double-A team, the Jackson Generals. About midseason, the Mariners decided to move him to the Jackson bullpen for grooming to become a part of their bullpen. They didn’t realize how quickly things would materialize from there.
After becoming a reliever, Diaz pitched in 10 games for Double-A Jackson without allowing a single run to score and with 16 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. He was quickly promoted to Seattle, where he eventually became an All-Star closer. His 2018 season is one of the best by a closer, with 57 saves, a Mariners record and second-most ever in a single season, with a 1.96 ERA and over 15 strikeouts per nine innings.
He is now with the New York Mets after a blockbuster trade and is doing many of the same things he did in Seattle, with a 2.30 ERA, ten saves and 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Diaz did all this with an electric fastball averaging about 97 mph, regularly touching 100 mph and a devastating slider that occasionally touches 90 mph. His arm action causes his fastball to run a bit, even with it being four-seamed.
Diaz is most known for just blowing away really good hitters with his elite fastball. With his quick delivery and all those moving parts, it makes it difficult for anyone to see even his straightest fastball. Watch him blow away three quality major league hitters with straight heat.
What sets Diaz apart as one of the true elite relievers in baseball is his wipe-out slider. His slider is the speed of some low-end fastballs, which makes it borderline un-hittable. Not very many pitchers can make Mike Trout look like a mere mortal being much less silly at the plate.
Lastly, his nearly invisible fastball gets in the batters’ heads and sometimes when he deals that slider, the hitter just can’t even compute trying to swing at it.
However, this article isn’t about gushing over Diaz and how elite of a closer he is. This is about Andres Munoz. Munoz has a similar size to Diaz, as the 20-year-old Mexican is 6-2, 165 pounds while the Puerto Rican Diaz comes in at 6-3, 165.
Munoz has a similar repertoire, a fastball that would be arrested for reckless driving, averaging nearly 99 MPH. His fastball earns an 80-grade via FanGraphs, which is the highest grade they dish out. His slider is still coming along, not quite at Diaz’s level, but it’s certainly trending that direction.
Let’s compare Munoz’s 2019 campaign in Double-A so far with that of Diaz’s brief stint down on the farm in 2016.
Munoz is striking out batters at a higher rate than Diaz at this point in their professional careers, not to mention Munoz is almost two years younger than Diaz was at that time. A few numbers are almost identical between the two.
Munoz has got the “stuff” that Diaz boasted in Double-A. That fastball is one of the most impressive in all of minor league baseball, and he blows it right by just about everyone.
His arm has a similar whip to Diaz’s, putting everything he has behind every pitch. That can be concerning, with the risk of an injury, but if his arm holds up, it could be something special. There may not be another pitcher anywhere in any farm system that can touch the level of velocity Munoz can, even when the pitch is not accurate, the velocity is astounding.
Yes, you read that right, 104 MPH. That should not be humanly possible.
His fastball also has a bit of a tail to it, as Diaz’s does.
Another separating factor of Diaz’s development was his location. Once he learned how to locate those two deadly pitches, it was game over. That’s when he went from hotshot prospect to All-Star closer.
The elephant in the room with Munoz is, of course, his occasional location issues as his 7.1 walks per nine innings is certainly a concern. His walk numbers are higher than those of Diaz at this point. Diaz usually hovered between two and three walks per nine innings. That’s a huge difference. However, the encouraging sign is Munoz has reduced his walk rate to three walks per nine innings in the five appearances he has made in May for Amarillo.
If he can locate his fastball and slider as he has in the last few outings, look out.
That’s 101 MPH, ideally located right on the outside corner. It’s just not fair.
The batter has no chance and is completely fooled when Munoz’s pinpoints the slider. This pitch ended up right down the middle of the strike zone and the batter just froze.
Like Diaz, the fastball and slider combination has served Munoz well to this point. The Padres need to be looking for ways to improve their disappointing and taxed bullpen, as they are 18th in bullpen ERA and 25th in home runs allowed per nine innings. If Munoz can continue to improve his location, there is not a hitter alive that will make consistent contact against him, big leaguer or otherwise.
It’s swings like the one below that make it look like Munoz cannot be very far off from doing similar things at Petco Park.
Munoz and Diaz have a lot in common. Another positive sign, besides the fact that Munoz is two years younger than Diaz at this point, is that he has also only thrown 84 1/3 innings professionally, while Diaz tossed 386 before making The Show. There is a lot less wear and tear on that bazooka of a right arm Munoz has than Diaz had when he broke out. The injury risk and walk rate are certainly valid concerns, but the similarities are there between Munoz and one of the best relievers in all of baseball.