The San Diego Padres’ third closer — Andrés Muñoz

Credit: AP Photo

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Credit: AP Photo

Could it be possible that Andres Munoz is flying under the radar in the San Diego Padres’ bullpen?

The San Diego Padres will enter the 2020 season with the intention of having three pitchers capable of closing out ball games.

The Padres have one of the deepest bullpens in the league, if not the deepest, so it makes sense that the bullpen has multiple pitchers capable of finishing the job. The three relievers capable of closing out games for San Diego include Kirby Yates, Emilio Pagán, and Andrés Muñoz.

Padres’ All-Star Closer Kirby Yates proved that he was one of the best closers in the game last season when he finished with the MLB crown 41 saves and a National League-leading 1.19 ERA. The additions to relievers Drew Pomeranz and Pagán will help relieve some of the pressure off Yates so that he avoids multiple games in a row. Although, there is another name that the Padres are excited about, and that is 21-year-old right-hander Andrés Muñoz.

The Los Mochis, Mexico native signed with San Diego as an international free agent in July 2015 when he was just 15 years old. Since then, he has produced the numbers to be promoted up one level every season. The right-hander might have the best fastball in San Diego’s system and was one of the hardest throwers in the Minor Leagues.

In 2018, Muñoz was promoted to Double-A to pitch for the San Antonio Missions. Then, started 2019 with the Amarillo Sod Poodles after the Padres named Amarillo, the new Double-A affiliate. After starting the season with a 1.72 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 15.2 innings in relief, Muñoz was promoted to San Diego.

Muñoz’s presence was felt right away when he arrived in San Diego. He would go on to pitch a total of 23 innings for the Friars but was shut down for the rest of the 2019 season due to an injury. He produced valuable numbers in his rookie season, going 1-1 with 30 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.17. Before his final two outings, he held a 1.69 ERA before giving up six runs in just over an inning and two thirds — increasing his ERA to 3.91.

What Muñoz brings to the Padres’ bullpen is a tremendous upside. There are many valuable aspects to his game, most notably is his flame-throwing speed. His sinker was, on average, the fastest in major league baseball, at 101.2 mph. Muñoz’s peaked at 102.8 mph with his four-seam fastball. Only Jordan Hicks (104.3 mph) and Tayron Guerrero (102.9 mph) threw faster pitches in 2019 than Muñoz.

Muñoz doesn’t always throw triple digits. He has a weapon in his slider that accounted for 18 of his first 30 strikeouts in the majors. Opponents hit only .033 against his slider and .269 against his fastball.

On August 29, 2019, Muñoz closed out the game against the San Francisco Giants in a 5-3 victory on the road. Muñoz became the youngest player to record a save in Padres history at 20 years and 225 days old. 

Muñoz became the 12th pitcher in the last 40 years to record a save at 20 years old or younger. The last to do it was former Padres’ pitcher and current Padres TV analyst, Mark Grant.

Muñoz turned a lot of heads in his first stint in the majors, averaging 99.9 mph on his fastball (second to Hick (101.1)) and posting an impressive 11.7 K/9. The rookie was put into some crucial situations early on in his career but showed that he is more than capable of getting the job done. He is considered an under-the-radar reliever. If he produces similar numbers in 2020, however, he won’t be for much longer.

The 21-year old doesn’t have anything else to prove in the minors and should make the opening day roster. Don’t expect him to close out any games to start the season. But if everything goes as planned for the Friars, then Muñoz will soon find his role in this stacked Padres’ bullpen.

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