Max Muncy has been doing lot of experimenting this season. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Drafted 25th overall last year by the Oakland Athletics out of Thousand Oaks High School in California, Muncy came into the current campaign with all of 11 professional games under his belt. At the tender age of 20 — today is his birthday — it’s understandable that he’s still trying to forge an identity at the plate.
Power could end up being his calling card. A 6-foot-1, 185-pound shortstop who projects to fill out further, Muncy has 19 home runs on the season, 16 at Low-A Stockton and three at High-A Lansing. Making contact has been an issue. Facing pitchers who are almost exclusively older than him, he has fanned 146 times in 483 plate appearances while putting up a .229/.338/.441 slash line and a 104 wRC+.
Muncy — No. 12 on our updated Athletics Top Prospects list — discussed his early career development last week.
David Laurila: Let’s start with a question I sometimes ask young players: Give me a self-scouting report.
Max Muncy: “That’s probably different for me, just because I kind of know what’s in the making. But the power is showing up a lot this year. I think I’ll hit for average, for sure, but what I’m going through right now is a learning curve.”
Laurila: You’re the youngest player on the Lansing roster, and one of the youngest in the league.
Muncy: “Yeah, but I don’t like to look at age. For me, it’s the time it takes you. These college guys are probably going to get there sooner than me, but I want to try to catch them. I want to move up with them.”
Laurila: What were scouts telling you prior to the draft — not in terms of where you’d end up going, but rather what they wanted to see from you developmentally?
Muncy: “They wanted to me to become consistent, and get more at-bats. That was most scouts’ reason for me not to go to college. They didn’t think I needed a lot more maturity or a total swing change. They thought I needed to see more pitches. In the minor leagues, you’re going to play double, triple the games you will in college. That’s one of the reasons I decided [to sign].”
Laurila: What did the A’s have you focus on in instructs?
Muncy: “They didn’t change too much mechanically. It was more mental; a lot of it was just slowing down. When you’re trying to get drafted, it’s ‘show the bat speed’ and ‘show the arm strength.’ When I got to instructs, it was more of, ‘Hey, let’s just become a good hitter. We know you have bat speed, we know you have power, so just hit the gaps and slow down a little bit.’”
Laurila: Showing off your tools is more important at the amateur level than actually performing?
Muncy: “I mean, you almost have to. Say a scout goes to a game and you don’t have any hits, and you don’t really show off too much. They don’t come back to see your good games. But let’s say you’re showing off crazy bat speed and crazy athleticism. Even if you go 0-for-4, they see the potential. They see what you could be. So it’s real — you need to show what you can do every at-bat, because you don’t know who’s watching.”
Laurila: That’s something you found yourself doing?
Muncy: “I think that’s just how it was when I was younger. Sometimes it wasn’t even about scouts, I just wanted to hit the ball hard, and I wanted to hit the ball far. That obviously helps with the scouts, but it was kind of my game anyway. Being young, it was fast, hard, all out.”
Laurila: What have your exit velocities and home run distances been in pro ball?
Muncy: “I don’t know what my average is, but my hardest of the year came in spring training. It was 115 [mph]. I think that was in my last game of the spring. My furthest ball this year was something like 470 [feet]. That was against the Dodgers’ Low-A team. A lady ran down from the press box, before I got the bus, to tell me how far it went. She was up in the booth and had [the reading] next to her, and wanted to tell me.”
Laurila: What do you remember about the home run itself?
Muncy: “Right when I hit it, I was like, ‘That’s the farthest ball I’ve hit in my life.’ There was a trampoline effect — kind of like a spring — where you knew it was going to go a long way. It was to left-center. If you’ve ever seen the field at Rancho Cucamonga, it was dead over the scoreboard and into the trees.”
Laurila: What do your home runs tend to look like? Are they usually line drives, or are they high fly balls that carry out?
Muncy: “I’ve had a lot of line-drive homers this year. I don’t hit a lot of moonshots that go way up there — they’re more high exit velo, straight out. And I mostly try to catch the ball out front. When I was younger, I went through phases where I only hit home runs to right field — I would catch it really deep and hit them out to right — and it was when I was early that I hit them to left. I’ve only got a couple [to right] this year, not as many as I thought I would.”
Laurila: What about your approach at the plate? Are you basically hunting fastballs middle and adjusting from there?
Muncy: “I’ve done a ton of different stuff this year. This is basically my first season, so I’m trying a lot of things. Right now it’s a lot of fastball-adjust. Sometimes I like to do tendencies. When pitchers have certain tendencies, then I’ll look for pitches. For instance, if there’s a high chance of it being a curveball in a specific count, I’ll kind of abandon the fastball and go for that one pitch. I’ll look to do damage on that.”
Laurila: For all intents and purposes, you’re trying to learn who you are as a hitter at the professional level…
Laurila: You’re 20 years old…
Muncy: “I’m actually 19 until [August 25]. But that’s the beauty of your first year. You can either come in and stick to one thing, and hope that it works out, or you can try as many things as you can with next year in mind. My plan for this year was basically that when I got to the offseason, I’d know what worked best for me. That’s as opposed to getting to the offseason, working on something, and then getting to spring training and facing live pitching, and all of a sudden it’s, ‘No, that ain’t gonna work.’ I’d have wasted a whole four months of offseason.”
Laurila: With the caveat that most every hitter would like to be well-rounded, do you see yourself as a power hitter down the road?
Muncy: [Long pause] “I always thought I would be kind of an average-doubles-hit-a-few-homers guy. But the more the year goes on, it seems like I have the power to hit 20 or more a year at whatever level. Especially when I fill out. I have 19 now, and that’s a surprising year for me. If you would have told me before the season that I would bat .230 and that I was going to have 19 home runs at this point, I don’t think I’d have believed either.”
Laurila: In other words, you were expecting something along the lines of .270 with 10 home runs?
Muncy: “That was actually my goal. I wanted to hit .270 with 10. And I was more nervous about the 10. It’s funny how you never really know what you’re going to get. I think I had two homers in the first 20 games, and I was kind of thinking, ‘That’s a good start for my 10.’ But the strikeouts starting getting higher, and the power kind of kept coming. I mean, if that’s the player I end up being… this has been, for sure, a learning year, an experimenting year. Whatever ends up getting me there.”