JUPITER, Fla. -- Yairo Munoz completed a meteoric rise through Cardinals camp Friday, when manager Mike Matheny informed the rookie utilityman he'd won a spot on the club's Opening Day roster.
Munoz had a sensational spring after coming over from Oakland in the Stephen Piscotty trade this winter, hitting .375/.423/.625 over 48 at bats while playing six positions. The Cardinals believe the 23-year-old can play all nine, if necessary, and point to this versatility as the reason Munoz will break camp over Harrison Bader, who entered the favorite to win the fourth outfielder spot.
"I don't think you can have a more versatile player. He fills a lot more holes than anybody else, and that's what it comes down to," Matheny said. "That's truly the difference, that he can play anywhere on the infield."
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That was the main separation between Munoz and Bader, who followed his 32-game big league cameo in 2017 with an impressive spring. Still, Munoz was able to leapfrog him as well as corner-type Luke Voit, both of whom the club optioned Triple-A Memphis.
"All three guys are capable of being on a Major League team, just not here not now," Matheny said. The club also optioned right-hander Josh Lucas to Memphis, bringing further clarity to a 25-man roster picture already most of the way complete.
Munoz, Jose Martinez, Greg Garcia and Francisco Pena will make up a four-man bench, meaning the Cardinals will carry 13 pitchers to New York for Opening Day. Only the last of those spots remains unfilled, with right-handers John Brebbia and Mike Mayers battling to be the eighth man in the bullpen. Both, however, could end up breaking camp since Luke Gregerson is slated to begin the season on the disabled list.
"Munoz has done everything we could have asked of him and more," general manager Michael Girsch said. "He's one of those guys who seemingly, every at bat, hits the ball hard somewhere."
Matheny delivered the news in Spanish to Munoz, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and doesn't speak English. Munoz celebrated by calling home to tell his family.
"My mom cried," he said, through translator/first base coach Oliver Marmol.
Then he started in left field for the Cardinals against the Mets. Munoz started at shortstop the day before, played right field on Wednesday, and center field earlier in the week. Matheny believes his throwing arm and offensive upside might suit him best at third.
The Cardinals coveted upper-level infield depth when scanning the trade market for suitors for Piscotty, who had been squeezed out of the club's outfield picture following a down year. In the A's, they found a way to give Piscotty a chance to play near his ailing mother and an organization willing to trade from a heavy stock of infielders.
"Everyone is aware of outfield depth and pitching depth, but middle-infield depth wasn't something we had a ton of," Girsch said.
The club expected Munoz to begin the year at Triple-A, where he held his own last season after slugging through the Texas League. Munoz hit .289/.316/.414 in 65 games at Triple-A, but figured to return there to refine a high-upside but free-swinging approach.
"I've been working hard with my hitting coaches and with Jose Martinez," Munoz said. "Working on being more selective, and it's paid off."
Bader rebounded after a slow start to hit .313/.346/.500 this spring, adding several home runs during live bullpen sessions on the back fields and making numerous diving catches in center. The Cardinals believe Bader can be an elite defender. But where Munoz's versatility helped his case, Bader's somewhat hindered his.
Bader can play all three outfield positions, but so can all three Cardinals starting outfielders, who also happen to be three of the clubs top hitters. The club expects Martinez's bat to elbow itself into a corner spot some days. And with Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and William Fowler entrenched, Matheny foresees inserting few late-game defensive replacements. Limiting Bader to such little playing time could hinder his development.
"He did everything he needed to. But there is a guy with more versatility," Matheny said. "And that's where we're at right now. He did exactly what we had hoped for."
"I like short and center best," Munoz said. "But to be in the lineup, I'll play anywhere."
Major League Baseball announced Friday that it suspended Cardinals Minor League RHP Matt Pearce for 50 games following a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Pearce is currently on the Triple-A roster.
The Mets and Cardinals continue to shield starting pitchers from each other prior to their opening series next week in New York. Hard-throwing reliever Mike Mayers looks to complete a scoreless spring when he starts what'll be another bullpen game Saturday. First pitch is slated for 12:05 p.m. CT. The game can be seen on MLB.TV and heard on Gameday Audio.