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Munoz flashes versatility in bid for roster spot

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knew admittedly little about Yairo Munoz when the club acquired him from the A's this offseason as part of the deal that sent Stephen Piscotty to Oakland. So Matheny consulted one of his most trusted scouting confidants: his son, Tate, an outfielder in the Red Sox's organization who played against Munoz in the Minors.

"He's a really good center fielder," Tate Matheny told his father.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knew admittedly little about Yairo Munoz when the club acquired him from the A's this offseason as part of the deal that sent Stephen Piscotty to Oakland. So Matheny consulted one of his most trusted scouting confidants: his son, Tate, an outfielder in the Red Sox's organization who played against Munoz in the Minors.

"He's a really good center fielder," Tate Matheny told his father.

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"Center fielder?" the skipper replied. "He's a shortstop."

"He's also a center fielder."

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Turns out, that's not all. Flash forward a few months, and Matheny is learning more and more about Munoz every day. The 23-year-old can play center. He can play short, like he did on Tuesday during the club's 11-4 victory over the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, when Munoz continued his bid to make the Opening Day roster by reaching base four more times.

Twice this spring, Munoz started in right field. Another day, Munoz earned an assignment at third base. When asked if Munoz could conceivably play eight positions, Matheny said: "Probably nine. I haven't talked to him about catching."

Matheny was answering a reporter who assumed pitching was off the table for the position player ranked as St. Louis' No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

"He has a cannon," Matheny said. "I'm considering that an absolute before we even talk about catching."

Matheny's remarks came in jest, but the sentiment behind them was very real. So is Munoz's versatility. While his bat is the thing grabbing attention this spring -- Munoz is hitting .375 and earlier this month knocked two home runs in one inning -- it's his defensive adaptability that could soon send him to St. Louis.

Tweet from @Cardinals: Yairo Mu��oz with another pair of hits today, raising his average to .387 this spring! #CardsSpringTraining 🌴 pic.twitter.com/Y1J12yJGLS

Pitcher, catcher and first base are the only positions Munoz hasn't played over six Minor League seasons. Signed by the A's as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic, Munoz spent his first three seasons -- as Matheny thought -- primarily at shortstop. Two years ago, he branched out, shifting over more to second or third. Then last year, across two Minor League levels with the A's, Munoz played everywhere: 46 games at short, 36 more at third and 20 in center. He sprinkled in time in right, left and at second as well.

"Whether they need a right fielder or left fielder or anything, I am going to do my best to play there and get to the big leagues that way," Munoz said through interpreter and teammate Jose Martinez. "I don't care where I play. Whatever the team needs."

A lot of players say that, especially young players fighting in spring to make their first big league clubs. It's a refrain particularly common in the modern game, when teams value versatility above much else, and will often sacrifice defensive quality for competence if it means squeezing another bat into the lineup.

"Players may say they play a position after playing there for a few years, but I actually feel comfortable at all of them," Munoz said. "I have confidence at all of them that comes from way back in time."

Munoz said he'd been switching positions since he was 7, when he needed to learn to catch to make a team comprised of kids aged 10 and above. He was raised in a house with more than a dozen relatives, often playing with brothers and cousins seven years his senior and older. That required him to move around the diamond, to wherever there was an open spot.

"He's a big pickup for our organization," Matheny said. "I see him being very, very versatile."

Video: Yairo Munoz is playing with those he once admired

Injury update
Fresh off a visit to the White House with the Astros as part of their World Series-winning team, Luke Gregerson returned to Cardinals camp on Tuesday. He tested his strained oblique by playing catch. Matheny said Gregerson, who has been limited to one appearance this spring, could test it further in a bullpen session in the coming days.

Up next
It'll be a matchup between two of the most celebrated right-handers of this decade when the Cardinals travel to West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday to play the Astros. Adam Wainwright will make his third spring start, opposite Justin Verlander, with first pitch slated for 12:05 p.m. CT (listen to an exclusive audio webcast on cardinals.com).

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Yairo Munoz