JUPITER, Fla. • At this time last year, Jose Martinez was well on his way to becoming one of the best spring-training surprise stories across baseball. The longtime minor leaguer broke out in a major way, bruising the Grapefruit League for a .380 average, a .508 on-base percentage and a .740 slugging percentage.
From long shot to lock, he forced his way onto the Cardinals' opening-day roster. And don't forget whom he beat out for the job of fourth outfielder: Tommy Pham.
Pham is the starting center fielder for the Cardinals after a career-best season. Martinez, who has added first base to his corner-outfield offerings, is no longer fighting for a spot on the bench. He's pushing for a spot in the lineup. The Cardinals, including fellow first baseman Matt Carpenter, acknowledge Martinez must receive at-bats to showcase his power-packed swing. Meanwhile, another surprise candidate is becoming impossible to ignore.
"Impressive," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Yairo Munoz after the Cardinals beat the Marlins 11-4 on Tuesday at Roger Dean Stadium.
In this instance, Matheny was describing the play of Munoz at shortstop.
But the description, like Munoz himself, could be used in more than one way.
On top of ranging behind second base for one out and throwing out another Marlin from the seat of his pants, Munoz went two-for-three with two walks and two RBIs.
He's now 12-for-32 (.375) with two home runs, two doubles and twice as many hits (12) as strikeouts. That 12th hit took the lead for the Cardinals this spring. And shortstop marked his fourth position played.
Because the Cardinals tend to carry 13 pitchers, it's most likely that the versatile Munoz is competing with Harrison Bader and Jose Adolis Garcia for role of fourth outfielder, a race that slugging prospect Tyler O'Neill was removed from when he was optioned to Class AAA.
Competition remains stiff.
Bader (.265/.324/.382) has the experience. And for now, he seems to have the edge.
Garcia (.355/.400/.613) has turned heads. The speedy outfielder had reached base safely in 10 of 14 games before his zero-for-two day Tuesday.
"He's had a very good spring, one of those you have to respect," Matheny said of Garcia before Tuesday's game. "I wouldn't compare with what Jose did last year."
A better comparison could be Munoz.