Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Getting to Know Astros/River Bandits 1B Bryan Muniz

Not every player gets off to a good start in their professional career. Just ask Bryan Muniz. Drafted by the Astros in the 22nd round in 2014 out of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, Muniz hit .400/.506/.609 and was named the Sun Conference Player of the Year, First-Team All-Conference, NAIA Honorable Mention All-American, and NCCAA Second-Team All-American in his junior year at Southeastern.

After signing in 2014, Muniz reported to Greeneville where his initial numbers were more than a bit south of the numbers he put up in college. But he ended with a healthy August and was sent to Quad Cities to start his 2015 season. Once again, he struggled and this time he was sent down to Tri-City to work with Hitting Coach Russ Steinhorn to get on track. After a successful stint with Tri-City (.292/.387/.443 in 22 games), Muniz was headed back to Quad Cities at the end of July. In 11 games in August, he is hitting .295/.354/.577 for the River Bandits.

Bryan Muniz - August 2015
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Muniz first came on my radar last season when then Greeneville Manager Josh Bonifay told me that Muniz was a much better player than his numbers indicated. Bonifay is once again Muniz's Manager, this time with Quad Cities. He reminded me that playing in April in Quad Cities can be particularly difficult for some of the players. "Everybody has to understand that the Midwest League is ... so cold at first that it's hard for guys from Miami (like Muniz), from Venezuela, from the Dominican to get going. People just don't take into consideration how hard that is sometimes," said Bonifay.

When I had the chance to talk with Muniz earlier this month, I asked the right-handed hitting first baseman what he had done to overcome his rough start. "Pretty much not trying to do too much. I tried last year to impress people. In reality, I should have just tried to be myself ... easy, comfortable at the plate, just try to square the ball up," said Muniz. And although he hasn't developed into a big home run hitter yet (three home runs this season vs. 18 doubles), he knows that his size will help him hit the ball a long way if he just makes solid contact. Muniz continued, "I worked down in Tri-City with (Steinhorn) just to square the ball up. If I square it up and give it a ride, whatever happens after that, I have no control over. So that's pretty much my mentality now going up to the plate."

And Muniz knows that, playing first base, he will be expected to provide some power at the position. "I feel very comfortable and I like hitting in the gaps. That's probably the farthest part of the field ... left center, right center. But (I'll) just keep working out every day and in the offseason, keep training and just bring up my power numbers (and) hit more home runs, hopefully one day like A.J. Reed. Just hitting 20 a year would be nice. But right now, as long as I keep doing not too much and just trying to square the ball up, I know my time will come. God's time is the best time."

Muniz keeps it simple defensively as well. He knows that most of the time, all a first baseman has to do is just "stand there and body it up if I have to." But he works everyday in early work and BP, taking hundreds of ground balls from Bonifay, working especially on improving his footwork and backhand picks. "It's just a confidence thing," said Muniz. "If I can catch Boni's ground balls (in BP), in a game I have a lot more time and a lot more chance to make the play since I get a hundred a day. It's just working and keep getting better at it."

If someone has yet to see Muniz in action, he told me what they could expect. "Pretty much someone who enjoys playing the game. I've been playing since I was three. You see me, even if I'm 0-for-3 or 0-for-4, I've got a big smile on my face. I'm just enjoying my time here. I come from a small school, both high school and college, so not many people like me have this privilege to play this game. I enjoy my time as long as I'm here. I'm always happy and smiling even if I'm not playing."

Bonifay agrees. Even during that tough first month of the season, Bonifay said of Muniz, "He was a true pro. He even caught bullpens for us during games at times. It's so much fun to have him back here. He smiles. He has a good time."

When I asked Muniz what Astros pitcher he would least like to face, he did not hesitate. "Joe Musgrove. He has been lights out this year. I got the chance to live with him this year and I know the type of pitcher he is. I even know how he would pitch to me. He even told me how he'd pitch to me and I still don't think I'd have a chance against him. He's got good command of everything. He stands there and throws strikes. You know he's going to throw strikes, but his ball just moves. Everything he throws moves. He's just a good pitcher. Seeing him pitch, being able to play with him this year, seeing his persona on the mound is unbelievable. So kudos to Musgrove -- just keep doing his thing."

If he couldn't play baseball, Muniz would likely fall back on his Criminal Justice major. "My uncle has the best job in the world. He's a marine patrol officer so being out on the water every day, being a police officer ... I love the water. I love the ocean. I always told (my uncle) once I'm done with baseball, I'm going to take his job," said Muniz.

Asked to name a guilty pleasure, Muniz admitted to me that he is a fan of the chick flick. "I really do like the movie 'The Notebook.' I've seen it countless times with my girlfriend." And he often surprises his girlfriend by suggesting that type of movie.

Muniz may also surprise a few people as he continues to develop as a ballplayer. According to Bonifay, "He is swinging the bat extremely well. He's barrelled a ton of baseballs since he's been back here from Tri-City. He's playing a really solid first base. He's put in a lot of work. He's been just a true pro and now you see the fruits of his labor. He's going to provide a lot for us down the stretch."

Thank you for your time, Bryan, and best of luck as you head toward the postseason. Keep on smiling, and remember, it's not where you start ... it's where you finish!

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RHP Dean Deetz
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