The sound of the ball off Yairo Muñoz’s bat during batting practice doesn’t stand out. At least not on this particular gloomy Tuesday. The flight and distance that ball travels isn’t astonishing or eye-popping.
He chokes up on the bat for better control. Then slides his hands down to the knob in situations he sees fit. Nothing jaw-dropping, nothing special. You’ve seen it before.
But his current streak? That’s only reserved for him, and many haven’t seen this.
Muñoz is on a tear in Triple A Worcester. He’s currently sporting a 32-game hit streak after Wednesday’s contest against the Syracuse Mets, in which Muñoz was 2 for 5 with a homer. It’s the longest hitting streak in affiliated baseball this year and the longest streak in the last 50 years for a Red Sox Triple A player. Muñoz is batting 312 for the WooSox with six homers and a .445 slugging percentage.
“He’s a talented player,” one American League executive said. “Versatile, and has a high contract rate . . . 26 years old and looks like he’s hitting his stride.”
Hitting is what Muñoz does. He’s done it at every level. He is a career .278 hitter in 555 major league plate appearances, which span three seasons, and a career .273 hitter in the minors. In last year’s shortened season, Muñoz hit .333 in 45 at-bats for the Sox before heading to the injured list with a lower back strain. It was presumed he would make an impact at the big league level at some point this season. But it’s August now. The Sox are in what just might be a free fall and could use some new juice. Yet Muñoz, hitting streak and all, is still in Worcester.
“I’m just worrying about myself,” Muñoz said before the WooSox’ matchup Tuesday against Syracuse, in which he finished 3 for 5 with a double. “I’m not letting [not being called up] get to me at all because there’s no point. Just let it happen itself.
“No matter where I am, I am going to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s about hard work. Ever since 2012 when I first signed my first professional baseball contract, the mind-set has been the same. Nothing has changed.”
The minor leagues can get to you. The long bus rides. The cheap hotels. Especially if you’re doing well and not necessarily seeing the fruits of your labor. But it’s like hitting, if you ask WooSox hitting coach Rich Gedman. You have to stay grounded in your feet. You can’t chase pitches, or results. That can lead to slumps and bad habits. The approach has to be measured with some level of intent. Otherwise, you beat yourself up.
“As soon as you have one foot out the door, you usually start to fail,” Gedman said. “You have to stay in the present and take care today and do what today calls for. I think he’s done a wonderful job not expecting to be somewhere else. As soon as he does, this game will bite him right in the butt.”
Muñoz doesn’t walk much, as he has just a career 6.7 percent walk rate and 3.8 percent this season for the WooSox. Yet that can happen with a lot of guys who have the ability to put the bat on the ball like Muñoz. They get greedy, knowing they can get to everything.
“If you take his aggressiveness away, you take away some of his ability to get a hit,” Gedman said. “Yeah, he’ll expand on occasion, but he knows what he’s capable of hitting.”
The big leagues can be a bit less forgiving, in that sense, and time will tell if that will play, according to Gedman. Will Muñoz take enough walks. Will he start to expand even more if pitchers don’t throw him strikes. Red Sox manager Alex Cora always talks about his players controlling the strike zone. But what does that mean for a player such as Muñoz, whose chase rate at the big leagues is 39 percent for his career, while posting a 73.6 percent contact percentage? That’s still a question.
Players don’t talk about the hitting streak. That’s sacred territory. But Muñoz’s current one has certainly created some murmurs outside his clubhouse.
“I’m putting the best effort that I can to get those results,” Muñoz said. “I’m just continuing to work hard and control what I can control.”
WooSox pitching coach Paul Abbott noticed a different Kutter Crawford this year. After losing a year because of the COVID-19 shutdown and Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2019, Crawford is locked in.
“There’s a sense of urgency behind him because he lost a year from surgery and then from the pandemic,” Abbott said. “And he’s older. And time is, unfortunately, not on anybody’s side. He realized that and he’s been aggressive.”
Crawford is 25 and was drafted by the Sox in the 16th round in 2017. Time is certainly ticking for the WooSox starter.
“Throughout the COVID shutdown, I was rehabbing basically the whole time,” Crawford said. “And I just kind of made a promise to myself to play as healthy as possible when I get back on the field and get healthy. Just putting my body in a good position to perform, whether it’s cleaning some things up mechanically, or losing weight.”
Crawford’s been healthy this season and he’s performed. He steamrolled his way through Double A Portland, striking out 64 batters in 46⅓ innings (10 starts) with a 3.30 ERA. In two starts for Worcester (three games total), Crawford has a 3.38 ERA in 16 innings, striking out 21. Crawford delivered back-to-back five-inning performances against Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre in which he struck out nine and seven, respectively.
“I’m 25 and I know we have a short leash to play this game,” Crawford said. “I want to maximize it as much as possible and I got to a point where it’s now or never.”