On a veteran Nashville club where the average age is almost 29, only two position players on the team were born in the ‘90s – infielders Max Muncy and Joey Wendle.
As the youngest hitting prospects on the squad, the two are more likely to find themselves playing significant roles in Oakland in the future than just about any other position players currently at the Triple-A level.
Muncy has already seen time with the A’s this season, and Wendle may very well end up spending time in Oakland next season. We took the opportunity to speak with both of them last weekend in Nashville as the Sounds were wrapping up a 4-game home stand against Omaha.
24-year-old first baseman-third baseman Max Muncy became the first member of the A’s 2012 draft class to make it to Oakland’s major league roster when he was called up by the A’s in late April. The team’s top pick in 2012, Addison Russell, got the call from the Cubs just a few days earlier. Originally a first baseman, Muncy’s been learning to play third base over the past year. He made 4 errors in 12 games at the position while with Oakland, but he’s yet to make an error at third since returning to Nashville. Muncy’s .385 on-base percentage at Midland in 2014 was one of the best in the A’s minor league system last season, but he managed to post just a .273 OBP in 34 games with the A’s. Back at Nashville though, he’s put up a much more Muncy-like slash line of .252/.351/.433 in 34 games at Triple-A. Everyone at Nashville, including Muncy himself, claims that he looks much more comfortable now that he’s been getting the chance to man the hot corner on a daily basis.
AF: The last time we touched base with you was during spring training when in you were in the big league camp with the A’s. You ended up spending a good amount of time with the big league club since then, and now you’re back here at Nashville. So what kind of experience was it for you to get the chance to be playing at the big league level for the first time?
MM: It was a lot of fun. It’s definitely a dream come true. It’s as good as everyone says it is. Once the glamour wears off a little bit, you realize it’s still just baseball. It’s not like it’s a completely different sport – it’s the same sport you’ve been playing your whole life. But the biggest thing for me was realizing it’s still just baseball.
AF: In terms of actually hitting at the major league level, did you feel the pitchers there were approaching you any differently, and were there any changes you needed to make to adapt to what you found yourself encountering there?
MM: Yeah, there were a lot of things I needed to change. One of the biggest things for me was just my timing. I was struggling to figure out how to make sure I was in a good rhythm when I wasn’t playing every day. I didn’t do it properly, and that’s why I didn’t hit as good as I should have up there. I’ve just been trying to get back into that rhythm and that timing. It’s been a little tough doing that. But I haven’t been in this league [the Pacific Coast League] too long. One of the things everyone tells you about this league is that all the pitchers live off their off-speed. And I’d definitely say that the difference between up there and down here is that up there those guys live off their fastballs – they’re not afraid to throw those fastballs. So that’s been a huge difference for me. You go up there and you see fastballs and you come down here and suddenly you don’t see fastballs. It’s an adjustment, but it’s one you’ve got to make.
AF: Throughout your minor league career, you’ve always played pretty much every day. So do you feel that keeping your rhythm and timing while not playing every day was the biggest adjustment for you?
MM: Yeah, I definitely think for me that was the hardest adjustment because, like you said, I’ve never done that before. And it wasn’t just hitting, it was defensive rhythm. I went out there and I worked hard on every single day on defense with Ron Washington and I did everything that I could. I just couldn’t figure out how to translate that into a game and that really hurt me – and really hurt the team in a couple games. So that was an adjustment I needed to make and, unfortunately, I didn’t. But getting back down here and getting playing time again, I feel like everything’s starting to come back. You know, I don’t blame them for that, I blame myself entirely. I just wasn’t able to make that adjustment and it cost.
AF: Well, you’ve primarily been playing third base down here. So has it been helpful to you to be playing over there pretty much every day?
MM: Yeah, it’s been really helpful. Like I said, I worked with Wash every single day up there. And there were a lot of things that he was trying to teach me that, at the time, when you’re not seeing it in a game, you can’t exactly see what he’s trying to get going for you. But now that I’m in the games, I can see exactly what he’s talking about and how it’s translating to me. It’s a night-and-day difference from how I was playing third in spring training to how I’m playing third now. Everything is so much smoother and so much more natural, and that’s due to all the work I’ve been putting in.
AF: So is there anything specific that you’re working on or anything you’re mentally focused on trying to improve right now?
MM: The biggest thing I’m trying to work on is getting my swing back. My swing has gotten away from me and it just kind of feels foreign to me right now. And I’m trying to get it back to where I’m used to having it. I believe in myself and I believe that it won’t take too long, but it’s just a process right now. And I’ve got to keep going out every day and harding work. I can’t get too frustrated with it. But that’s just been the biggest thing is trying to get my swing back.
AF: It sounds like you’re just trying to find that comfort zone again where everything feels right.
AF: So how is Nashville as a place to play in and a place to live in?
MM: I haven’t had too many home games yet, but the town’s great from what I’ve seen. It’s a big town, it’s up and coming. There are a lot of people here, and the country music scene’s outrageous. So many people are out here, and the games I’ve been in we’ve had sold-out crowds almost every night. It’s been pretty crazy. They’ve got that thing out in right field called “The Band Box.” It’s almost like a nightclub out there. They’ve got music playing during the game. It’s just a completely different experience. As far as the field goes, it’s a tough field to hit at. I’ve seen some guys absolutely crush balls that just go nowhere here. I’m kind of used to that coming from Midland. But the situation’s different in Midland because you hit a ball and it gets caught up in the wind. Here, you hit a ball and it just doesn’t go anywhere. If you look at the field, the dimensions are actually pretty fair – they’re almost on the small side. So you think there’d be a lot of home runs being hit there, but there’s just none. I haven’t seen one ball go out to dead center field in batting practice or in a game here. It plays really big.
AF: So, on a day-to-day basis, what’s the best thing about playing in the majors as opposed to the minors?
MM: You know, on the road, it’s definitely the hotels. When you’re up there, you get your own room. You’re staying in 5-star hotels. Down here, we still stay in pretty nice hotels, but you’ve got a roommate. Being a young guy, it’s a little different up there. You’ve got to be at the field early. You’ve got to find your own way there. That’s not a rule, but it’s kind of like an unwritten rule. If you’re a young guy, you probably need to find your own way to the field – you probably shouldn’t ride the bus. But the biggest thing for me is just the living situation up there is just a lot different. You get treated pretty well up there.
25-year-old second baseman Joey Wendle joined the A’s this past offseason in one of the more surprising deals for A’s fans, when the team traded popular first baseman Brandon Moss to the Indians for the Double-A infielder whom most A’s followers had never heard of. He’s played in 95 of Nashville’s 100 games so far this season, appearing at second base in all of them. Everyone at Nashville raves about Wendle’s work ethic and his hustle in the field and claims that he’s been as solid as can be at second base this season. He also leads the team in doubles with 27, but the one critique most frequently raised about Wendle concerns his plate discipline. He’s walked just 17 times in 425 plate appearances, but he says that he knows what he needs to work on to get where he wants to go.
AF: We last spoke in the early part of May and now here we are in late July. So how have things been going for you here over the past few months?
JW: It’s been good, both from a personal standpoint and a baseball standpoint. It’s been a really fun summer. It’s been enjoyable for me and my wife, as we’ve moved out here for a couple of months. Baseball season’s been going well. It’s been full of adjustments, full of ups and downs, but overall it’s been good. I’ve been playing well here lately. It was nice having the All-Star break for three days just to get your mind off of baseball for a couple days, and I think that’s good for most of the players. We were just able to kind of hang around Nashville and really explore it.
AF: So what do you feel are the main things you’ve learned so far this year?
JW: I think, at this level, players are able to highlight your limitations faster than maybe at other levels. So it’s been a little eye-opening for me. Pitchers realize if they don’t have to throw me strikes, they’re not going to. So that’s been a challenge for me – staying within myself and learning the pitches that I can and can’t hit. So it’s been constant adjustments and constantly trying to improve in that area.
AF: Do you feel that you’ve made some progress over the past few months in terms of learning to be more selective?
JW: Yeah, I do feel that way. Any hitter will tell you that they’re constantly working on something and constantly looking to improve. In a game where you fail 70% of the time, I think there’s always going to be some of that where guys are always looking to hone their skills and make them as polished as possible.
AF: Well, there’s a reason they say it’s a game of adjustments.
JW: Yes, it definitely is!
AF: But going back to what you were saying earlier, you feel that pitchers at this level have a much greater ability to exploit any weakness that you may have in your game.
JW: Yeah, I think that’s true. They get the scouting report on you and they’ve seen you once or twice before – and obviously it’s magnified at the next level too.
AF: So how do you feel about your defense? Is it steady as she goes or is there anything you’re working on out there?
JW: We do a pretty good job as a team staying on top of our defense, especially when we’re at home, we’re able to get into a nice routine. We go out before batting practice and take groundballs for about half an hour and then take balls off the bat live during batting practice. So I think that really helps me just kind of stay fresh. But I’ve felt pretty good, pretty comfortable over there at second base. I had one week in particular where I played poorly over there and had kind of a defensive slump I guess. But other than that week, I’ve been feeling pretty good over there.
AF: Well, your manager, Steve Scarsone, was a major league infielder. So has he been much help to you here?
JW: Yeah, he’s been great. He’s the one I’ve been working with almost every day, especially when we’re at home. And he knows what he’s doing out there so, when he talks, you definitely want to listen to him and take any advice that he has and really think about it and try to work on that. It’s been very helpful. I know he was a great defensive player. So being around someone like that and just seeing how they talk about different positions they played and how they did it is something that you definitely want to tap into and learn from.
AF: You’ve played all your games this season at second base. Has there been any talk at all of having you maybe sample some other positions to increase your versatility? Has anyone said anything about that at all?
JW: Not that I’m aware of, no. But I have played a little bit of third, actually right when I got drafted in short-season. But, as far as I know, it’s just second.
AF: This is the first year that the A’s Triple-A affiliate has been here in Nashville. So how’s it been for you playing here in Nashville?
JW: Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s really up and coming. It’s really grown at this point. It’s fun to be a part of and see new people coming in. A guy told me the city bird is a crane, with so many buildings going up. But it’s been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed it here.
AF: This is a pretty veteran team here in Nashville. And at 25, you’re actually one of the younger guys on this team. So has it been useful for you to have some of these more experienced guys around? Is there much that you’ve picked up from your teammates here this year?
JW: Definitely! I mean, having that kind of advice and having those eyes in the dugout for mechanical issues and stuff like that is huge. But more so for me even, just them having been around the game for such a long time and being able to learn from them about how to deal with the failures and successes of this game and just seeing how they handle themselves and seeing what it really means to be a professional is really what I take away from them. But it is nice. The coaches that we have our great, but it’s almost like we have 25 coaches down the bench.
AF: Well, it must be interesting to see some of your teammates, like Max Muncy and Billy Burns, going up and playing for the big club. It must give you the sense that that opportunity really isn’t that far away.
JW: Yeah, it does. And it’s real exciting for them. Playing alongside Billy Burns, and now he’s been up most all season. Seeing the success they have here and then up there is really encouraging for everybody down here. And it’s just really fun to watch. Anytime you turn on the TV and you see somebody you know, it’s just pretty cool. So we’re definitely really happy for all the guys that get called up here, and I hope to be one of them!
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