MIDLAND A star could be born in Midland — for a second time.
Max Muncy, one of the top hitting prospects in the Oakland Athletics organization, was born in Midland in the summer of 1990. Now he’s back in West Texas as a 22-year-old first baseman and designated hitter for the Midland RockHounds, Oakland’s Double-A affiliate in the Texas League.
“That’s kind of cool,” Muncy said of returning to his place of birth. “I don’t know how many people get to do that. It’s just one of those fortunate things that’s happened for me.”
For Muncy, who moved to the Houston area as an infant and later attended Keller High School in the Fort Worth area, it’s more or less been a string of good fortune. The A’s made him a fifth-round draft pick out of Baylor University just last summer, and it took him less than 160 professional games to reach the Double-A level.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Muncy, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed like his childhood idol, Jim Thome, was sent straight to low Single-A Burlington (Iowa) after being signed by the A’s. He batted .275 with 26 extra-base hits and 41 walks in 64 games with the Bees, earning a chance to start this season at high Single-A Stockton (Calif.).
Muncy made the most of that chance, leading the California League with 21 home runs and 76 RBIs through the first 93 games this year. That earned him a promotion to Midland, where Muncy’s reputation preceded himself.
“Oh, man. Impressive,” said RockHounds teammate Anthony Aliotti, a Texas League All-Star the last two years. “The kid can hit, that’s without a doubt. We saw his numbers in Stockton, and everyone was talking about him. Very impressive numbers.”
RockHounds manager Aaron Nieckula, who was Muncy’s manager in Burlington last year, has been just as impressed. He called Muncy a “natural-born hitter” who is ascending through the minor leagues more rapidly than most players.
“He’s figuring some things out quickly, and he’s got to be able to have success at every level that you go to,” Nieckula said. “I’m sure he will.”
Nieckula plans to give Muncy plenty of playing time, of course, but he plays the same position as Aliotti, the Texas League’s leading hitter this season with a .348 batting average entering Tuesday night’s game against Corpus Christi. Nieckula said Aliotti remains “the guy” at first base, but the manager also said Aliotti and Muncy will essentially rotate between first and designated hitter.
Aliotti said he doesn’t mind sharing time with the talented youngster, who is off to a hot start in the Texas League. Muncy hit an RBI double and scored a run in his first game with the RockHounds on Sunday, and on Monday he finished 2-for-2 with two walks.
Muncy said he expects Double-A to become more challenging as Texas League pitchers build a scouting report on him, and he also expects to see defensive shifts like he saw in the California League. But for now he just wants to keep riding his wave in the batter’s box.
“Pitching’s going to get a lot tougher, they’re going to start figuring out what I can do and what I can’t do, and they’re going to start pitching to those weaknesses,” Muncy said. “So hopefully I can just keep it going while my swing’s good right now.”
Muncy said his torrid first half in Stockton was a product of feeling comfortable with his swing and seeing the ball well out of pitchers’ hands. He also said his power production was a “freak thing,” because he had never hit homers at such a frequent rate.
The RockHounds hope the hits and homers keep coming, for however long Muncy is with them. If he continues at his current pace, it won’t be long until he plays for the A’s or another major league team.
Muncy said it seems surreal to already be at the Double-A level, especially in the town where he was born and the state where he grew up. He said his parents, who lived in Midland for about two years, likely will make the trip from Fort Worth to watch him play at some point.
They might want to plan a visit soon, though, because Muncy might not be in Midland for long.
“Getting to the Texas League has been really exciting so far,” Muncy said. “Being in low A last year and high A this year, Double-A just seems like such a big step up. It’s kind of hard to imagine actually getting there. Getting there right now is a pretty big deal for me.”