NORMAN, Okla. — Diego Muniz didn’t yet have a driver’s license when Oklahoma baseball coach Skip Johnson was evaluating him as a rising prospect in the Dallas area.
Muniz’s natural position was middle infield, and he’s played a handful of different spots his freshman season at OU. But what Johnson saw some four years ago was unique.
“I mean, he can do a lot of things. He can even pitch,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen the kid at 15 years old punch out 12 guys throwing 89-92 miles an hour. Pretty amazing. He was that good.”
The Sooners have a little of everything in Muniz, who has emerged over the last month as an impact player.
He has settled into an outfield role, but in games this spring he has played left field, right field and third base. In practice, he’s even played catcher.
Muniz starred at shortstop for Rockwall (Texas) High School and had never played outfield in his life before coming to OU. But last week against TCU, a spinning line drive flew into left field. It turned him around multiple times.
He tracked it into his glove with a leap that sent him colliding into the left-field wall. Then he popped up from the ground.
“I think the adrenaline helped a lot,” Muniz said. “It was a big game for us against a good opponent. When I’m out there I’m gonna go 100 percent, I don’t care what’s in front of me, I’m gonna take whatever’s in front of me to get an out.”
Muniz was electric that weekend, going 5 for 11 at the plate with four RBIs and four extra-base hits. With five runs scored he accounted for nine of OU’s 13 runs through three games against the Horned Frogs.
He’s batting .302 with a .471 on-base percentage ahead of the Sooners’ Big 12 series at 24th-ranked Baylor this weekend.
Like most freshmen, Johnson believes college was a wake-up call for Muniz. He was in the lineup for just three of the Sooners’ first 14 games. Once he embraced the required workload, his natural talent and baseball intelligence opened the door for him to emerge.
He has started in 15 of the last 19 games, including the last 10 in a row in the outfield.
“When you get your chance is when you become consistent everywhere — in the weight room, the cages, in practice. It’s just hard work,” Muniz said. “The nice thing about it is we have about 30 guys in there who put in the work.”
The nice thing for OU as it relates to Muniz, is he could play just about anywhere needed. He and Johnson joke about him getting his arm loose for a pitching appearance. But Muniz believes the possibility is real that he could throw for the Sooners by the time his career’s over.
“I think that’s still up in the air,” Muniz said. “Me and Skip have talked about throwing bullpens. We’ve also talked about how I’ll be taking on a lot of roles. I’m learning a lot of new positions. I’ve never played outfield in my life, but when I got here, I mean, we were working in the outfield, the infield, behind the plate.
“ … I played shortstop my whole life. That’s what I enjoy the most. I’ll keep working at it and hopefully one day I might get an opportunity to play there, but as of now I’m focused on playing wherever they put me and giving it 100 percent.”
OU baseball weekend schedule
• Game: OU (24-10, 5-4 Big 12) at No. 24 Baylor (22-9, 6-2 Big 12)
• Time: 6:30 p.m.
• Place: Baylor Ballpark | Waco, Texas
• Pitchers: OU RHP Cade Cavalli (4-1, 2.30 ERA) vs. Baylor RHP Jimmy Winston (3-0, 0.95)
• Radio: KREF 1400 am | 99.3 FM
• TV: None
• Saturday: 3 p.m. at Baylor; OU RHP Nathan Wiles (5-1, 3.28) vs. Baylor LHP Paul Dickens (3-1, 4.01)
• Sunday: 3 p.m. at Baylor; OU LHP Levi Prater (5-3, 2.22) vs. Baylor RHP Hayden Kettler (2-2, 4.24)
Palmateer is sports editor for for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.