By Aram Tolegian, SGVN twitter.com/ChemicalAT
For almost the past four years, Los Altos High School’s Joe Munoz has been playing some of the best baseball around. And finally, in his senior season, the most important people are starting to take notice.
It’s not uncommon these days for the 6-foot-3, 200-pound shortstop to have several Major League Baseball scouts watching his every move at each of his games. It goes with the territory when you’ve got Munoz’s size and are hitting over .400 at the plate.
“I think I’m more relaxed this season out of all the other seasons because I know I have a future right now,” Munoz said. “I’m focusing a lot better. The ball doesn’t seem like it’s moving a lot when I’m up there batting. It feels like I can see it perfectly.”
Munoz can relax because after the season either a career at San Diego State or an entry into the minor leagues awaits him. Whether he signs a contract with a major-league organization will depend on a lot of things, Munoz said.
So as his prep playing days wind down, he’s keeping all options open.
Munoz started playing baseball at age 3. His career continued in Little League at Manzanito Park in Hacienda Heights before that got shut down and shifted over to Highlander Park, also in Hacienda Heights.
By the time Munoz got to Los Altos, he was varsity-ready and immediately put into the starting lineup. He started his career in the outfield, but by midseason he was playing shortstop and has been a fixture there when he’s not on the mound.
“He’s a big part of who we are,” Los Altos coach Andrew Formano said. “If the top guys in the lineup get on, we expect him to cash in for us. And for the most part, he has.
“He’s not getting as many pitches to hit because people aren’t throwing as much to him as they did in the past. His value is pretty strong for us because of that. Not only is he driving guys in, but he’s getting on base and when he does get on base he usually scores.”
Munoz’s numbers are some of the best in the area. Entering Monday’s game against Diamond Ranch, he was hitting .406 with six doubles, five triples, four home runs and 22 RBIs. He also has scored 24 runs.
But despite Munoz’s attributes and Los Altos’ strong team hitting numbers that’s not enough to win in the Hacienda League, where you have to have good hitting and pitching. Bonita has locked up the league title with a week left in the season. The Conquerors are battling with Diamond Bar for second place.
Bonita, with an ace like Justin Garza, figured to run away with the league title. Munoz has faced Garza in two games this year and estimated he’s 0 for 6 or 0 for 7 against him. Garza also has his share of scouts following him around.
“I’ve been playing Garza for a long time and we play on the area code (teams), too,” Munoz said. “We kinda know each other’s stuff and he’s real good. He’s a great guy and real good pitcher. People have been saying there are better pitchers, but he’s honestly a better pitcher than other guys (I’ve faced).
“I feel like the pitching in our league was stronger in other years. We’ve dropped off a little, but we still have good pitchers.”
Munoz spent part of last offseason playing for the Milwaukee Brewers teams in the area code games. That’s how he’s popped on the radar of scouts. He also has played for the Boston Red Sox and Angels scout teams, as well.
With the playoffs on the horizon, Munoz has his sights set on finishing his stellar career at Los Altos with a bang. That means doing something big in the upcoming postseason.
“I’m excited, I can’t wait for the playoffs,” Munoz said. “I know we don’t have a shot at the league title anymore, but the way all our guys are playing together, we’ve got a good chance at winning CIF.
“I basically want to do my best to help my team out. If I go only like 5 for 20 but we win CIF, I’ll be happy.”