Name: Renato Nunez
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 220
How Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent in Nov. 2010.
Renato Nunez has been a top prospect in the Oakland A’s system for many years. Now out of options, can he secure a spot on the A’s Opening Day roster?
A fixture on our top-50 Oakland A’s prospects lists since 2012, Nunez is a long-shot to make any prospect list in 2019. Not because of a loss of talent or projection, but because the native of Venezuela is out of big league options and is a strong bet to spend a good portion of the 2018 season on a major league roster.
Whether Nunez spends the 2018 season on the A’s roster remains to be seen. It isn’t easy to forsee a role for Nunez on the A’s 2018 squad with Stephen Piscotty and Matt Joyce in the corner outfield spots, Matt Chapman at third, Matt Olson at first and Khris Davis at DH. That being said, the A’s won’t give up on a talent like Nunez’s lightly, so if there is a role for him to play this season, look for the A’s to put him in it.
Since signing with the A’s as a teenager before the 2011 season, Nunez has been one of the organization’s top hitting prospects. Early in his career, Nunez hit for average, but as he grew into his 6’1’’ frame, power became Nunez’s calling card. He has hit at least 18 home runs in each of the last five seasons, and that includes a truncated 2015 season when he hit 18 in just 93 games for Double-A Midland.
Last season, Nunez was a Pacific Coast League All-Star. In 126 games, he hit a career-high 32 home runs and he posted an 837 OPS. Despite the big power year, Nunez had to wait until September to get a call to the big leagues. He collected three hits in 15 at-bats with the A’s, including his first major league home run.
The first thing anyone notices about Nunez is his power. With the exception of maybe Davis and Chapman, no right-handed hitter in the A’s organization has as much pure power as Nunez. He can hit the ball out of any ballpark to any field. He has the kind of picturesque swing and quick wrists that has led scouts to believe he will someday hit for average, as well.
Nunez’s biggest weakness as a hitter has always been his discipline. Because he has so much raw power, he doesn’t have to wait for the perfect pitch to try to it out. That has led, at times, to Nunez swinging for the fences at everything, however. At the lower levels, that approach still led to Nunez hitting around .275 every year to go along with the home runs. In his first year in Triple-A, however, Nunez’s aggressive approach was exploited and he hit only .228 with a .278 OBP.
In his return to Nashville last season, Nunez made a conscious effort to be more selective. The results were positive, even if Nunez wasn’t able to maintain the disciplined approach day-in and day-out. He raised his average to .249 and walked a career-high 47 times, leading to a .319 OBP.
Nashville hitting coach Eric Martins says Nunez has more developing to do, but that once he gets it, he will be a dangerous big league hitter.
“He still needs to figure some things out in terms of his approach and what kind of hitter that he is because he has an innate tool and can really hit when he puts his mind to it,” Martins said in an offseason interview. “But there is a lack of focus with runners in scoring position, expanding the ‘zone. Not understanding what the pitchers are doing to him with runners in scoring position. Those are the at-bats that are kind of frustrating because he should have had more RBI than his RBI total was this year . But saying that, for him to hit 32 home runs, that’s still impressive.
“There’s only so much talking you can do. That’s something that I have talked to him about – and that’s the only thing that I have worked with him on the last few years – is tightening up his strike-zone. Be better with runners in scoring position. And that’s it. That’s all. Because the tools and the swing are there. He has as pretty a right-handed swing as you are going to see. It’s just that there are times when there are swings that you wonder, ‘what are you swinging at?’ And that’s the frustrating part.
“When he puts his mind to it, and it will come in bunches, he’ll walk. He might walk two-three times a game for a week and get a couple of hits and you think, ‘okay, there it is’, and then all of a sudden, there he goes swinging at another pitch above his head and waving at a first pitch slider and rolling it over to the third baseman. It just makes you want to pull your hair out. That’s why I stopped growing hair! [laughs]
“But, like I said, by the time he’s 25-26 years old, whether it is with us or someone else, he’s going to put it together. He really is, because he is good at what he does. He improved just a little bit this year and his average went up to almost .250 and he hit 32 home runs, and that was with just a little bit of an adjustment and improvement in his walk-rate. I think he saw the writing on the wall. We went over the numbers before he got called up and I told him, ‘look, you walked a little bit more this year than last year and look at what your numbers did.’”
The trickiest part of finding Nunez a role on the A’s roster for 2018 will be where to put him defensively. A third baseman exclusively for the early part of his career, Nunez began to see time at first base in 2015, once it became clear that Chapman was the heir-apparent to the hot corner in Oakland. Nunez added left field to his repertoire at the end of the 2016 season, and he played more games in left in 2017 than he did at third base. Nunez also saw two games at second base with Nashville.
Nunez has a strong arm, but he is a below-average runner and his instincts at third are only average. With time, he could become a decent first baseman or left fielder, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience at either spot. Ultimately, he could become a DH, but he won’t be the A’s DH as long as Davis is on the roster. The A’s had a similar defensive dilemma with Ryon Healy and ultimately traded Healy. However, they traded Healy knowing they had Nunez still on the roster, so it is possible the A’s can fashion together a role for Nunez as a back-up third baseman, right-handed hitting first baseman and occasional left fielder. Only time, and spring training, will tell…
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